Learning for the Future

Why corporate training can’t lose the human touch.

GUEST COLUMN | by Bernd Welz

CREDIT SAP SE.jpgTechnology has impacted nearly every aspect of modern life. Continued investments in the Internet of Things, digital transformation, and artificial intelligence prove that humans are counting on technology to solve minuscule and massive problems and, generally, improve quality of life across the board. And it has. But is relying solely on technology the best way for employers to prepare their employees for the workplace of the future? No, because learning is an inherently social activity.

Blending technology with the human element of learning is the most efficient solution for effective corporate training programs and the foundation of a Continuous Learning Culture.

Growing concern about the digital skills gap is motivating companies around the world to make enterprise learning a priority, but many are struggling with how to do so effectively and efficiently. From the classroom to the boardroom, methods of education are digitally transforming, but some elements of learning should remain steadfast. Blending technology with the human element of learning is the most efficient solution for effective corporate training programs and the foundation of a Continuous Learning Culture.

The Present

The shift to online learning in corporate training programs is largely due to the need to remain competitive. The Internet has broken barriers of time, geography, and cost. Customizing and implementing corporate training programs simply can’t be left to the four walls of a classroom when modern workforces span the globe and knowledge needs to be updated continuously. Companies need to invest in learning management systems to expand the variety of trainings they are able to provide and actively guide and track their employees’ corporate learning journeys.

For many corporate learning programs, it’s an either–or situation. Online or in-classroom. Siloed. Instead, companies should take advantage of a blended learning approach. Facilitated human interaction that takes place online – interactive massive open online courses (MOOCs), webinars with Q&A sessions, enabling digital “trainers” to act like school guidance counselors, virtual reality, and gamified competitions among classmates – gives learners the benefits of an in-classroom experience, even if they’re miles and time zones apart.

Incorporating human elements in learning, such as working in virtual groups, keeps learners motivated and engaged. For many people, working on group projects in class directly translates to collaborating with remote teams in the workplace across offices and continents. Enabling and encouraging employees to learn together also gives them some stake in the process. They feel obligated pull their own weight and contribute to the team’s collective objective. Communities of practice can be started and fed by group work in training programs.

Encouraging peer-to-peer and teacher-student interaction in corporate training programs not only allows participants to learn from the professor, but also from each other. Training material can be almost perfect, but the exchanges between learners in the “classroom” bring new experiences and perspectives to the table that can’t be replicated. Developing materials for online consumption allows companies to include external sources and up-to-date research that can be accessed on-demand, but there is no substitute for encouraging peers to share their personal experiences when it comes to truly internalizing a new concept.

The Future

Learning is a lifelong process, and corporate learning is no exception. In a time where every company is becoming a technology company, companies need to prepare for whatever the future may hold. Investing in learning management will help companies develop a culture of constant learning – putting employees ahead of the curve.

Companies should consider a blended corporate learning model as an investment in both current and future workforces. On-the-job learning will become a differentiator for talent acquisition and retention because incoming generations of digital natives expect to be constantly challenged and to grow their knowledge. These are people who have experienced technology’s lightning-fast growth first hand, and will offer their loyalty in exchange for a company that provides continued learning and development opportunities.

What will successful corporate learning programs look like in the future? They will know what employees have already learned, what they need to learn, and offer personalized recommendations for what they might want to learn. They will offer lectures in real time that can be reviewed and shared later. They will bring learners together to discuss and exchange ideas synchronously both in virtual and physical classrooms. Machine learning will troubleshoot, generate questions, and develop recommendations. Augmented reality will make information more attention grabbing, negating the need for “mandatory trainings.” Most importantly, companies will be prepared, and employees will be empowered.

Bernd Welz, Ph.D., is Chief Knowledge Officer in Products & Innovation at SAP SE. He is also an edtech and digital learning enthusiast, startup mentor, passionate husband and father, and running addict. Follow him @BerndWelz

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