The Modern Model for Learning in the Digital Age


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As technology interrupts the learning space, it's important to rethink learning and adopt modern models in order properly engage learners. This paper from 3G Selling outlines a modern learning model for efficient and engaging learning.

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The Modern Model for Learning in the Digital Age

  1. 1. RETHINKING LEARNING The Modern Model for Learning in the Digital Age It is well established and widely accepted that the training industry is undergoing massive change, largely as a result of technology. However, this kind of technology-driven change is nothing new. In 1969, for example, a Royal Charter in the United Kingdom founded the Open University to deliver remote education via television to deserving students who could not attend a traditional brick-and-mortar instituion of higher learning. And despite the British Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time calling the endeavor “blithering nonsense,” the Open University has since provided education to over 1.5 million students. In the intervening period, we have seen the term e-Learning become an accepted word and we are now witnessing an inexorable onslaught of technology-based training approaches. But has anything really changed? More importantly, has the exponential progress of technology—which has improved so many aspects of our lives—done anything to improve learning? Many still cling to the traditional physical classroom as the benchmark for education and training. This parochial adherence to tradition has gone to the ridiculous extreme of trying to emulate a physical classroom in the virtual world, a classroom where we still believe that to provide training we must hold people captive for long periods of time and subject them to a trainer presenting information to them. When it comes to considering how technology could and should have an impact on education and training, I believe it boils down to one primary question: how do we deliver effective training with the technology we now possess? To begin, I would argue that rather than focusing on the technology, we must start by focusing on the word effective. 1 live virtual learning experiences Sponsored by
  2. 2. 2 Effective Learning To understand how we can enhance the training experience, let’s start by asking: “What constitutes effective training?” To answer this question, let’s jump back some 150,000 years to the start of our own civilization and examine how we learned. And learn we did: our very survival depended on it. From a very young age we learned to hunt, to cook, to forage and then to farm. Looking a little deeper, how did we learn these skills? We learned through observation, through doing and experimenting. We learned from the elders and were mentored by our parents, siblings and other tribal members in a highly social network of learning. As we ourselves learned, we then contributed to the overall body of knowledge by sharing our own skills and experiences. This may have seemed far from a formal learning structure, but it was highly effective. It was a form of learning that was individually acquired and was based on continuous and evolutionary practice. This social learning continued to be the way in which we learned through to the time of Con- fucius (551 to 497 B.C.) when schools started to emerge. School education, however, continued to be a highly social form of learning, with teachers individually mentoring each student and students learning from each other. Formal mentoring relationships were established between senior and junior students. Another significant development in learning occurred around 1200 A.D. in Bologna, Paris and Oxford with the formation of guilds. With the guilds, we saw the recognition of learning and mastery in the trades and crafts. Education and training continued long after formal education and students would be apprenticed and continued to learn through mentoring relationships with the masters of their craft. Learning continued to be a process that was social and individual; the student was mentored and the integration of learning and doing was the practice. Learning on the job was a continuous process. Students were encouraged to work with other students, thereby contributing to the common base of knowledge. Then two hundred years ago—in the name of efficiency—everything changed thanks to one invention by the headmaster of the Old High School of Edinburgh, Scotland. James Pillans is indeed most often credited with inventing the blackboard. The blackboard enabled one teacher to stand in front of many students and present, or in today’s terms broadcast, information to many people at the same time. It was highly efficient; the teacher no longer needed to dedicate time to each student on an individual basis, and students no longer needed to spend time with one another. They simply become receivers of the transmitted information— all at the same time and in the same way. The challenge of course is that not all students want that same information at the same rate in the same way. And more seriously, not all students can absorb the same information at the same rate and in the same way. So in the end, not all students actually learned very much of what they were taught. In other words, what may have been efficient was not very effective. Regardless then of this simple logic and its universally ignored results, the blackboard is responsible for moving us two hundred years in the wrong direction. From the blackboard came the whiteboard, and from the whiteboard has come a series of software applications that have brought us to the dominant one: Microsoft PowerPoint. 