Agile Training: A Crucial Piece of the Giant Training Puzzle

We live in a world where the ability to be nimble, flexible, and responsive is becoming increasingly more important. Demands on our time and resources continue to rise, while at the same time delivery and performance expectations have also increased. In response, many organizations (Omnipress included) have started to adapt and embrace a culture of agility—from how we develop and launch our software products, to how we approach our strategic planning and even our marketing programs. Until recently, it never occurred to me that the agile process also translates to training and development.

After doing some digging into what Agile Training and Development means, and understanding how it’s being put into practice by associations and corporations, a huge lightbulb went off and all the pieces of the giant “Training Puzzle” fell into place:

Most of the hot-button topics that we tend to focus on, such as micro-learning, mobile learning, just-in-time training, and peer-based learning are all the cause and the effect of Agile Training and Development. This means that we’re all currently working on agile learning, whether we realize it or not.

What is Agile Training and Development

The idea of agile learning design is not a new concept. Organizations have been discussing and experimenting with this principle for at least a decade.  Essentially, agile learning design takes the agile framework of IT product and software development—meant to increase speed-to-market and market responsiveness through an iterative process— and applies them to the practice of instructional design.

In contrast, many organizations have historically used an ADDIE approach (or Analysis-Design-Development-Implementation-Evaluation), where development follows a linear series of phases (best known as “waterfall” in the software development world).

Agile learning addresses both how educational content is created, tested, and distributed and how organizations structure themselves to create a culture of continuous learning.

Using the Agile Framework for Course Development

For course development, the traditional ADDIE approach dictates that all segments or modules of a course are scoped, developed, and tested together. While potentially more thoroughly vetted before release, this approach can take significantly more time to complete, and late-breaking changes more costly to implement.

Conversely, the agile approach prioritizes speed over perfection, breaking these segments into smaller pieces, which are developed in faster sprints. Each sprint is highly iterative, collaborative, and responsive to testing and feedback. As a result, training can be released and assessed faster, and, according to some experts, ultimately results in more successful programs.

The Need for an Agile Learning Culture

So, why the need to develop and release new programs and content more quickly? Because the world is changing faster than ever and we need to be able to keep up.

We have real-time access to more data than ever before and can use this insight to both develop and respond to new technologies, systems, expectations, standards, and processes. This fuels the need for more training and more training content. In fact, our 2019 Training Trends Report notes that 51% of survey respondents offer more than 10 different educational programs, and 60% expect this number to increase in the coming year.

Not only do we need agile processes to create training content, but organizations also need to foster an agile learning culture so that employees can adapt and change more quickly and effectively. In the IT or product development world, the agile framework promotes speed-to-market. In learning, agile promotes speed-to-proficiency.

For organizations, this means making learning part of a continuous, sometimes even organic process. It means on-demand access to educational content, at the times and places it’s most needed. And it means promoting peer learning and collaboration as part of the training process.

Sound familiar? This is the exact reason that topics such as micro-learning, mobile learning, just-in-time learning, and making learning experiences more hands-on and collaborative are so prominent in the training industry right now. These practices help facilitate agile learning in the workplace by making training and development more effective, efficient, and practical. At the end of the day, it’s all interconnected. We’re all in the business of agile learning, whether we realize it or not.

The Need for More Agile Trainers

What we’re hearing from many organizations is that one of their greatest roadblocks is the trainers, who may be used to delivering education in more of a traditional lecture style. Within the agile learning framework, these subject matter experts need to be nimble and flexible, too. Like what we’re seeing in the K-12 classroom, they need to serve more as a facilitator or moderator than a lecturer to foster discussion and collaboration. And they need to feel comfortable pivoting within the classroom if necessary, based on how learners are responding in real-time. As an industry, how do we collectively train our trainers to be more agile instructors?

While topics such as mobile and micro-learning have always sounded like a good idea, I’ve run into plenty of instances where organizations feel pressure to adopt these practices because they are becoming so prominent, without necessarily stopping to examine why. What is the driving factor behind these trends? The answer…agile. There is a growing need for all of us—designers, learners, organizations, and instructors—to be more nimble, flexible, and responsive so that we can keep up with the rapid pace of change, and, ultimately, do the great work that helps us fulfill our mission.

QR Codes: A Surprising Way to Deliver Just-in-Time Training

 

If you wrote off QR codes as an over-hyped and ultimately useless fad, you’re certainly not alone. But you may want to set those perceptions aside and take another look at how QR codes could help your association deliver just-in-time learning content without having to completely overhaul your educational materials.

QR Codes: A Useful Tool Introduced Ahead of Its Time

Invented in 1994 by a Toyota subsidiary to improve the manufacturing process, a QR code is essentially an enhanced version of a barcode, capable of holding nearly 350 times the amount of information. It wasn’t until 2010 that the first QR code scanner and reader applications were released for smartphone platforms in the U.S. Soon after, marketers, retailers, and other industries began using them on a wider scale to bridge the gap between print and digital content.

