Contextual learning could soon replace traditional learning

The shift from instructional design to strategic design is happening now

Corporate training is big business. Last year alone, American organizations spent a whopping $70.65 billion on corporate training and associated administrative costs, based on data from Training magazine's 2016 Training Industry Report. Most companies are willing to invest in the learning and development of employees because they must compete in ever-changing markets, which requires enhanced skills.

According to a McKinsey Quarterly survey, nearly 90% of organizations indicated that building on the capabilities of employees is a top priority. However, only around a quarter said that they can accurately measure the success of their learning programs in terms of improved performance. There seems to be a disconnect between investing in learning programs and having a direct understanding of the impact on the bottom line. 

There is a problem with traditional corporate learning

Jeremy Stynes, President of Lootok talked with HR Dive about the general disconnect between what many companies think they should be doing versus the training that gets results. He said, “The way people digest information is much different than in the past. Companies are competing with other distractions that employees face daily from their mobile devices, social networks, and more.”

Stynes sees a trend happening in which more collaborative learning is rapidly taking the place of compliance based, classroom training. Stynes said compliance-focused learning happens in silos, through modules that present a topic and then push learners to regurgitate facts to prove that the topic has been mastered.  If the knowledge learned isn't used at work soon after that process it is easily lost and employees turn to their own devices to seek new information, he said. 

The problem, as Stynes sees it, is that, “required training faces opposition vs. the desire to learn, which comes more natural to human beings. We learn informally every day.” If companies can tap into this, they are better apt to capture the opportunity to improve employee performance.

Understanding the ‘why’ of training

Training must be focused on end-results rather than just going through tasks and actions without broader context. While it’s perfectly fine to onboard and train employees on company procedures, what happens next in their career depends on if they feel supported with the right resources that are not forced on them. Training simply for to acieve a certificate of completion doesn't serve organizations well. Performance based training can and will continue to evolve into more meaningful moments that propel employees forward to want to work smarter and better. 

Something has got to change in terms of how companies approach training initiatives, WalkMe’s president and co-founder, Rephael Sweary, told HR Dive. He said, “traditional learning becomes irrelevant the very day it’s launched in most companies.” This problem is created by several factors, including the speed at which technology is moving to the cloud, the ever increasing use of multiple systems, and the availability of other sources of information found through peers, social networks and more.

In the past, instructional design was focused on teaching employees how to do things and this methodology is still prevalent in most corporate learning classrooms. But, Sweary says. “How is what you get on the job; companies should be teaching why.” He added, “Companies will get better performance from employees when they spend more time helping people understand the essence of what they do and focus on the experience of why they can benefit from doing things a certain way.” 

Contextual learning has the advantage of teaching the specific skills that bring more meaning to the work experience. According to Learning Solutions Magazine, research shows we forget 70% of what we learn in a day, and need to apply learning immediately for it to stick. 

While this is certainly not the end of classroom training, employers should consider losing the term ‘instructional design’ and think of the future of corporate learning as ‘strategic design.’ Contextual learning has its roots in the everyday, on-the-job experience of learners. 

Why corporate learning is evolving

Sweary and Stynes both agreed that learning in the corporate setting is evolving out of necessity. When faced with specific software tasks, employees often cannot find information hidden within help desk systems, therefore they must use other resources to get the job done. 

Andy Shean, Chief Expert, Learning and Sales Strategy, for SAP SuccessFactors told HR Dive, “When it comes to determining the best approach for the delivery of learning, even as new technology arrives to provide seemingly endless new opportunities, the basic instructional design questions still apply: Who is the audience and what gaps exist in their knowledge that need to be addressed to meet the business need?” Developing corporate learning around this question focuses on the long-term success of employees as they experience daily roles and tasks. 

“I don’t see any reason that contextual learning can’t be built into eLearning if we follow the instructional process and understand our learners in at least a general manner,” Shean said. ”E-learning in this regard would simply be the delivery method, with contextual learning being the manner in which we assist learners in constructing meaning based on their own experiences.” 

We know that contextual learning can provide a better ROI for the companies that use this method of teaching employees. Powerful analytics that measure everything from error rates to performance improvement highlight the advanced way that companies can measure learning outcomes. Harvard Business Review notes that new hires who use old classroom learning methods require at least 8-12 months to become fully productive — meaning longer time to realize ROI. WalkMe found that contextual learning saved employees an average of 1.5 hours per week using live, on-demand learning suggestions included in their platform.

The future of learning needs to be based in the experience of each individual, so that personal learning takes on more meaning and relevance. Applying experiential factors to learning to augment other forms of instruction can be the ticket to better employee performance.

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Filed Under: Learning