200 YEARS IN THE WRONG DIRECTION How often do we now have a trainer stand in front of a room of “captive” learners and simply broadcast information by way of a PowerPoint presentation? Unfortunately, this has become the accepted norm. Yes, we joke about “death by PowerPoint,” but the sad truth is that this is endured by our learners. How often do we hear or say on the lunch break of the first day of The way people work has changed The demographics, working style and learning style of working professionals have changed radically since the 1990s. But the physical, event-based training approach we’re using to train them is stuck some- where in the latter half of the 20th century. live virtual learning experiences
  3. 3. 3 a two-day training program, “Well, I haven’t learned anything so far, but maybe it will warm up this afternoon,”or “If I get a couple of nuggets out of a training program it will have been worthwhile.” Furthermore, we expect such a training event to change behavior and leave a lasting impact on the learner. But I can unreservedly say that without coaching, reinforcement, application of new knowledge, collaboration and socialization among learners, there is unlikely to be any lasting change. We have set the bar very low and all too often the feedback from a classroom training event revolves as much around the food and the likeability of the trainer as the real value of the training. Often entertainment is confused with learning and if participants “enjoyed” the event, then we declare it successful. We accept this poor training now as the norm, and very rarely is a training event truly gauged on its only reason for existing—its impact on the learner. To be fair, not all training has fallen this low and there are some examples of highly effective training. But sadly such instances are few and far between when it comes to training in today’s corporate and professional world. ENTER TECHNOLOGY Into the foray wades technology with its ubiquitous standard-bearer, the webinar. Once more, and again in the name of efficiency, we have the ability now to broadcast our PowerPoints to the learners but without the cost and time of having to get people together. We can now have almost unlimited participants in our virtual classrooms and supposedly train people across the globe. However, what we see from the participants in the virtual classroom as compared to the captives in the physical classroom is significantly different behavior. These learners no longer wait until the afternoon of the first day to see if it will warm up; they give it about three minutes before switching to other activities and disengaging from the so-called “training program.” Many facilitators are quick to blame this lack of engagement on the participant being remote, being unmonitored and being free to switch to e-mail, Facebook or the latest sports news. They then posit that it is impossible to engage the remote participant in a learning program. However, I do not believe that this is the case. These people didn’t sign on in the first place if there was not a genuine desire to learn. The real fact of the matter is that the water has been drained from the swamp and the rocks are exposed. The same content that may have appeared to work—and I stress appeared to work—in the traditional physical classroom fails to capture the attention of the participant when they are remote. This is not the result of being remote; this is the result of weak and irrelevant content. For those that may not agree with this, take but one real-life proof point: the broadcast media. Consider how TV and radio programs can keep people enthralled for hours, when they too can easily flip the channel or walk away. It may be a reality show, a talk radio show, a documentary or even an infomercial that proves the point. These programs are created and delivered with an emphasis on communicating a message that is relevant and intrigu- ing; indeed, so compelling to the remote participant that they hang on every word. These programs are also designed and delivered in a significantly different way than a PowerPoint presentation. RETHINKING THE ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN AND DELIVERY OF TRAINING We need to overcome two hundred years of moving in the wrong direction. We have to aban- don the accepted norms and rethink how we architect and deliver training. We now have the opportunity to return to training as it was and to create training programs that truly impact the learners. No longer do we have to force-fit a training program into a single event that is delivered in a linear fashion. No longer do we have to hold learners captive with a one-size- live virtual learning experiences Physically present doesn’t mean mentally engaged In the physical training classroom, it’s not at all uncommon to see rampant smartphone use and other behaviors that interfere with learning and collaboration.
