I saw an interesting demo the other day. An employee walks into a boardroom and their phone automatically lights up with several pieces of indexed micro-learning content. Some content is about the projector, the video conferencing equipment, and the telephone system. Common topics like how to make a conference call, turn on the projector/zoom/focus and add someone to a video conference are now just click away on the person’s phone. Each device in the room had a proximity sensor attached to it, which identified that an employee with a phone/tablet/laptop had entered the room and automatically pushed out the most relevant tech micro-learning content about the devices in the room to them.
The question that popped into my mind was, “does this make traditional technology training obsolete?” Do the users actually have to “learn” anything about how to use these devices, if this micro-learning content/knowledge is now being pushed out to them automatically.
The thing that resonated with me the most about that demo, is that we’ve all been in that boardroom meeting. It’s a big scramble to get the projector working, no-one can remember how to conference in a second or third caller, or add someone to the video conference who wasn’t on the original invite. The frustrated IT guy get’s pulled away from much more important work to show a user for the hundredth time, how to zoom/focus the projector or conference in another person. Everyone in the room is annoyed, frustrated and focused on everything except the meeting objectives.
What a huge waste of time, now all easily solvable with a click on their phone or tablet. I couldn’t help but start thinking about some of the other use cases that this kind of “knowledge on demand” micro-learning tech might apply to, but more on that later.
I also recently read an Aberdeen Group research paper, with the very long title “FROM LEARNING TO KNOWLEDGE: BEST-IN-CLASS METHODS FOR ENABLING EMPLOYEES TO PROPEL THE BUSINESS FORWARD.”
In that research paper, Aberdeen Group highlighted some interesting statistics regarding employee learning and the characteristics of the leading and lagging companies:
*Aberdeen Group FROM LEARNING TO KNOWLEDGE: BEST-IN-CLASS METHODS FOR ENABLING EMPLOYEES TO PROPEL THE BUSINESS FORWARD
That same report was also highly critical of many of the current corporate training methods and approaches. Here’s an excerpt:
Traditional Learning is Bogging Down Employee Development. The reality is that a lot of organizations are stuck in a quagmire. They’re using traditional techniques that are not only costly but ineffective at helping employees build long-term knowledge. The resources that are in place — outdated eLearning, lengthy classroom training, simulations, etc. — are focused on a specific point in time, don’t provide easily digestible content, don’t offer a personalized learning experience that employees can apply to their specific roles and don’t provide a way to help employees remember the information after the session is complete.
THE TRADITIONAL TRAINING BATTLE
Anyone in an HR, L&D, Change Management or e-learning role knows the fight that they’re constantly battling to:
Motivate users to engage, especially for “optional” learning like technology learning, vs. certification or mandatory learning.
Fight the “forgetting curve” where 80% of Training information is forgotten within 10 days of employees receiving the training.
Get visibility into how users are progressing through the engagement, learning content consumption and remembering/applying knowledge process, so that front-runners can be rewarded recognized and additional resources can be deployed to the employees lagging behind.
The interesting thing about some of these new micro-learning and mobile learning platforms, is that the first two traditional challenges (a & b) are addressed by pushing micro-learning content out to users at the moment they need it, on the device most convenient for them to consume it, vs. making them sit in a classroom or webinar, and then weeks later hoping they remember the information when they need to apply it.
These platforms are also very good at providing visibility into which users are consuming micro-learning content and which ones aren’t, so that the laggards can be targeted with additional resources.
Forrester also published a Thought Leadership paper called “Mobile Learning Will Lead The Charge For Corporate Learning In New Workers’ Environments”, that said in part …,”But corporate training departments face a major problem: With so many technologies available to use for online and, in particular, mobile learning, how do business leaders identify the most effective technologies and maximize the value of mobile learning? What do the employees really need? What are the key challenges that learning leaders have?”
