Time for a cultural change – to engaged learning

Tim Thomas-Peter reckons elearning still plays a big part in an engaged and learning-friendly workforce. 

Recent research of managers has suggested that elearning platforms are like old, trusted friends: familiar and easy to get along with. 

But elearning systems aren’t so highly regarded by the staff. They are viewed rather like a colleague from another branch that’s making up the office party numbers would be; or the distant cousin you see at Christmas: fine to talk to but not someone you’ll spend the year with.

As a result, company elearning is at a tipping point. Elearning has such deep-seated legacy issues that it risks becoming that unfamiliar colleague or that barely-known relative. 

It’s overdue that organisations use simpler and more flexible elearning tools that fully engage hard-working staff and supervisors – alongside learning options that are less problematic technically to use across their organisation.  

There are four reasons to be concerned about legacy elearning.

First, we need to question whether workforces gain the learning experience they need from legacy elearning systems. Talk to ‘coalface’ teams in large organisations: they find expensively-assembled learning management systems (LMSs) unexciting and clunky to use.

Despite a world of apps and sharing, there’s still a divide between work and training – and limited commonality of the learning assets actually delivered to the ‘coalface’.

These platforms don’t easily accept bite-sized content formats. Many LMSs are based on unloved enterprise ERP systems while other products are niche and require deep knowledge to master.

This inflexibility poses long-term challenges for L&D teams. Any company that has invested in a LMS will want to recoup its outlay, possibly over many years. Where senior management does decide to upgrade their system to accept new content formats, it will still require project managers and a costly roll-out strategy.

There’s a second problem, arising from globalised work patterns. Fast-growing or global firms inevitably have extended workforces and multiple partners, so standardising learning assets is challenging. Regional offices have different IT infrastructures and applications, disparate PCs, devices and training policies.

Despite a world of apps and sharing, there’s still a divide between work and training – and limited commonality of the learning assets actually delivered to the ‘coalface’. 

A third challenge for traditional elearning systems is realising exciting opportunities for information-sharing through pervasive channels, in the manner of social media. Today’s brands are being reshaped daily by social media likes, feedback and co-production with users.

Many large companies have invested in funky training videos or branded learning games, but the focus was more on creativity than ‘shop-floor’ user accessibility: many of these assets can’t be distributed on company networks and devices and will remain under-used until simpler, more accessible e-learning platforms – compatible with any workstation or smartphone – become commonplace.

In contrast, enjoyable and engaging workplace upskilling is being achieved by a new breed of learning apps that are easily accessible, social media-style, across today’s cloud and on-premise networks and any end user’s device. These platforms remove the gap between work and learning, with instant delivery of different learning materials freeing trainees from ‘classroom-style’ sessions. 


This ‘learning-as-fun’ not only accelerates upskilling, it also generates data proving which training approaches actually work– it’s as viable for a fast-growing firm of 250 people as it is for a 50,000-strong global corporation.

And there’s a final concern with old-style elearning. Traditional 70:20:10 models suggest that learning in the workplace and from expert colleagues are the key factors, ahead of formal training. But much coaching is low return: many supervisors lack the confidence to coach junior colleagues, in the classroom or the workplace.

But we can now upskill trainers with coaching videos and guided apps accessed on the trainer’s device at the point of need. Such approaches could optimise 70:20:10 thinking – and drive up wider productivity.

Large and small companies, overflowing with data, want to better understand staff upskilling and whether learning tools work. Firms like Vodafone are now inspiring staff world-wide with engaging workplace learning and gamification of assets, through ‘always-on’ elearning platforms such as Learn with Mobile, available across PC, tablet and smartphone.

These nimble approaches that are a world away from clunky corporate LMSs.

These new tools replicate an array of existing training and online content assets – even in high-pressure retail outlets and call-centres – and despite the vastly-different IT set-ups involved. The Research Institute of America reckons these techniques boost knowledge retention by 60%.

One ‘breakthrough’ elearning programme was achieved by making self-registration easier, so learning assets are re-used by trainees while local administrators escape the swamp of helpdesk queries.

With learning truly happening in the workplace, organisations will move from cumbersome elearning strategies and dull classroom-led training to pervasive, easily-accessible, learning platforms. In the future, browsing of how-to-guides, product quizzes – and informal learning competition between high-achievers – could happen more easily in company downtime than formal training sessions. 

Firms and trainers must inspire a cultural shift towards enjoyable and engaged workplace elearning…or their legacy elearning platforms risk becoming the office acquaintance or the distant relative seen just once a year.  


About the author

Tim Thomas-Peter is managing director of Ambidect


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