Ours is not an industry of parts and inventory. Trimming the bottom line is never an issue of simply reducing head count or closing classrooms. It also impacts the level of service we can provide.
I was recently speaking with a CLO friend of mine who said he was being asked to cut his budget by more than 50 percent while maintaining the same level of service. It doesn’t seem possible that we could remove many of the standard learning services we’ve offered for years and still be able to provide a quality product.
But many learning professionals are being presented with similar challenges and are either coming up with creative new solutions or revisiting old models and trying to look at them in a new way. In fact, some may even save money while providing a whole new — potentially better — level of service. Let’s examine a few of these ideas.
The uptake in online synchronous instruction is staggering of late. I don’t think I have been to a conference, spoken to a fellow learning director or read a related article recently without some mention of moving brick-and-mortar classrooms online. After all, online virtual classroom instruction can do more than simply cut down on travel expenses. It can also increase learning in ways that the classroom may never have seen before.
The most powerful advantage here seems to be time. When designed correctly, online instruction builds independent and applied learning back into the “classroom” model in ways the standup classroom couldn’t. In fact, many of the learning executives I’ve talked to who are using these new approaches say that, when done well, the actual online synchronous portion is no longer the most important or highest-impact part of the experience. It’s there to stabilize and guide, but the real learning and return on the investment are realized when the learners take time between sessions to participate in group work or individual assignments in the context of their day-to-day jobs. This moves learning to a whole new level and maximizes an already cost-effective model.
Two natural offshoots of the virtual classroom are the use of social networking and performance support. The virtual classroom is at its best when learners are asked to take their learning beyond a one- to three-hour online session. Learners should be given the time to collaborate with their peers, share what they’ve learned and document best practices. These online communities, or communities of practice (CoP), are often very vibrant and sustainable because they were born out of a specific outcome and are bringing together learners of a like mind and experience.
However, CoPs can’t be forced. The ones that have been formed for the sake of simply gathering tend to die on the vine. Conversely, those started in the classroom or online, since they have been driven out of common experiences and business outcomes, often grow into very powerful knowledge-sharing tools that far outlive and go beyond the original experience.
Performance support is the tie that binds. It’s a cost-effective approach that allows learning departments to shorten class time while extending reach and effectiveness. Learners are taught to self-support, discover new findings and extend the classroom into their workplace in an applied way often not seen through traditional instruction. When blended appropriately, I have seen performance support reduce class time by up to 75 percent. For example, I once worked with an organization that took a traditional 20-hour class and reduced it to a five-hour session, much of which could be done synchronously online when enhanced by a performance support strategy on the back end.
Smaller budgets and greater demands on learning departments will clearly affect the services we are allowed to offer. But in many cases, we can still offer a robust — and potentially more effective — product if we share best practices and take a new and creative look at existing methodologies.
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.