  4. 4. 4 fits-all core dump that disregards their existing level of knowledge, needs, learning styles and desire for that training. Learning and development professionals and those responsible for the provision of training must undergo a metamorphosis. They must change from being developers and deliverers of training events into architects and enablers of blended and continuous learning. There are seven keys to success in managing this change. These are they. The Seven Keys #1 The Key to Design: Start with a Solid Foundation The successful design of any building starts with an in-depth knowledge of the ground upon which the building will be built and a thorough knowledge of how the building will be used. The successful design of any learning program must also be based on a solid foundation. There are two elements to establishing this foundation. First, there must be great clarity about the overall learning objectives. Exactly what will happen as a result of the learning program and how would that differ from the current state? What changes in behavior would be seen from the learners and what would be the results of such changes at the individual, team and organizational levels? How fast would these changes occur, and how sustainable would they be? What else might be required by the learners or within the organization to realize these results? Far too many training programs fail due to a lack of clarity in establishing the overall learning objectives. Many also fail due to the learning objectives being either too ambitious or based on dependencies beyond the scope of the program. For example we could train sales people on new products but if the compensation systems fail to incent them to sell these new products, there will be little if any change in behavior. This may seem simple or obvious but as we move to designing and enabling continuous and blended learning programs, absolute clarity in establishing realistic and achievable learning objectives becomes critical. Once we have gained such clarity of purpose, the second element that contributes to the successful foundation is gaining an in-depth knowledge of the learner. We must understand the profile, current knowledge, competencies and motivations of the learner community. Are we, for example, providing information that they are highly motivated to learn, and/or providing training that they seek? Are the learners similar in their current approaches, competencies and skills? How do these individuals currently learn, what time would they have to devote to learning, where are they and how do they gain access to information and to each other? To what degree do they currently rely on each other—peers or managers—in their day-to-day activities? These are among the many questions we need to answer in order to establish the required foundation upon which to architect an effective learning program. #2 The Key to Efficacy: Information Versus Transformation There is a very big difference between providing information and charting a course for transformation. Such transformation may be aimed at changing how a particular process is approached, how individuals perceive and react to different situations, or any other form of behavioral change. Many training programs in today’s world simply provide information and are designed in the optimistic belief that with the delivery of enough information, transformation will occur. Consider a training program you may have recently designed or participated in and think critically of how much of the content was simply to provide information. Then also consider when the learner will likely use that information. Overall, was there a measureable degree of efficacy; did it bring about the desired results? live virtual learning experiences “ “ A definition of blended and continuous learning Blended and continuous learning is a learning model that employs different learning practices to help students learn in the best way for them. Through a balance of live lectures and on-demand content, as well as group work and independent work, blended and continuous learning provides the learner with the right information, in the right way, at the right time. Blended learning modalities often include live instructor-led training, in either the physical or virtual classroom, or asyn- chronous learning, mobile and on-demand. As an example, a blended and continuous learning program might start with the students reading the material online at their own pace, extend into an instructor-led lecture, move into individual exercises for practice and culminate back online in a shared space where students can ask questions and share notes. The blended and continuous learning environment is focused on providing the training and information needed to improve the learner’s skills and know- ledge over time, when needed, in the optimal format. It is not focused solely around a single training event.
  5. 5. 5 Two centuries of mistaking broadcasting for learning have led us to the sadly accepted fact that many training programs are simply the presentation of information. A great example of this is training sales people on competitive products. In many situations, it could be months before these sales people actually need that information, and by then they either have for- gotten it (if they ever actually knew it) or it is out of date. But in the old blackboard view of the world, it is considered vital to provide this information to the sales force at their training sessions. Informational learning is typified by the learner generally knowing what they need to learn. They can discern between good information and bad, and that they know what to do with the new information they gain as a result of the learning experience. Transformational learning is indicated when the learners are perhaps not aware of what they don’t know. Or they may not be able to discern the