03/03/2014

By Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloque, Co-Founder & CEO, Edxus Group Ltd.

It is a well-known business truism that workplace learning and training is essential for both employees and employers alike. Effective workplace learning and training does not only equip employees to do their jobs better, it also gives employers the opportunity to arm their staff with the skills necessary to accomplish business targets and drive the company forward.

Training staff is essential for growth and HR departments face the unenviable challenge of constantly seeking out relevant and engaging ways to carry out necessary training. As with many other aspects of life, technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role in this process – transforming both the delivery of training and also the way in which employers can track how staff are using training services, facilitating more detailed and personalised training on an individual level. This approach means employees are more likely to get involved and feel engaged and enhance their own skill sets, while also fulfilling employers’ intentions of equipping staff for business benefit – a win-win situation for all.

2013 was the year of big data in business, with many discussing at length the ways in which analytics tools are helping business to strategise and maintain competitive advantage. This trend is also helping businesses to harvest data from employees on performance measurement, employee engagement and a whole range of other data that can be used to guide and implement training policies. The key here is a personalised approach, tailoring a training programme to the individual rather than sending all staff on the same old courses. Engagement and completion are also fundamentally important. The main problem employers face in workplace training is poor completion rates. People are quick to engage with an exciting and cheap new resource but slow to complete. Education technology vendors are therefore working hard to ensure that content is immersive enough to not only attract employees but also to keep them engaged – all the way to the end.

Engagement is vital for any e-learning programme and it is fast becoming the main differentiator amongst a growing field of options. As a result, we believe this will give rise to the emergence of tools, interactive content and rewards all specifically designed to improve completion rates.

Making it easy for the workforce to complete training is also important. The pervasive use of mobile technology in our day-to-day lives is one example of this, providing ready access to an “always on” learning environment. According to Google, the typical smartphone owner checks their device 150 times a day. Where learning is then embedded into daily tasks, it creates the ideal environment for informal and habitual learning. For example, we have seen casual learning linked simply to the access code of smartphones; every time a user accesses their phone, they learn something new.

For example, EU Framework 7-funded project Mirror’s AppSphere provides a bundle of real-time learning applications that can be used on a collaboration platform within a company. The applications are designed to foster creativity, engage people in sharing and reflecting on work experiences, thereby helping them to learn from them.

Further apps have been designed to enable collaborative analysis of data to derive lessons for future behaviour. These ‘serious games’ are intended to allow for experimentation and review of effects in a secure environment. Other apps focus on just-in-time sharing of individual lessons learned. The resulting shared repository of good individual practice will then be accessible on mobile devices and at employees’ leisure.

Our own research has predicted a significant increase in the availability and use of these causal and informal learning apps in the workplace. The trend is expected to accelerate further, with 40% of all ICT-based learning on educational apps by 2020, up from 28.5% in 2012.

A focus on personal/mobile content is also expected, which makes sense when you consider that employees are often bringing their own devices into the workplace, all operating on a plethora of operating systems. Education technology innovators are already focusing a lot of time and effort on creating interactive content that is both device agnostic and “lite” to facilitate maximum usage amongst employers.

Another major driver of the adoption of e-learning-based training methods in the workplace is ongoing pressure on funding and the desire of governments to deliver vocational skills training for the national workforce at a lower cost per learner. For example, in the UK, the government has invested in Learn Direct, a technology platform that delivers lower cost adult-based training. Meanwhile in France, as part of ongoing reforms to vocational training, the government has created a ‘Compte Personnel de Formation’, a personal account where people can store training credits gained over time.

This is not the first time this kind of online account has existed but the real novelty is that people will now be able to use these credits even when unemployed, without the validation of their employer and during working hours (if employers agree). This new mechanism is set to drive yet further demand for e-learning within the employment environment.

We have not yet however reached the point at which technology and web based approaches to training will replace traditional schemes. The education and e-learning industry must work to provide better access to recognisable and verifiable certification, with a focus on rewards and accreditation to match that which already exists in traditional training methods.

Ultimately, the future of on-the-job training will involve a mix of modern technology based methods and traditional face-to-face methods. There is no substitute for human interaction in any form of education, but technology can certainly do a lot to complement, enhance and even revolutionise the process.

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