Learning new ways to learn at work.

Eoin Mulrooney
On: 21 Feb 2019
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Online learning

In a high-employment economy, offering employees the opportunity to continually develop professionally is essential for employee retention. However an audience that is used to interactive video content on their smartphones is no longer prepared to submit to a slow “death by PowerPoint”. New methods of teaching are required if employees are going to learn willingly.

New training methods are not merely about counteracting our ever-decreasing attention spans. They also take advantage of technology to make training more efficient and less of a drain on productivity.

Most Irish companies, from small to large, are likely to have remote workers who rarely visit the office. Travelling to a central location for a training session is a poor use of time and a nightmare to organise. Likewise, the approach of the trainer travelling to different locations to host repeat sessions represents a poor use of time, and using several trainers to cover sessions risks a lack of consistency in what’s taught and unnecessary expense.

Combined with challenges such as staff turnover and training that needs to be regularly updated, it’s hardly surprising that companies are switching to digital tools and online learning techniques. Harnessing technologies such as the cloud, mobile phones and collaborative tools, companies are making learning more efficient, enjoyable and effective.

Trained to remember.

An online learning environment is effective for two reasons. Firstly, it works in the way people are now used to for gaining information – when and where they want from their mobile device, with user-friendly features like search, customisation and bookmarking. Secondly, it makes training more flexible and engaging, and therefore more likely to be remembered.

Employees can choose when and where they train and can do so at their own pace. Employers can use bought-in content with platforms like LinkedIn Learning, which has a catalogue of more than 10,000 training courses. They can also refer employees to existing professionally produced, relevant online content (on YouTube, for example). If they have the resources and the necessary skills, employers can create their own digital training content.

If it’s still necessary to have some traditional face-to-face workshop sessions, having access to this kind of material beforehand allows attendees to acquire the necessary knowledge in advance. Workshop time can then be more usefully spent in gaining skills.

Engaging learning.

Just as with traditional classroom training, engagement is key to successful learning online. There is more to ensuring engagement than making sure the training materials are interesting and relevant. Trainees must also understand its value to them and their professional development.

Implementing an online Learning Management System gives employers visibility of what employees are learning and facilitates the creation of tailored learning pathways for individual employees. It can also provide a clear route to the trainee’s next level of employment or a clear career pathway, which will help keep them engaged in learning.

An online learning environment can also relieve employers of some of the burden of managing an employee’s professional development. Having training available online enables a culture of self-development; putting the onus on the employee to drive their own training and growth at a time and pace that suits them. This doesn’t mean employees should be expected to sacrifice their own time. Learning should still take place during the working day and employees should be encouraged to spend an hour every week to learn from the online resources provided. This may represent a short-term sacrifice in productivity, but it will provide long-term benefits in performance and productivity, as well as employee satisfaction and retention.

Tip: encourage small groups of colleagues to learn together for added benefits, as discussion, collaboration and enhanced learning are natural consequences.

Explaining to employees that they can now learn as they need to, rather than when they’re told to, can be difficult or easy depending on the existing training culture and level of engagement within your business. It may even be necessary to hold “engagement sessions” to introduce the concept and encourage employee take-up.

Employers who are already operating an online digital learning environment have learned something themselves. They’ve learned that it helps attract and retain talent, enables greater flexibility to adapt to business change, and helps improve employee productivity.