People who fell in love with MP3 players when they first came onto the market would probably have laughed if you’d told them that they would one day be using their must-have gadget to deliver training.
But just as you can download the latest chart-topper in a few clicks, it is now possible to go online to find a piece of learning content to play on your iPod that might help you to do your job better.
The learning and development world is awash with potential delivery methods and content formats. MP3 players, the latest mobile phones and personal digital assistants, along with information sent in the form of podcasts, vodcasts (a video version), RSS feeds from websites and web-based seminars (webinars), provide employers with the opportunity to be flexible and highly targeted with training.
“These new channels have huge benefits for training and learning,” says Martin Addison, managing director of training company Video Arts, which is currently creating a digital library of its stock. “They are really the next extension of blended learning, and offer organisations more flexibility and choice.”
Crucially, these channels enable employers to deliver training exactly where they need it. “We’re changing the ethos of our learning to performance support,” says Mike Booth, head of e-learning at telecoms giant Cable & Wireless. “We want to use these delivery mechanisms to allow employees to ‘jump off’ their job, find the learning they need, and then get back on with the job.”
Freedom to be flexible
But how can HR harness these channels and maximise their benefits, as well as ensure all ages can use them and that they suit all learning styles? First, don’t get too hung up about controlling or even assessing this type of learning. These channels by their very nature are informal, relying on ad-hoc methods such as listening to an instructional or motivational speech, reading a chapter of a book, or even observing the actions of colleagues.
This means that HR’s role is more about facilitation, and its focus should be on making the service and content available for employees to access when they need it, says Stephen Walsh, co-founder of Kineo, which helps organisations use podcasts and similar technologies in learning and development.
“We’re not talking about a piece of formal learning that has to be assessed, or the kind of learning that you have to make a business case for,” he says. “In most cases, it’s low-cost and low-effort, so just put it out there.”
HR may not be the first department in the business to grapple with these technologies, as innovation may be coming from other departments such as sales and marketing. So it’s important that HR gets up to speed with new delivery methods – otherwise, it risks being left behind.
Message in a pod
Employers that have already had successful pilots include Cable & Wireless, which used podcasting to help prepare sales teams and to disseminate corporate messages, and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which is using MP3 players to provide training while staff are commuting to work.
Lack of time was seen as one of the main challenges to training in RBS, so it explored how it could use mobile learning methods to make use of an employee’s time while commuting. It designed a suite of MP3 ‘learning bites’ from existing training material specifically for London staff. They are about four to six minutes long and are designed to ‘stick in people’s minds’.
“The increasing use of MP3 players is a lifestyle choice for many, so it’s a simple and easy way of achieving direct communication with our employees at a time that suits them,” says an RBS spokesman.
The bank is also piloting an audio website where staff can download learning bites to their MP3 players, including content from leading authors and ‘phonecasts’. Feedback has been 100% positive, says RBS.
MP3 players aren’t the only potential delivery mechanism, though. Cable & Wireless has ensured that its portal, called iLearn, uses a mix of learning channels. “We want to give the end-user the choice,” says Booth.
Staff wanted the option of accessing training from home, for example, so the company designed the portal to be accessed through any internet browser, rather than a secure company intranet.
But, as well as being able to offer more targeted and accessible learning, there’s a cost benefit to the new delivery channels. For example, it’s possible to buy just one module of a course or even a single chapter of a book, which in some cases will be sufficient to meet the training need. Video Arts believes that in the future, it will sell its wares in a similar way to a digital picture library, allowing people to license material when they need it.
For HR and training departments, getting sign-off for such bite-sized training investments makes planning next year’s training schedule a little easier.
Where to go on the web to sample podcasts and webinars
There is a wealth of potential learning content strewn across the web, and much of it is available free of charge.
Kineo has plenty of free downloadable podcasts from heads of learning and industry gurus.
Netg’s site offers a regular series of free podcasts, some of which are of speeches given at international symposiums.
Skillsoft offers details of scheduled live events, and you can access the archive.
Webex has a free section of webinars from industry experts, which cover all aspects of business.