Today, with our sophisticated mobile devices, we can communicate with almost anyone, anywhere, at any time.
This has implications for both our personal learning and the L&D materials that we make available to others, because effective communication is the key test for every L&D activity. So, as L&D professionals, how do we make sure that our messages are received and understood?
The benefits of online L&D
Electronic communication has many advantages for L&D, particularly in these days of globalized business and remote working. These benefits include:
- Speedy message transmission
Broad - even global - coverage
Low unit cost
All of this allows learners to access relevant L&D materials as and when they need them - perhaps to provide just-in-time performance support. People need information- and procedures - while they're doing their jobs.
Technology can help greatly, says Valerio Torda, a partner in the Italian consultancy, Lattanzio Group. With today's new tools, you can give workers information in real time, in the way they need it, where and when they need it.
But technology doesn't always work - and it doesn't always do what you expect it to do! Electronic communication can suffer from:
Insufficient bandwidth. We don't all have access to fast broadband, all the time - particularly when we're on the move.
Technical problems. Compatibility issues, battery life, lack of disk space - the list goes on!
Vulnerability to cyber-attack, ransomware, or unauthorized access to data, for example.
High content-development costs - even if, ultimately, the per-user-cost is attractive.
Ongoing system and device costs - these can soon mount up if you want to stay at the leading edge of fashion, functionality, and so on.
Dependence - on developers and content producers.
Distraction. Too much unfocused 'screen time' can impact productivity.
But whether you choose online learning, the face-to-face variety, or a mixture of the two, it's encouraging to know that both types can accommodate all of your learner's preferred learning styles.
Views on learning styles vary. The 'traditional' range of preferences - summarized as Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic (VARK, or VAK) - competes with The Index of Learning Styles developed by Dr Richard Felder and Barbara Soloman. And David Kolb offers further thoughts on learning styles in his book 'Experiential Learning'.
However, some people are now questioning the efficacy of trying to account for individual learner's preferences. After all, if we assume that learners want to learn, human nature dictates that they'll make their own choice of delivery medium and use what they can find on a given subject.
So, 'visual' learners will search for infographics and videos on their smartphones, 'auditory' learners will plug in their earbuds and listen on their way to work, and 'kinesthetic' learners will search for case studies and YouTube clips that demonstrate what they want to know.
The key point is that for any communication to be effective in an L&D context, three things must happen. First, information must be imparted by the communicator. Then, it must be received and accurately understood by the recipient. And, finally, the recipient must also demonstrate that understanding.
Nick Hindley, Global Talent Development Manager at AVEVA, says, "At the outset of any learning intervention, the first question that people ask is, "Why am I doing this?" You must show them how learning - both in general and in specific areas - can help them, personally.
And, if people find their own learning resources - as they increasingly do, if we're to believe the Centre for Learning Technologies' Top 200 Learning Tools for 2017 L&D specialists must encourage people to alert their manager to the learning they're doing.
That enables the manager to evaluate and integrate this learning into the organization's learning management system [LMS].
Hindley adds, "Selecting the L&D delivery method should be driven solely by the desired outcome. Developing sensory acuity can't be achieved by watching a video or reading a book. Videos and books can impart the knowledge of what to do, but all skills and behavior changes require physical repetition using realistic scenarios to embed the 'muscle memory' just as world-class athletes can't prepare for their events merely by reading about the best performers."
Three tips for success
Kathryn Horton, of Turning Factor, an international training and business development company, agrees. "While there's a place for online L&D materials, we focus on facilitating behavioral change" she says. "Since this is highly attached to emotion, we prefer to make an emotional connection with the individuals involved" working face-to-face, using various methods, to achieve this learning transfer.
You could argue that if no change happens, have the learners understood what they've been learning? So, we use the results and changes in the individuals themselves to monitor the receipt of L&D information, understanding, and application." Hindley has three tips for the effective communication of L&D materials. They are:
Ensure that people understand how effective learning happens, the stages required, and the need for evaluation.
State what the gains are in general, for the organization as a whole; and specifically, for the individual.
Enable people to carry out their own learning. Encourage them to report and register it with their manager and to understand the benefit of doing so.