Ten years ago, Safari Books Online began supplying digital book content over the Internet to technical and business professionals. It was launched as an online reference library — a digital bookshelf that was more portable and searchable than the physical equivalent — that now comprises more than 20,000 digital books and videos. As time passes and technology develops, the purpose of the product remains the same: to either complement formal training or provide quick, short manuals for new concepts.
“Fundamentally, when selecting a learning delivery platform, people want something that’s going to be useful to help them achieve a goal,” said Andrew Savikas, CEO of Safari Books Online. “Technology is changing a lot more quickly than any learning platform can keep up with.”
Savikas said traditional learning programs, even those using digital technology, take time to develop. “It’s not easy to make a comprehensive, interactive tutorial lesson that includes assessments and multimedia,” he said. “In many cases, the fastest way to transfer knowledge from an expert’s head [in a way that] someone else can learn from [it] is through the written word or rapidly developed videos.”
To keep up with this speed, Savikas said, publishers have moved their processes and programs away from 1,000-page reference books toward short volumes that keep up with the accelerated pace of change in various industries to help people learn and get up to speed quickly.
For example, HTML 5, a language for structuring and presenting content for the Web, is altered quickly, with new platforms, frameworks and techniques to explore online capabilities added daily. The change in content is much faster than could be supported by scheduled classroom training in a physical environment.
“In this case, having digital resources available for someone in a couple of different electronic formats is an easy way to get the job at hand done,” Savikas said.
At Nuance University, multinational computer software technology corporation Nuance’s corporate learning facility, employees use digital books and videos to support just-in-time and formal learning. The choice of whether to use a video or book to meet a need — whether as a sole approach or a supplement to other learning tools — is an individual’s decision. However, employees looking to learn something from scratch prefer videos to books. Digital learning is used for everything from learning about new technologies such as programming languages, data analytics, desktop virtualization and cloud computing to grabbing a quick code sample or collaborating around a project.
“It is common for developers who primarily work in one language, for example Python or C#, to be pulled into a development project on iOS or Android and need to get smart fast,” said Juli Rochon, director of global learning and career development at Nuance University. In these instances, Rochon believes, digital learning has sped up development cycles considerably. “But it’s not just the technical content,” she said. “We have a large number of employees using business content around a number of topics. Presentation skills and leadership [and] management have been key areas, with a good deal of use of both the books and videos.”
According to Savikas and Rochon, digital learning moves at the speed of creativity, a feature formal learning lacks. It supports engagement, imagination, inquiry-based learning and differentiated instruction, which can help develop sharper learners, faster.
Ladan Nikravan is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at lnikravan@CLOmedia.com.