Learning Curve

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This is a link to a BBC Radio programme on eLearning and its increasing use in corporate training and development. It includes several interesting interviews and examples of the use of different types of eLearning to support the work and development of people in the workplace. Here is the introduction from the BBC website:

A 21st-century corporation needs a different kind of organisational structure from the old command and control mechanisms that built the world’s biggest companies. Peter Day finds out how people can create learning organisations without commanding and controlling.


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Homer Simpson had it right

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Probably the most common way of providing staff training is to put on a course – maybe over one day, two days or more. The reasons for this are many, but it often comes down to cost and convenience. It costs a lot to provide training, so it is most cost effective to get everyone in a room at the same time, and for the least amount of time, so they are not away from their jobs for too long. Often it appears that the factor least considered is effectiveness in terms of the employees actually learning something.

There are lots of ideas about and definitions of what learning actually is, but it is widely accepted that learning is some change in capability or enhanced knowledge or understanding. It is questionable then, whether getting a group of employees into a room and giving them information verbally, by powerpoint and handout, and even with an assessment at the end, is going to lead to the desired change in capability or enhanced knowledge or understanding. Several things make learning by this means difficult, including lack of opportunity for reflection or to practise with the information.

The problem is if you don’t use it it you lose it. Our brains are bombarded with information all day every day, and they are programmed to let the information fade away if it does not occur again soon in some context where its relevance is clear and a reason for long term storage provided. Homer Simpson was on the right track when he said, “every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain”. However, the old stuff isn’t information already stored for the long term, it’s the stuff that has just gone in and our brains are trying to decide whether to keep it or not. If you don’t start to use the new information pretty quickly your brain will dump it as the even newer stuff comes in.

This is an area where an eLearning or blended learning approach can help. Obviously, if we just provide employees with an online slide show, animated and narrated or not, which they view once, with a quiz at the end, we will have the same problem. eLearning can go much further, providing an opportunity over time to work with the information being learned; to view worked examples, try exercises and learn more thoroughly. Having the learning materials available online means that the inconvenience (from the employers’ point of view) of having employees away from their jobs for long periods is avoided. In addition, employees can learn when they find it convenient and training professionals can provide ongoing support to the learners as e-moderators.

If you train them they will leave (or will they?)

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It is generally accepted that proper training is required to enable staff to work effectively, and investment in training is recouped via increased productivity. Indeed lack of training can increase the time taken by staff to perform tasks and may even cause them to avoid undertaking the tasks at all. However, one of the major fears experienced by employers where training provision is concerned is that they may not be the main beneficiaries of the investment. They fear their more highly-skilled employees will take their skills elsewhere and other companies (in particular their competitors) will reap the benefits instead. Recent studies by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) suggests that these fears are unjustified and in fact the reverse may be true.

Rather than encouraging staff to leave, effective training improves employee job satisfaction and retention. One example cited highlights this effect, with staff turnover falling from 42% to just 2% after implementing a staff training programme. Staff retention was found to be just one of the benefits, with motiviation, productivity and safety awareness enhancements also noted.

Considering all the government assistance available for business training it is surprising that businesses don’t make more use of it; with a third of firms employing fewer than 50 people not investing in any training at all. UKCES Statistics also indicate that the failure rate among companies that provided no staff training was 2.5 times higher than for those that did, suggesting that many companies that went out of business could have survived if they had invested more in staff training.