Technology and learning tools are evolving constantly. Jutta Mackwell spoke to Samantha Kinstrey of 2e2 about how these changes affect the way we approach training and the implications for organisations, trainers and staff.

What changes have you seen in the last ten years in the IT training arena?

Ten years ago, e-learning was just starting out, and mostly people didn’t really know how to use it. They would buy licences from CBT Systems (now SkillSoft), but in many cases these would just sit on the shelf - we actually bought some companies that still had these licences and we ended up throwing them out.

Also, ten years ago, everything was very much about scheduled courses, the ‘bums on seats’ for several days. There are still a few training providers who have big real estates to fill, but most don’t do scheduled courses anymore.

Today everything is pretty much bespoke, and e-learning providers such as SkillSoft and Element K now work much more closely with business to make sure that the learning programme aligns with business needs. 

Would you say that Gen Y entering the workforce has changed the way we approach training, or is it the new tools that influence the way we learn?

I think it’s a combination of both things. Gen Y certainly don’t want to go on a five-day training course anymore, but also, Gen Y tools are becoming quite mainstream in corporate environments.

For example we had one experience of Gen Y in a legal company where they were all using social environments. Gen Y is able to pick up these types of technology very easily. However we also have a case of an MOD-environment with an older workforce, and they are absolutely terrified that it won’t be accepted.

In another example, with a local authority, the technology people thought that the tools were so simple to use that they didn’t need any training for staff. This project is still in its pilot phase. It’s a typical example of technology people, thinking ‘how hard can it be’. They don’t see that it’s about culture change, not about the technology.

So how do you go about introducing culture change?

We usually start with a ‘discovery project’, which can take anything from a few days to a few months. During that time we find out about the culture of the organisation, its attitude to training, what tools they have, demographics of the workforce and so on. Once we’ve done that, we put together a programme based on what we found.

We usually talk to marketing and communications people rather than the technology people, and we also involve project management teams and HR. Together with them we come up with ideas for training, always depending on the environment.

What are the biggest challenges of introducing social media learning and innovative learning tools in organisations?

It’s the buy-in from the top. They all understand and see that it’s a great thing, but when they realise that it needs their input, that’s when they back off. Introducing social media tools and bespoke e-learning usually means there’s an increasing emphasis back on the customer.

Also many exec members are not comfortable in front of the camera, so doing short video introductions or even podcasts is difficult. These things can be very effective to bring people on board. For example, in one case we recorded the CEO of an organisation giving a short explanation of why staff needed to come into the classroom and why the training was so important.

I definitely see the use of video as a means of learning growing - I think the explosion of YouTube has come as a surprise to many. You can now look up almost anything on YouTube.

On a different level, finding good trainers isn’t easy either. It’s very difficult to find someone who is a good trainer and also has a good knowledge of the market. We work a lot on a contract basis with many of our trainers, and there is always the question of how do you find the right person for your project.

So in a way, trainers have to be ‘retrained’ then as well.

Yes, definitely. For example, we’ve got two trainers here at 2e2 who now develop content, they don’t train as much anymore.

I think there are now two different types of trainers - the traditional classroom trainers who are familiar with the mode of training, and then you’ve got the element of developing e-learning content and the instructional design. This area is very important as e-learning needs to be engaging. So much content used to be very poorly designed and put together.

Trainers who are used to classroom training are generally much less concerned about visuals, but in e-learning the trainer becomes invisible, so that’s quite a big change. If you are a classroom trainer, it’s very unlikely that you automatically have the skillset to create e-learning. Also, you can’t be an SME in everything - there are way too many areas and specialities now.

How do you ensure knowledge transfer into skills?

There are different ways of doing it. I think there’s a rule that you need to present material at least six times in order to ensure that knowledge is transferred into skills.

In this sense it’s good to spread out training over several weeks, do some ‘pre-e-learning’ some classroom training, coaching and support after go-live such as assessments, more e-learning, floorwalking and so on. I find that coaching is one of the most useful ways to ensure knowledge transfer as it allows people to practise what they’ve learned.

When we rolled out an internal training programme, we also published stats about the various business units as to whose staff has been through the training content and how many had passed the exams - it really works as the business unit managers are very competitive so they’re keen to get their people to do the training. Obviously it always depends on the organisation and its culture. In a way you have to have as many tools in your toolkit as possible.

What would you say is the biggest impact of social media tools on learning?

At the moment it’s too early to say. There’s a lot of talk about it, but not much real delivery. Potentially I think there’ll be more around Facebook-style tools - corporate Facebooks will become well used, especially as people are familiar with the style.

Another tool that I think will have a huge impact is video. We now have such cheap broadband and such good tools, so more and more organisations will take up video and telepresence. However, there are still problems with end-user buy-in of telepresence - many projects seem to be stuck in pilot.

I think one of the reasons for this is that it needs a shift in the way people work. If you have a senior manager who’s always flown to New York for meetings (and probably complained about it many times), they will not just change that. It’s about knowing what sets of drivers work for the various levels in an organisation and how to bring about culture change.