quality of new information or wouldn’t know what to do as a result of receiving it. As such transformational learning requirements are well-suited to live forums where learners can collaborate and discuss the topics in a way that allows them to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of a facilitator as well as from one another. In rethinking learning, we need to determine what aspects are informational in purpose rather than transformational. We should then seek to provide the informational learning in ways that deliver the learning to the individual where and when they need it. Don’t force learning to be live and instructor-lead if it doesn’t need to be. #3 The Key to Delivery Modality: Think Small Chunks As developers of training programs, we have been brought up to think of training occurring as an event. We need to fit all of the training into, say, a two-day training program. Although we are so used to this thinking, the notion of dedicating such a significant amount of time to a training event is usually absurd. We accept this assumption and then design our training for these monolithic events. But as we move to a more blended and continuous system of delivering training, we should think of a training program as a series of small chunks. We can and must live virtual learning experiences The challenges of physical, event-based training The impact of technology1. on how people work The high cost of2. geography The fire hose effect3. The illusion of face-to-4. face networking How you change5. behaviors: motivation or methodology Today’s L&D mandate:6. “do more with less” Beyond cost savings: the key venefits of live virtual training Fits today’s working style1. Engages learners2. through dynamic delivery Compresses training3. into the most impactful material Provides opportunity4. for application of new approaches and tools
  6. 6. 6 break up each learning program into a series of the smallest possible segments. What was a two-day training event may become a series of twenty or more learning segments. Each of these segments should be self-contained, but may be dependent upon other such chunks of learning, events or activities. Even what previously may have been a 90-minute presentation can be broken into smaller pieces. Then for each piece we can ask the questions: When does the learner need this learning?1. Is it transformational or informational in nature?2. When would it be required, by whom, where and when?3. By answering these questions, the optimal timing and delivery modality can be determined. Once again using the example of sales training, perhaps “How best to position against the competition” represents a transformative learning experience which is best accomplished live, but then the details of various competitors’ products would represent a series of infor- mational learning chunks that can be provided asynchronously, when and where required, and accessed through a mobile device. #4 The Key to Design: One Size Does Not Fit All Once again our history of designing for the classroom includes a necessary constraint that all the learners will participate in the same learning, at the same time, in the same way. This learning approach will be either topic- or instructor-centric as opposed to being focused on the individual learner and his or her individual needs and motivations. There was little choice but to stream learners through the same production line learning event. With blended and continuous learning we can now break away from the notion of one size having to fit all. Learners can now participate in a series of learning experiences that best suit their own requirements and circumstances. Although a group of learners may come together live for facilitated discussions, certain individuals may need to engage in different learning experiences in order to prepare for such collaboration. By breaking an overall training program into a series of small chunks, we can then offer individual training paths to individual learners. Care should be taken in designing such programs as we are not suggesting that all training become “opt-in” activities. Here again we see the importance of understanding what is informational and what is transformational in nature. Informational learning can often be entered into by the learner as and when they need such information to the extent that if they don’t need that information, they don’t need that training. On the other hand, when it comes to transformational learning, an individual may not know what they don’t know and may have to be directed into the learning experience. #5 The Key to Engagement: If It Doesn’t Need to Be Live, Don’t Make It Live The live classroom—physical or virtual—should be a synchronous event. It should be dialogue, debate, collaboration and chat. Central to the theme of this paper is that the classroom is not the time and place for broadcasting information from one to many. The reception and processing of information is not a synchronous event, it is an individualistic event. The classroom should enable critical thinking and discourse where learners and experts engage in a dialogue that explores and builds upon knowledge and ideas. Each and every participant at a live event should be actively involved. The classroom is not the place for passive observation where a participant is principally a spectator. Neither should the classroom be used for a simple question and answer sessions between the learners and the facilitators or subject matter experts. Such information provision and exchange can best be accomplished in other ways, thanks again to technology. live virtual learning experiences A new generation of virtual training The new generation of live, instructor-led virtual train- ing is equipping learning leaders with a convenient, cost-effective and holistic training approach that actually outperforms the physical classroom.
