Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Business Intelligence Board survey results show that learning executives employ a mix of modalities for delivering learning, but the specific delivery method is increasingly determined by the message.
Many factors determine how learning is delivered. Corporate culture, training budget, subject matter, instructor experience, student preferences, technology availability — essentially content, audience and environment — all play a role. But how is delivery evolving? Are newer delivery methods eclipsing traditional methods?
Recent survey results suggest not much has changed in delivery during the past several years. But one difference that has emerged is that the message appears to be increasingly driving the medium. Where cost savings were cited in the past as the top driver for e-learning, CLOs in 2008 said they opt for e-learning because it is the most appropriate medium for the subject matter. Asynchronous e-learning also is seen as the preferred delivery method when training a group with varied skill levels.
Every other month, research firm IDC administers a Web-based survey to Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Business Intelligence Board (BIB) on a variety of topics to gauge the issues, opportunities and attitudes that make up the diverse role of a senior learning executive. This month, as part of IDC’s annual look into learning modalities and how they are evolving, 610 BIB respondents shared their thoughts on the appropriate mix of learning delivery.
The Current Mix
Survey results show CLOs are using a variety of options as part of their current learning-delivery mixes. Consistent with 2007 findings, classroom training still represents the primary delivery choice for most training organizations, although the combination of synchronous and asynchronous e-learning is gaining ground and represents the next most popular modality. Interestingly, 2008 results show an increase in classroom delivery. A significant number of organizations also are utilizing formal, on-the-job training as a key component of their overall education programs.
Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?
In prior annual studies on learning modality, the study focused on whether the instructor or the student controlled the delivery method within a blended environment. Not surprisingly, the majority of CLOs reported that the instructor largely held the reins when it came to choosing delivery modalities.
The 2008 study introduced the concept of the subject matter itself as the driver. The picture changed dramatically when this option was added. A clear majority of CLOs (60 percent) reported they select the content modality. This finding suggests that while organizations may like the concept of blended learning, it is constrained by the available modality.
Asynchronous E-Learning Continues to Grow
In results similar to 2007, IDC’s learning growth index shows the greatest change in the delivery mix during the next 12 to 18 months will continue to come in increased adoption of e-learning. Both asynchronous and synchronous e-learning continue to show increased use.
Additionally, the interest in portable media is waning. In 2007, portable media was expected to grow quickly, primarily driven by the perceived need for disconnected learning. In 2008, however, the expected growth has declined as a result of an increased focus on the appropriateness of delivery modality. CLOs are not finding sufficient sources of compelling portable media to meet content requirements.
Matching the Message to the Medium
Enterprises increasingly are aligning content and delivery modality. In 2007, each delivery modality had its unique rationale: ILT was appropriate, synchronous e-learning was a cost savings over ILT, asynchronous e-learning was flexible, portable methods were, well, portable.
This year, except for on-the-job training (OJT), the primary driver for use of each delivery modality was that it was the most appropriate method for the content. Even for OJT, CLOs believe coaching is the most appropriate method of delivery.
This shift reflects that CLOs are letting the content dictate the delivery options. In some cases this is because it’s appropriate; in other cases it is because that is the modality available. Clearly, CLOs now are more inclined to let the message drive the medium.
Delivery for Specific Domains
Little has changed since 2007 regarding preferences for delivery by content domain. A greater majority of the BIB uses classroom-based ILT for business skills training than for IT skills training. Sixty-four percent of the BIB selected classroom ILT (C-ILT) as the primary delivery method for business content, compared to only 36 percent who select C-ILT as primary for IT content.
Business skills courses largely focused on soft skills lend themselves to face-to-face experiences with instructors and peers. However, because of the wide range of business skills courses — from interpersonal to highly technical — more detailed investigation of these trends is needed.
It is clear that CLOs see the value of classroom instruction when it is an appropriate method for the content to be conveyed. E-learning, however, is consistently seen as a more appropriate method for delivering IT skills content. About a third of the BIB selected at least one form of e-learning as the primary delivery method for IT skills training, compared to only 9 percent who selected it as their primary mode for business skills training.
Current instructional practices for IT skills tend to emphasize independent study and practice over shared learning and group work. As collaborative technologies grow in online instructional modalities, we likely will observe increased value and use of collaborative e-learning experiences when teaching IT skills, reflecting the trend in IT work itself.
Modality and Skill Level
In every organization, the training team must account for a mix of skill levels among its workers. Similar to responses from 2007, modalities are seen as equally valuable when training those who are highly and those who are minimally skilled. The exception is asynchronous e-learning, which is seen as more effective when training an audience of mixed abilities.
Because asynchronous e-learning is administered at the student’s pace and not in a group setting where differing skills levels may retard progress, this finding continues to reflect learning executives’ awareness that their audiences, content and environments are important determinants of the appropriate delivery selection.
Taking Small Steps
Corporate learning programs don’t make major changes quickly, and the best-laid intentions are not always borne out in reality. While the delivery mix hasn’t changed much in a year, the reasons for choosing modalities appear to have shifted.
Cost savings historically have been a key driver of e-learning usage. This research indicates CLOs are increasingly working to match the medium to the message and to match that delivery modality to an audience of mixed ability. To achieve high impact, learning executives must continue to match the delivery to the content and their students’ needs.
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