Feature: The Integrated Future for Learning

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Cyber CafeDr Jo Cheesman of Academee looks at recent trends in training, including the growth of blended learning, and makes a few predictions for the future.

Knowing how the future of learning is going to develop is invaluable for any organisation involved in the provision of training and development. And in order to predict the future of learning, it's important to look at the key developments so far.

There are three significant trends that will influence the future of learning:
* Granularity of training – how it is broken down.
* Integration of different training units into a coherent programme.
* Individualisation of learning programmes.

These trends are driven by the needs of organisations - the need for efficiency, for productivity and ultimately for greater competitiveness. These needs constantly drive change and transformation, consequently changing how training, learning and development are provided.

Background
Granularity
Until a few years ago, organisational training was delivered primarily through three-to-five day training programmes, generally delivered off-site. While this type of event can bring real benefits, it is not always appropriate for every learning topic or every learner.

Similarly, technology based learning, including CBT (Computer Based Training) and e-learning (from the mid to late 1990s onwards), was delivered in large, lengthy units. Some of Academee’s own early e-learning courses took eight hours to work through, primarily because they were attempting to reproduce all the content delivered by a face-to-face event.

Integration
In the past, a training programme would most likely be delivered through one medium, often the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ face-to-face event. Occasionally, there would be some pre-workshop notes. At this time, CBT and e-learning were thought to be alternatives to face-to-face methods or were treated as add-ons, supplemental to face-to-face training and not fully integrated. Initially, e-learning was predicted to save organisations millions of pounds by entirely replacing face-to-face training methods.

Individualisation
In the early to mid 1990s, one programme would typically be delivered en masse - you attended the same management training programme as all your colleagues. Although these programmes would often have a measure of effectiveness, it's now evident that they often failed to meet the individual's needs both in terms of learning style and actual training requirements.

The present
Granularity
The duration of training programmes has been significantly reduced. One-day programmes are now commonplace and generally considered to be highly effective. For some organisations, successful face-to-face events last no longer than half a day. Organisations are becoming more and more reluctant to take their workforce from their place of work for more than a day – the driver for this being the need for productivity and efficiency.

E-learning has become an increasingly popular mode of training: units have been reduced to an hour or less, and workers can be trained sitting at their desk – in the case of some customer service applications, units have been broken down into just 10 minute sections.

Integration
The early predictions of e-learning as a replacement for face-to-face events were misplaced. Instead it's been recognised that an integrated programme of face-to-face events and e-learning modules can be both highly effective for learners and economical and efficient from the perspective of the organisation. The buzz word today is ‘blended’ learning.

Balance Learning and Training Magazine’s Transatlantic Blended Learning Survey 2004 predicted that the increased use of blended learning would be accompanied by a reduction in pure instructor-led training, which currently accounts for nearly half of all organisational training. This figure is set to fall to 42% in 2005 and to 38% in 2006.

Blended learning is seen as the most effective and cost-efficient form of training by a significant majority of US respondents. The results also projected that blended learning would comprise 29.4% of all corporate training and 22% of training budgets by 2006.

The survey also found that most respondents favoured the blended approach with 80% saying that e-learning worked best when combined with traditional methods of training. Currently, 13% of all organisational training is currently delivered in this way – a figure predicted to rise to 19% in 2005 and 24% in 2006. The survey also found that one of the main reasons behind the predicted growth in blended learning is that 67% of organisations are seeking to reduce participant time away from the workplace by 50%. The blended approach offers a range of benefits and still represents savings for the organisation.

Unfortunately, many blended learning approaches are simply e-learning programmes shoe-horned into an existing face-to-face programme – they are not tailor-made to run together.

Individualisation
The development of programmes into shorter, more concise modules makes it easier to tailor programmes to organisations and individual. Putting the correct components together is another challenge. More and more this is being facilitated by the development of more sophisticated, technologically-based training needs analysis and diagnostic tools.

The future
A more intelligent approach to learning and development is emerging. First, there is usually an intelligent diagnosis of an individual’s needs based on identification of their current skills gaps, and development needs, in relation to their job role.

Then there is the intelligent provision of learning and training through so-called 'multi-touch' learning delivery modes, allowing the delivery of knowledge, understanding and practice through the most appropriate methods at the most appropriate time. Consequently the learner's progress can be supported as the learning is applied, with the learner being helped further through coaching and community learning.

In summary the future of learning shows a trend for bespoke and blended activity. Learning units will be miniaturised and intensified to integrate fully with work life. Programmes will be fully individualised, based on learners' needs and following an in-depth, intelligent diagnostic of requirements. Finally, training and development will fully integrate face-to-face programmes and e-learning courses into a seamless process that blends into one satisfying educational experience.

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