by Colin Thompson

Keeping your employees on top of their game includes making sure they are adequately trained in all areas relevant to their present jobs --and ones they might grow into. This week Colin Thompson looks at both past and recent trends in training, including the growth of 'blended' learning, and makes a few predictions for the future. Think about these as you consider employee training options for 2008.

Education is a journey, not a destination!

Knowing how the future of learning is going to develop is invaluable for any organization and individual involved in providing training and development. To predict the future of learning, though, it's important to look at the key developments so far. The impact of these developments effects us in both business and in personal life. We learn new ways at all times, that is, if we what too! Remember the adage, education is a journey, not a destination!

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 program
  • Individualization of learning programs.

These trends are driven by the needs of organizations and the buy-in by individuals: the need for efficiency, productivity and ultimately for greater competitiveness. These needs constantly drive change and transformation, consequently changing how training, learning and development are provided. All these impact on life in general for success.

Background Granularity: Until a few years ago, organizational and individual training was delivered primarily through three-to-five day training programs, 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 early e-learning courses took eight (often dreary) hours to work through, primarily because they were attempting to reproduce all the content delivered by a face-to-face event. Training for impacting the individual is best packaged in small units so it can be taken on board and successful used with the best results for the organization and the individual.

Integration: In the past, a training program 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 organizations millions of pounds by entirely replacing face-to-face training methods. A package of all the training methods is best used to suit the organization and the individual to obtain the best results. Discuss the requirements with the individual for there opt-in that also meets the organizations requirements. Without the opt-in from the individual the investment into training will not benefit the organization.

Mass Individualization: In the early to mid-1990s, one program would typically be delivered en masse --you attended the same management training program as all your colleagues. Although these programs would often have a measure of effectiveness, it's now evident that they often failed to meet individual needs both in terms of learning style and actual training requirements. Learning with the individual buy-in is much more rewarding and cost effective that the total involvement is an 'investment' with an excellent return for the individual and the organization.

E-learning has become an increasingly popular mode of training.

The Present

Granularity: The duration of training programs has been significantly reduced. One-day programs are now commonplace and generally considered to be highly effective. For some organizations, successful face-to-face events last no longer than half a day. Organizations 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. Also, learning models with direct communication via telephone, computer and mentors is far more rewarding for the individual and cost effective for the organization where it is a  win, win solution. Visit for details.

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.

'Blended' learning is seen as the most effective and cost-efficient form of training

Integration: The early predictions of e-learning as a replacement for face-to-face events were misplaced. Instead it's been recognized that an integrated program 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 organization. The buzz word today is 'blended' learning. To request my report on 'blended' learning. Please send an email to [email protected]

Balanced 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 organizational training. This figure declined 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 respondents. The results also projected that blended learning would comprise 29.4% of all corporate training and 22% of training budgets by 2008.

The survey also found that most respondents favored the blended approach with 80% saying that e-learning worked best when combined with traditional methods of training. Currently, 13% of all organizational training is currently delivered in this way --a figure predicted to rise to 19% in 2007 and 24% in 2008. The survey also found that one of the main reasons behind the predicted growth in blended learning is that 67% of organizations 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 organization. Plus, a buy-in by the individual for more e-learning programs that improve the 'bottom-line' on a continuous basis. 

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

Individualization: The development of programs into shorter, more concise modules makes it easier to tailor programs to organizations 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 miniaturized and intensified to integrate fully with work life. Programs will be fully individualized, based on learners' needs and following an in-depth, intelligent diagnostic of requirements. Finally, training and development will fully integrate face-to-face programs and e-learning courses into a seamless process that blends into one satisfying educational experience.

Life is 'full' of learning every day. We never stop learning at any age and it pays to always have an open mind to read, listen, view and share with others to help them be successful as you are in business and life in general.