Five key findings from that report were:
1) While Millennials form a larger share of the workforce, mobile is important for all: Though it is easy to equate the Millennial workforce with new technologies, a high usage of mobile devices across all workforce age groups has bolstered the importance of mobile-based technologies.
2) Traditional learning approaches will no longer be sufficient: Traditionally, organizations have relied on learning approaches such as face-to-face classroom sessions, curriculum-based learning courses, and on-the job learning. While these methods are still effective, they lack the scalability and ability to reach your employees in the need of the hour.
3) Organizations will develop more mobile learning content: The HR and L&D leaders we (Forrester) interviewed highlighted the need to develop feature-rich content that is more accessible to employees in their moment of need, thus making it more effective.
4) Mobile learning will increase the effectiveness of learning programs: . Through mobile learning, organizations will be able to author and deliver shorter, more targeted content , focusing on the specific needs of the employee on the go.., It will also ensure higher completion rates and improved dissemination of knowledge across the organization.
5) There are several challenges in implementing a comprehensive mobile learning strategy: Implementing a comprehensive and successful mobile learning strategy is not easy. There are several technical challenges , such as the setup of infrastructure, configuration for several device types, and security. It is also challenging for instructional designers to develop mobile learning content.
* Forrester Thought Leadership paper called “Mobile Learning Will Lead The Charge For Corporate Learning In New Workers’ Environments”
What this Forrester Thought Leadership paper drove home for me was, although Millennials are often thought of as the digital generation, even my grandmother has a smartphone. Like many “cloud” based platforms, these new micro-learning/mobile learning platforms not only scale faster and are more cost effective than traditional training approaches, they provide better analytics. And finally, like any ‘new’ technology, there are some potential learning curve issues about what are the high value use cases and what is the right/best way to deploy these technologies (within an LMS, supplemental to an LMS, stand alone, etc).
Back to the Aberdeen research paper, they had two great examples of vertical use cases where micro-learning and mobile could potentially have a huge positive impact.
Aberdeen Example: In the retail world, employees need to know a variety of product lines and keep up to date with promotions, discounts, and availabilities throughout the store and online. So when a new line of products is released, employees need to learn the ins and outs of every item, what’s unavailable sizing-wise, and other comparative products. They’re often expected to pick up all that new information in a matter of days, if not overnight. That’s a lot of content to learn, retain, and then apply, especially so quickly!
My thoughts are, Retail also faces the additional challenge of employee churn, which creates problems two fronts: a) Ramping up the Retail employees subject matter expertise quickly for maximum productivity before they leave and b) maintaining that subject matter expertise as products change. Leveraging Retail employees subject matter expertise is a critical competitive differentiator vs. on-line or other competition.
Aberdeen Example: For instance, learning all about a new monetary offering is an expectation for financial advisors so that they can better service their customers. But when the content is presented in extensive, hour-long chunks — whether in person or online — it’s a lot harder to determine the exact information necessary to understand the new product. Then the financial advisors need to take their newly acquired insight about the product and present it to customers, who will often have countless questions about the details and potential implications of the new product.
The things that resonated for me with the Financial vertical market example, that relates to the learning content in boardroom demo I saw, was that the learning content was short (micro-learning) and indexed by topic and delivered on the users local (mobile) device. So the person trying to solve the problem at hand, could easily find the relevant learning content by topic quickly, vs. scrolling through sections of an hour long training video or pages of on-line documentation/content to find the section they needed, to solve the problem at hand, which should in theory result in better/faster customer service.
So, does this new micro-learning and mobile learning technology make traditional technology training obsolete? Maybe not, or at least not yet. Having said that, both the Aberdeen Group and Forrester articles and my own experience in the boardroom demo, highlight the fact that traditional legacy training/e-learning approaches have significant challenges around scalability, knowledge retention and context based real-time accessibility, which this newer micro-learning and mobile learning technology seems to address.
So is this another tool to add to the e-learning/training tool box, or the beginning of a transition in the training/e-learning industry? My bet is on the latter, but time will tell.