For as many decades as companies have invested in training, that training has primarily been delivered in the physical classroom. This requires recipients to put aside their usual work activities for a few days and make the trek to sit in such a classroom with a group of peers for a day or two to receive their training.
Technology has massively and unprecedentedly changed the world in which we now live, work, and play. Encyclopedia Britannica, which was the primary source of knowledge for many since the late 18th century, ceased publication in 2010. People now instantly network, chat and collaborate with others around the world using handheld devices. Individuals can learn, using those same handheld devices, about almost anything through YouTube and user forums across the internet, regardless of time and place. So, why do so many people still think of the physical classroom as the way in which to deliver training, or at the very least the benchmark to which other modalities should aspire?
Let’s examine the efficacy of the classroom. The traditional classroom forces us to batch up the training into a linear stream of information that will be passed onto recipients all at the same time, at the same rate, over a few consecutive days. During this time, trainees don’t have the chance to reflect on new ideas or to try new approaches. We know that most of the trainees won’t have the chance to apply anything more than a small percentage of the content within a matter of a week or two, and we also know that if they don’t, then the chance of doing so at a later date are equally small. As well, many of the trainees, if asked at lunch on the first day of training, how the course is going, will answer that “it’s a bit slow, they have learned nothing new, and are hoping that the pace will pick up”.
The ROI from the majority of traditional classroom training is surely extremely low when we look at the total cost and time versus the actual impact on performance. Yet, many cling to the walls of the classroom refusing to believe that technology enabled training alternatives will be effective. When you consider this in the face of how people are living and learning in today’s technology enabled world, it seems nothing short of ludicrous.
So much can be gained by understanding the three primary reasons for this reluctance to change and by overcoming them. These reasons are:
1. Resistance to Change
People are always resistant to change. The FAX machine was patented before the telephone but it still took decades for faxes to replace Telex’s. As another example, not every organization will accept signatures electronically and still insist on a FAX. We have to treat the transition out of the classroom as a significant exercise in change management.
2. Re-architecting Training
Training courses that have been designed for the classroom are exactly that. They are optimized, and indeed compromised, for classroom delivery. They tend to be continuous and linear streams of information delivered within the confines of time and place. This is not the starting point for technology-enabled training. If all we do is take a program designed for the physical classroom, and try to deliver it through a technology based medium, we are almost bound to fail. Training must be rethought, re-architected and redesigned for technology-based delivery. It can, and indeed must, be delivered in short learning experiences; it should be integrated with application; it should enable collaboration and discussion; and it should deliver the training when and where it is required.
3. Quality of Content
The final reason we cling to the walls of the physical classroom is simply because it keeps our trainees captive. To put it bluntly, the training is either so poor or the trainees motivation towards the training so weak, that we have to hold them captive to administer it. Of course you may have the physical body captive but there is no guarantee that the mind is there.
We must fully embrace new technology enabled training opportunities. As L&D professionals we are not leading the way, we are playing catch up to where the world already is. But, we must take on responsibility for the change management, for re-architecting our learning programs, and for ensuring the relevance and quality of the training to the learner.