The End Of Formal Learning Content

The End Of Formal Learning Content
Summary: Since formal learning content takes up so much time, and is often hit-and-miss, what would happen if we got rid of it completely? Is it possible to have a content-free learning program?

Corporate Training And Formal Learning Content

According to the oft-quoted 70:20:10 formula, formal learning accounts for only 10% of everything we learn. When you hear that, you have to wonder why training professionals put so much of their time and effort (and budget) into such a small fraction of the training experience.

It got me thinking – what if they devoted all their time to a training program that was 100% informal. Firstly, let me be clear – I know that formal content is the backbone of Learning and Development. It contains the information that employees need to carry out their duties efficiently and to the letter of the law, as it were.

But I’ll come back to that later.

For now, let me transport you to a different reality and share my dream of a more organic training program.

No More Training Managers

The first casualties of this new utopian learning environment are the training managers themselves. Sorry about that! I’m afraid there’s no need for the old guard, obsessively poring over reports and reducing every learner to a number in the system. But they might not need to sign up for unemployment benefit immediately. As one door closes, another opens, and this content-less training initiative is rife with opportunity.

A new post of ‘training facilitator’ has just opened up. Although it has similarities to the dusty old ‘training manager’ role, the purpose is quite different. Instead of trying to make people learn, it’s the training facilitator’s job to let people learn. Rather than prescribe a rigid structure, it’ll be up to them to create the right environment and focus on keeping the learners engaged.

Learning 24/7

Think about your experience with formal training. You’ll probably have vague memories of struggling to stay awake through an hour-long eLearning unit. You might even recall a test at the end, but how well did you do? What impact did it have on your behavior? Have you even had the chance to think back to it until just now?

In my new world order, training isn’t confined to a manual in a corner of a store cupboard or a dilapidated PC in the staffroom. Training is something that your learners can carry with them everywhere they go. It’s a fully mobile learning experience that connects them to their peers letting them learn from each other and share their knowledge, wherever they happen to be.

Training By The People, For The People

Even if you’re a charitable soul who can overlook the inherent dullness of traditional formal training, there are some problems that aren’t so easy to brush aside. Surely you’ve seen training content that takes a sheep-dip approach, delivering – no – inflicting the same standard content on everyone. It doesn’t care who you are, where you are, what your strengths, weaknesses or individual needs are. Worst of all, it was created in an alien department, far removed from the practical reality. Then, try to contain your anger when you think of how much money was thrown away on such an ineffective method.

We’re living in a time where user-generated content is increasingly important. Think of the last time you bought something online. Chances are, you didn’t give the product description a second glance – but you likely took a deep dive into the customer reviews. It’s really the only way to get the truth without the marketing spiel. Also, these reviews show real-world cases of the product in action, not some imagined scenario of how it should be used.

Back to online learning – if your content is created by the learners themselves, it will have relevance that can’t be replicated in the formal material. Also, with the right system in place, all it will cost the business is the time taken to curate and categorize the most useful information.

Student-Led Learning

A lot of training managers complain about learner engagement. They’re right to complain – it’s the biggest problem in Learning and Development today. On the other side of that coin, many of the learning managers who succeed in engaging their learners encounter a different problem. The knowledge-hungry workforce reach the end of the training content and start demanding more. This is a great position for a learning department to find themselves in, but it’s also a dangerous one. If they don’t act immediately to satisfy that hunger, the learners will soon abandon the learning platform.

The good news is that you don’t have to work through the night to create more learning content. Instead, give your learners the chance to continue their learning journey elsewhere. There are thousands of useful courses on sites like Udemy and Lynda in every topic you can think of. Give your learners individual training budgets that they can use at their discretion. Better still, you can gamify your Learning Management System and let them earn virtual currency for interacting with each other. Then, you can create a reward center where they can exchange their points for online courses.

What About The Formal Learning Content?

As I mentioned before, formal training is still essential. Without it, your learners might miss that vital piece of knowledge that stops them making a costly compliance gaffe. But traditional formal training is still rife with problems. It takes too long to produce, for a start. Also, it’s created as large, self-contained units that can’t easily be edited. In a world that’s constantly changing, our current approach to formal training can’t react fast enough.

I propose a different solution. We shouldn’t be carving our training programs on huge stone tablets, never to be altered. Instead, the formal content should be a little more flexible. Break the content into smaller segments and let the learners leave comments on each one. Invest in a social platform and create discussion groups associated with each topic. And instead of spending all that time carving stone, use it to monitor the conversation and incorporate the learners’ expertise into the content. In that way, your formal content can grow organically to better suit the needs of the learners and the business.

Final Word

No single training manager can create a comprehensive program that covers all the learners’ needs – it’s a great thing to aim for, but it’s impractical and ultimately, it’s a losing battle. Even an entire training department doesn’t have the manpower to tick every box for every learner. The only solution is a collaborative training program that gives them ownership over their learning journey. Once you have that, your training can grow into something that fits your organization like a glove!

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