  7. 7. 7 The lack of learner engagement is seen as the primary challenge to be overcome when delivering a live virtual classroom event. The more critical (or cynical) may even reflect that this could also be the biggest challenge in the physical classroom though the concern is somewhat mitigated as the learner is held hostage and can be directly observed by peers and facilitators. In either case the concern is real, but what many fail to see is why. The num- ber-one reason for a lack of engagement by learners in live virtual sessions is that they are not being engaged; rather they are subjected to the presentation of information much of which may fail to be relevant or may fail to provide any clear value. As has been previously stated, this is expected and indeed accepted in the physical classroom thanks to the habits formed over two centuries. A learner will sit there and be subjected to such irrelevant and valueless information all morning in the hope and expectation that it will get better after lunch. Not so when it comes to the live virtual classroom, where the disengagement threshold is measured in minutes. The key to learner engagement is that the classroom should be used for highly participative dialogue on topics that are relevant and deliver clear value to the individual. To attain this level of engagement, all presentation of information should be removed from the live classroom leaving the time for discussion, dialogue, collaboration building and sharing ideas. For this reason, classroom sizes should be maintained at a size where each and every individual can, should, and must participate—likely no more than twenty individuals. #6 The Key to Results: Integrate Learning with Doing Leonardo Da Vinci stated, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” There is questionable value associated with knowledge gained without application and follow through. For many years the value of much corporate training in the classroom has been questioned. It has been shown that much of what is covered in a physical classroom event is never applied and even when change does occur, it falls off rapidly after the training event. Once again, simple logic suggests that for a two- or three-day training event there is not likely going to be the opportunity for every learner to apply all that they have learned within a few days of the actual training event. As time passes and things are forgotten, the chances of the new knowledge, skills or techniques being applied dwindle ever more. We have to go back to the learning approach that was the norm prior to the blackboard and integrate learning and doing. When serving an apprenticeship, a student is mentored step-by-step through learning new skills. Each step is a combination of observation, instruction, application, critique and reflection. It is only by going through such a process—where new learning is applied and knowledge incrementally gained—that learning becomes effective and valuable. Consider when you learn to play a musical instrument, a new sport, or aquire a new skill such as flying a plane. The successful learning approach integrates the learning of new knowledge with the application. Key to retention and success is then the ability to gain feedback on such application, and then for the learner to reflect on the results of that application. Once again we can see how the physical classroom has forced us to separate the learning from its application. In the traditional training event, we subject individuals to hours and days of instruction with no application. Sometimes we use role plays and other similar devices to simulate real-life, but these lack the reality of the actual operating environment and usually offer very limited time for application. One of the most significant benefits with moving from discrete training events to a continuous learning model is that we can integrate the learning with the doing. We can now provide instruction followed by the opportunity to immediately put new skills or knowledge into practice. Then we can design for individuals and groups to come back together in a live, real- time setting to review and discuss progress and share experiences. Of course this was not live virtual learning experiences
  8. 8. 8 possible when learners had to travel to physical classrooms as it would have implied bringing the group of learners together perhaps for just an hour or two each week for several weeks —clearly an impractical notion. Now, thanks to technology, we can convene a series of live events between learners and facilitators over a period of time as the learners incrementally learn and immediately apply new knowledge. #7 The Key to Success: Change Management For too long we have embraced and accepted an anachronistic and deeply flawed concept of learning. In the corporate training environment, we subject individuals to extended annual training events dominated by relentless e-blackboard presentations. Unquestionably these activities are entered into with sincere and good intent, but the reality is that only a fraction of these activities actually convert into any lasting benefits to either the individual or the organization. Given such a low return, one wonders why organizations continue to invest in such events. Sadly, it is testimony to the power of habit. Despite the damning evidence of its ineffectiveness, it’s what we’ve been doing for years and it’s what everybody expects. Clearly, logic insists that we must overcome the inertia of two hundred years of hidebound thinking. This is why change management becomes the key to success. We must move away from the physical classroom to processes that bring together a blend of different learning experiences. We must abandon discrete training events and replace them with continuous and blended learning programs. This will force change and will challenge the established norms but it will open the way to a real transformation of expectations and behaviors. Undoubtedly, this will also generate questions of just how far a stretch this will be and is it realistic to expect such change to occur. Good