Content, audience, environment and available technology each play a role in how learning is delivered. E-learning has always had advocates who describe scenarios or situations where it — either synchronous or asynchronous — is a more effective option. But classroom-based instruction is more popular in more enterprises, for more content areas and with more learners.
Chief Learning Officermagazine’s Business Intelligence Board research has shown a steady increase in the use of self-paced, or asynchronous, and instructor-led, or synchronous, e-learning in the learning delivery choices most CLOs make today (Figure 1). In fact, last year, this survey showed CLOs continued their shift away from classroom instructor-led training, or C-ILT, toward e-learning. This year’s survey shows e-learning reaching its plurality via increased use of mobile technologies and more emphasis on social learning.
While classroom-based training remains the single most significant form of training, for the first time, in 2014 CLOs will deliver more training with e-learning than with traditional classroom-based instruction.
E-learning, the Biggest Piece of the Pie
While CLOs use the full range of options for learning delivery, survey results show a continued decline in classroom-based training since 2010 and a continued increase in synchronous and asynchronous e-learning. Asynchronous e-learning increased significantly in 2014, suggesting that “time shifting” is a more important factor in determining learner convenience than simple “place shifting” represented by synchronous delivery. The large share of “other” suggests enterprises are finding increased value in related experiences like performance support or peer-based training. Also, mobile devices were used for a small amount for training — about as often as video-based instruction.
CLOs adjust their delivery modalities primarily because of effectiveness in a particular environment, but convenience and cost also play a major role. During this coming year, CLOs expect classroom-based instructor-led training to represent a declining portion of the delivery portfolio, primarily because of cost. Both synchronous and asynchronous e-learning will gain portfolio share in reaction to continued pressure on development budgets and greater flexibility in scheduling and delivery.
Simulations, while a small proportion of overall delivery, are increasingly getting CLOs’ attention, and they expect to use them more in 2015. Text-based training, while a small proportion of most enterprise training programs, is also a cost-effective and therefore useful learning delivery option.
CLOs are also expressing a resurgent interest in video-based instruction. The increased potential is primarily a result of the near ubiquitous availability of video-on-demand devices and sufficient bandwidth to ensure a quality learner experience.
That expanding interest extends to the use of smart mobile technologies, with the average amount of training delivered to mobile devices in 2014 doubling compared to 2013. Enterprises that use mobile delivery report an average of 25 percent of their e-learning training is delivered to a mobile device, and that is expected to grow to 28 percent in 2015 — with 30 percent more enterprises using mobile as a delivery modality.
Matching Modality to Medium
CLOs are increasingly trying to apply the right delivery option for the content, audience and environment at stake. They often prefer one modality over another for particular content. One way the message can be defined is broadly by content type: business skills courses or IT content (Figure 2).
Preferences for delivery modality by content domain have changed little since 2007. A far greater majority of CLOs describe C-ILT as the primary delivery modality for business skills training (57 percent) than describe it as primary for IT skills training (30 percent), but the preference for C-ILT is declining overall. Compliance training is the only learning content domain where C-ILT is not considered the primary delivery modality. For compliance training, most enterprises prefer self-paced e-learning (62 percent) to C-ILT(10 percent). For new-hire training, the preference for C-ILT (47 percent) is closely followed by self-paced e-learning (18 percent), instructor-led e-learning and on-the-job instruction (both about 12 percent).
In spite of the recent and continued emphasis on social media to support learning, the most significant types of informal learning aren’t technology-based. The most important forms — on-the-job experiences, mentoring and discussions, and networking with other professionals — are traditional, low-tech forms of instruction.
CLOs still see the value of classroom instruction when it is an appropriate method for the relevant content. Business skills courses, for instance, largely focus on soft skills and lend themselves well to face-to-face experiences with instructors and peers.
E-learning, however, is consistently seen as increasingly appropriate for delivering IT skills content, according to about 33 percent of enterprises, compared with only 23 percent who selected it as their primary modality for business skills training. However, the preference for e-learning and business skills is also shifting: In 2010, only 15 percent considered e-learning a primary delivery modality for business skills courses.
Current instructional practices for IT skills tend to emphasize independent study and practice over shared learning and group work. At the same time, both research and practice suggest that teaching technology using technology results in effective instruction more often than teaching non-technology content using technology.
The training team also has to account for a mix of skill levels among learners (Figure 3). Similar to responses from previous studies, text-based training and formal on-the-job training are considered more effective with lower-skilled workers, and e-learning is considered more effective for higher-skilled employees. Because asynchronous e-learning is consumed at the student’s pace, it is the preferred modality for higher-skilled employees and where scheduling the course or the students is a priority.
Portable technologies — leveraging smartphones, MP3 players and CD-ROM-based courses — are considered to have better results with higher skilled employees, but while survey results imply different audience types react differently to different content types, specific combinations of content, audience and environment can make any delivery modality appropriate.
What’s Going to Change?
CLOs observed three shifts in learning delivery: mobile, video and smaller, modular content. Mobile learning, while not strongly reflected in the current paradigm, appears to be a beacon of opportunity to many CLOs.
“We must get mobile on topics that do not require face-to-face interaction [and] use as follow up to formal education.” Mobile also may be a harbinger of a paradigm shift, “from a push model to a pull model in which learners start to actively seek just-in-time e-learning.” Even among skeptics, who “think ILT is the most in-demand and effective method of training, I do think that mobile learning will increase significantly as a training delivery modality.”
As a result of more access to video-capable devices, some CLOs expect mobile and video to go hand-in-hand: “We expect more mobile-enabled training and more video-based content.” Video also will have an expanded role beyond mobile once CLOs “build the infrastructure necessary to do video conferencing.” The perception is that video fosters or encourages an increased level of social engagement. One CLO expects an increased “focus on video-based learning with social interactions and collaboration wrapped around that.”
However organizations leverage technology, CLOs are also concerned with content length. A focus on personalized training to meet individual learner needs will make time and pace affect content, which will be increasingly broken down into smaller or bite-size chunks. Smaller content chunks customized to learner competence levels means that mobile learning can be a convenient delivery platform, and as such content should be developed that lends itself to mobile access and delivery.
“Learning will increasingly be broken down into smaller bits, delivered to where the employee is working.” This puts “more emphasis on short, topical or contextual content to facilitate rapid learning and retention with less disruption to day-to-day task completion.” This also implies that, “training delivery is moving toward knowledge content — employees need to be able to access needed information quickly, without spending long periods of time in formal classrooms.”
To one set of CLOs, this suggests that “cloud-based, mobile-compliant systems seem to be the direction that training delivery must head if quality and personalization are to continue playing a significant role in training.”
Training vendors will increasingly provide a selection of delivery modalities that anticipate changing trends in delivery options, learner preferences and capabilities. This will enable CLOs to have content on the shelf in a format more likely to be consumed by their learners.
In spite of a relative milestone for e-learning, CLOs’ focus will remain on delivering the right content to the right learners using the right tools efficiently and cost-effectively. But trends suggest e-learning, mobile and social learning will be a large and growing part of the mix.
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