When I was at University studying media at a lefty institution, Marshall McLuhan was the man. He's the one who said of mass media that "the medium is the message" and that "sport is the opiate of the masses". In Learning and Development, i think that the huge trend towards the use of eLearning instead of classroom training could easily be viewed as the medium overtaking the message.
People who know me well may be shocked to hear the the following statement has been uttered, yelled and written by me on numerous occasions lately: technology for the sake of technology benefits no one.
I'm a gadget junkie from way back. I should have been born in Japan. Remember minidisc players?
no? You're not the only one. Brilliant clear music quality. Minidisc, now officially discontinued, was a Sony technology that lasted longer than Beta video, but never really won the hearts of the masses. At any one time I owned 2 or 3 minidisc players, and overall owned about 7.
Technology is fun, it can make you feel like you're ahead of the curve when you adopt early, and you feel like a dinosaur when you are behind the curve, but used as enablers certain technologies can help you achieve things you otherwise wouldn't be able to.
I work in Learning and Development, an industry divided by opinions on technology. There are training companies out there that specialise in eLearning, which has become the most overused and misused terms in the last 10+ years. I love eLearning when it is done well and as part of an overall Learning Strategy that considers multiple approaches, but to specialise in eLearning limits the solutions a training company or department can offer.
I like to think of myself as a fairly well rounded Learning professional. I have formulated solutions for clients and stakeholders that have ranged from simple one-on-one coaching sessions, through to programs that go for weeks and cover topics from OH&S to entering purchase orders into SAP.
The first thing I do when I have time and resources is to talk to representatives from the prospective audience for an analysis of their Training Needs. Sounds like a logical first step, but many of the organisations I have dealt with have already decided on the approach and breadth or a training solution before the Learning professionals have been engaged. My favourite was when a project manager within a large Australian government owned organisation decided that eLearning was the way to go for a fleet of 5000+ delivery/courier drivers. When I arrived on the project it took me two days to ascertain that the majority of the drivers did not use computers, and a startling number of them had literacy problems. eLearning would not have made it into my plan. Thankfully I managed to get eLearning scrapped from the plan and we ran a series of face-to-face information sessions instead.
A solution should always be fit for purpose! Just having the technology does not mean you have to use it. I love writing eLearning, but as a solutions focused person, I prefer to write material that I know people will use and benefit from.
As anyone who has tried eLearning knows, asking a question during a Lesson becomes less immediate than it does in a classroom setting. This has to be the biggest and most frequent piece of feedback I have seen and heard regarding a purely eLearning driven program of learning. Feedback needs to be taken on board. As the consumer of the learning solution, the learners needs must be met and if they are not being met, training in whatever form cannot be 100% successful.
I am about to start researching and writing a strategy on Virtual Classroom training. Yes, it has the definite ring of buzzwords of old, but as long as one doesn't become constrained by one piece of technology, or a single type of material, and the infrastructure is used to support the approach rather than trying to use as many of it's capabilities all at once, a solid and compelling solution should be possible.
Our aim is to reduce non-productive time during training, to reduce the necessity for travel, and as a result to allow more frequent bite sized sessions rather than sessions that go for weeks and weeks at a time. The technology is likely to be as simple as a portal in which the "classroom" provides a chat function, desktop sharing, video, feedback and enrollment. If these criteria are me we could run facilitated eLearning, classroom training, workshops, coaching etc. without leaving our office. Sure, it's not personal, but it's also unlikely to completely replace any of our existing solutions, rather it provides yet another mode of facilitation to benefit remote groups, dispersed teams and more frequent cost effective short training sessions.
Its probably a dream, but we'll soon see.