questions; consider how many individuals regularly use e-mail to communicate, use Facebook to connect with friends and family, join in chat forums to keep in touch with individuals with similar interests and watch YouTube to learn about all sorts of topics. But when asked to abandon the physical classroom in favor of virtual alternatives, they will come up with many compelling (to them) reasons that technology- based alternatives will not work for them. This is the power of the status quo and the fear of change. Change management must be an integral component of any organizational strategy that moves individuals out of the physical classroom to alternative forms of training. Furthermore, change management principles must be used to instill accountability into the individuals taking on the responsibility for owning their own professional development. In a similar manner, those who are entrusted with the management of others must take on the responsibility for developing the capabilities for their own direct reports. Change management is never easy. But without a focus on how to manage these changes across the organization, any initiative to offering training in new and different ways will be severely compromised, no matter how effective and proven those approaches may be. THE OPPORTUNITY Today we live, work and play in ways that could only be envisioned just a decade ago. We communicate through any one of multiple devices to friends, colleagues and strangers around the globe at the speed of light. We use LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with others. We use the internet to gain encyclopedic knowledge in seconds. We watch YouTube where videos entertain us with cats playing the piano, show us how to fix a computer, teach us how to play the guitar or diagnose a health concern. We live in an always-on, socially networked, real-time world where we manage numerous and diverse activities every hour and have almost instant access to a world of information. live virtual learning experiences Organizational benefits of live virtual training Increased training results1. on both quantitative and qualitative metrics over physical, event-based classroom training 40% reduction in training2. expenditures Faster, more sustainable3. results Higher productivity4. Breaking down the walls of the physical classroom Training must be freed from the constraints of time and place if it’s to keep pace with how workers actually work, collaborate and learn.
  9. 9. 9 Yet in this and despite this environment, many think that the optimal manner in which to deliver training is by holding a group of people captive in a room for days on end and throw information at them. And while the very notion should seem illogical, ludicrous even, it’s a real reflection of two centuries of misdirection that compels us to cling to the notion of the physical classroom. It is time to leverage the wonders of technology and get back to learning that is focused on the individual. Learning that is continuous in nature, comprised of a blended mix of instruction, application, social interaction, reinforcement, and coaching, all of which can delivered regardless of time and place. The move to this concept of learning requires that we rethink our approaches. Using the content and processes that are used in the physical classroom and simply moving them into a virtual world is a recipe for failure. In my own experience when we were designing training for the classroom, we were automatically encumbered by the many constraints that come with the notion of a traditional training event. As such, the training programs were compromised by the nature of having to deliver in this manner. This is why webinars have developed such a poor reputation, because in reality they differ little from that blackboard that Headmaster Pillans invented two hundred years ago. We must rethink, re-architect and redesign our learning. Technology enables us to design and deliver training in the way in which we now live, work and play. We can be free from time and place constraints. We can learn individually or socially with access to experts and expertise, learning on the job, when and where it matters most. We can break free of the physical boundaries of the classroom and once again embark upon effective learning, reversing the direction that was set two hundred years ago with the invention of the blackboard. live virtual learning experiences About 3GS 3GS is the leader in the design, development and delivery of live virtual learning experiences. Our training solutions range from customer-configured “off-the-shelf” programs in business areas like sales, leadership and communication to completely custom programs designed around the customer’s unique training needs. We’re unlike any other company offering virtual training solutions in today’s market. We’ve pioneered an innovative way to deliver virtual training that’s more dynamic and engaging than basic webinar-style training, less expensive than traditional classroom training—and far more effective than either. To find out more about our program offerings, get in touch with us at 888.243.0461, or Visit us online at Make the leap to live virtual training If you’re looking to launch a live virtual training initiative but aren’t sure where to start, 3GS can help. Our 3 Steps to Effective Continuous Learning workshop will equip your organization with a custom program architecture that lays the foundation for a training program that’s perfectly matched to your training needs, and to the way your employees work and learn. Contact us any time at for more information. About the Sponsor Online Training Made Easy. Citrix GoToTraining is an easy-to-use online training service that allows you to move your live instructor-led training programs online for more efficient customer and employee training. Hold unlimited online training sessions with up to 200 attendees from around the world right from your Mac or PC. Reach more learners, collect real- time feedback, record and store your training sessions and more—all while slashing travel costs. Learn more at