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The future of learning is an on-demand model of easy access, says Lynsey Whitmarsh.

The likes of Google, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and BBC iPlayer have shown us how information and entertainment can be searched and accessed on-demand. Forward thinking organisa-tions are now applying this model to their learning.

Imagine a central hub containing all of your learning resources that employees can access with one click. Inside they’ll find videos, digital books, infographics, animations, games, quizzes, apps, short learning diagnostics and articles as well as all of your e-learning, virtual and face-to-face delivery options. Each of these assets has a summary showing what’s covered and the duration – as well as user reviews – so employees can quickly and easily search for the right solution to meet their needs. This is the future of learning. What’s more, you don’t have to ‘sell’ this concept to your employees. They’re already fully familiar with it at home!

The truth is that the expectations of learners have changed – whether they know it or not. Yet too many organisations are still offering a fixed learning curriculum, when a greater ‘blend’ of options is required. How alien this fixed curriculum must seem to employees, particularly millennial workers who have grown up consuming instant content via mobile devices and sharing experiences on social networks?

We’ve all become used to on-demand information and entertainment. The digital revolution, 70:20:10, mobile learning and the growth of self-directed resources now make it possible to offer employees greater choice around what they’ll learn and how they’ll learn it.

Excite, Engage, Embed

The three key learning challenges are to excite learners about the prospect of learning, to engage them with relevant ‘content’ and to embed the learning.

A central learning hub should contain assets that will excite and engage learners, whether they want a short burst of learning, a quick refresher or to develop or hone their skills.

For example, a video, a digital book or an infographic may give me the quick tips I need just before I’m due to have a difficult conversation. They could also be used to ‘excite’ me, or to impart some baseline information to get me thinking, before I take part in a face-to-face session. Classroom learning still has a fundamental role in any development portfolio, as it remains the best approach for practising behavioural skills such as coaching or hard-to-change habits. The classroom is also a ‘safe’ environment where individuals can try out new skills and behaviours, network and learn from others. But the model for classroom learning is changing. Self-directed resources can be utilised initially to get people up-to-speed. The face-to-face element can then focus solely on skills practice. This ‘experiential learning’ can be incorporated into a 90-minute ‘lunch and learn’ session. It could even be done virtually. The value for learners comes from connecting with other people, sharing experiences and practising their skills. Short, focused ‘skills surgeries’ like this can be delivered without taking people away from the desk or workplace for long periods.

Much has already been done to enhance the classroom experience with next-generation learning environments that are helpfully designed to optimise the use of space and technology. This helps learning to become an ‘ex-perience’, not just a ‘course’. Savvy L&D teams are now trying to ensure that all take-away materials are just as engaging. Delegates want to leave a face-to-face session with something useful that fits in their pocket, not a bag full of ring-binders and manuals they’ll never look at.

An important aspect of any learning is how ‘information’ is actually conveyed to learners. This has a significant impact on the effectiveness of the learning. Fluidbooks, for example, offer a new way of combining different activities and content, in a ‘modern’ design, that learners can watch, read or try. These new-style digital books can either be used to support learning ‘in the moment’ or to provide refresher training at the point of need.

After any learning intervention, the challenge is to ensure that learners will want to embed and sustain their learning. All skills need to be practised, so delegates will need to test out any new skills and reflect on their behaviour and the outcomes. Traditional follow-up options, such as action-learning sets or face-to-face coaching are now being supplemented with virtual seminars, hosted web calls, coaching via Skype and interactions on internal social networks, all of which have made it easier to build ‘communities of practise’ where people can get together to discuss and share their experiences, even if they’re in different locations.

With internal social networks, such as Yammer, employees can recommend content. For example, I could share a video or article on giving feedback that I found helpful. On Facebook and Twitter, people con-stantly share content for others to enjoy. Imagine the impact if we could do the same with our learning?

Holistic development

The advantage of a central learning hub is that it can cover a broader spectrum than ‘work skills’. Resources could be included that would help all employees in their wider lives. For example, personal finance advice for those new to the workplace or well-being ‘life skills’ resources covering aspects such as stress management, mindfulness, maintaining energy levels or positive psychology. This allows you to provide holistic support and development – on a 24/7 basis – that can benefit every employee.

The L&D challenge

To create a central learning hub, L&D teams will need to break down the silos that often exist in organisations and collaborate closely with their HR, IT and marketing colleagues, as it will involve sharing budgets and resources. There are challenges in choosing the right content for your hub, administering the process, managing a social network and communicating and reminding people about the resources that are available. Line managers will need to be on-board, so they can help their teams to understand the learning choices that are available. You may also need to bring together learning platforms, portals or resources from different providers into a single central hub. But, with the right support, these challenges are not insurmountable. Dare to dream. Once you have your ‘house’ (the right platform), you can then concentrate on choosing the right ‘furniture’ (learning content).

A key benefit of a learning hub is the analytics you’ll receive, including your most popular learning assets and the trending topics in your organisation. These insights can be fascinating for L&D and they can help you make smarter decisions about what learning resources need to be developed in the future.

The model also allows individuals to take responsibility for their own learning. This has long been a desirable goal for organisations. It becomes achievable if you truly have the right options available that people can search, find and use when the need arises. Taking responsibility is about choosing what’s right for them, and their learning style, on their own learning journey.

Of course, the principal benefit here is that employees will get the learning they need when they need it. This will help them to be more effective, more pro-ductive and more engaged. In turn, that can improve retention and it can enhance your employer brand.

Netflix, Amazon and others have raised the bar by delivering content on-demand. It’s a model that works – and people like it. Now it’s L&D’s turn.

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