The QR code was made possible by technology—the invention of the smartphone and mobile web browsing capabilities. At the same time, its lack of success is also due to technological limitations. Essentially, the QR code was ahead of its time.  Back in the early 2010s, in order to use a QR code, the user had to first download a special app. They used this app to take a picture of the QR code, wait for the app to process it and redirect to a website—at a time when mobile internet connections were not nearly as fast as they are today. And on top of that, users were often directed to websites that were not optimized for a mobile viewing experience.

Why Now is the Time of the QR Code

Fast forward ten years and QR codes are making a resurgence—particularly among Millennials and Generation Z. Here’s why:

Social media platforms aren’t the only ones jumping on the QR Code bandwagon. Global industries such as food manufacturing and pharmaceuticals have implemented QR codes on labels and packaging to comply with new regulations.  For instance, as part of the Smartlabel QR Code initiative by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, prominent food companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Colgate include codes on their packaging to direct consumers to a website with more product information.

How QR Codes Can Provide Access to Time-Critical Information

One of the most valuable benefits associations provide to their members is knowledge and education. Most training and education—whether delivered as a pre-scheduled, in-person instructor-led class or as an on-demand web course—is typically consumed outside the window of time when the materials will actually be put into practice. While the learners walk away with a great foundational understanding of the material, they may not remember all the crucial details they need in a real-world situation.

For example, if you’ve ever taken a CPR or basic first aid class, you may have learned how to do proper chest compressions or how to use a defibrillator. Now fast forward six months or even longer, to the first time you need to apply this knowledge. Not only are you battling The Forgetting Curve, but you are also having to do so under extremely stressful circumstances, which further affects your ability to recall specific details.

Now imagine if there was a QR Code affixed on or near the available first aid equipment that immediately served a short demonstration video or the music loop for the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive” to help you stay in rhythm with your chest compressions. QR codes can be a much more practical way of delivering the exact information you need, without having to pull up and search through a website.

Other examples where QR codes could provide just-in-time learning reinforcement:

  • For employees of libraries, restaurants, schools, and even corporations who may need to access to public health and safety resources, such as how to handle a specific mental health situation, overdose, or allergic reaction
  • For medical professionals who may want access to point-of-care resources to improve health care delivery
  • For technicians who need assistance with diagnosis and repair of less-common mechanical issues while on-site

If like many of us, you wrote off QR codes several years ago as an impractical tool that has lost popularity, you may want to think again. Thanks to improvements in the technology that supports the adoption and use of QR codes, these square snippets of data are gaining traction once again and are being more widely adopted not just by marketers, but by industries and end-users—particularly young professionals. Because of their ease to create and implement, organizations should consider how to adopt QR codes as a simple and cost-effective way to take existing materials and re-package them as micro-learning resources, delivered just-in-time, when they are most needed by the learner.

To Overcome “The Forgetting Curve,” Re-Use Educational Content

 

For those of you who recently held a conference or training course, your members are about to forget everything you just taught them (if they haven’t already). It stings just a bit to hear that, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, science tells us it’s true. The good news, though, is that associations can (and should) combat The Forgetting Curve phenomenon, at least to some extent, simply by re-packaging and re-purposing this educational content. A little cross-departmental collaboration goes a long way, too.

The Forgetting Curve: Effects of time on learning retention

Educational content is by far the top value your organization provides to your members. But its value is only realized when it can actually be applied in real-life situations. Unfortunately, from the moment a course or conference ends, we find ourselves battling The Forgetting Curve—a term coined by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus to describe the effects of time on learning retention.

Within the first few days after a conference or training course, the forgetting curve is very steep. What Ebbinghaus found through his research is that providing “spaced repetition” of learning material can soften this curve, helping us to retain more information for a longer period of time.

In other words, your educational content needs to have a life after the course or conference.

In both of our annual reports—the 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report and the 2019 Training Trends Report—we asked respondents whether they re-use their educational content from the conference or training course for any purpose, and if so, how. The infographic below illustrates their responses.

forgetting curve association training pros meeting planners reuse educational content infographicMeeting Planners:

• 55% re-use conference content
• 26% use it to reinforce learning after the conference

Training Professionals:

• 77% re-use training materials
• 55% use them to reinforce key learning concepts after the course

While a majority of those surveyed are repurposing their educational content, fewer are using it to help promote learning retention—particularly in the case of conferences. This is not only a disservice to your participants, but it also diminishes the value of your program.

How can associations better leverage their educational content to help make learning stick?

1. Refresher courses and mini-events

Look at your most popular conference sessions and create short “refresher courses” on these topics. Add them to your training course roster or deliver them as a series of smaller, regional conferences. Not only does this increase your portfolio of programming as a member benefit, it can also create additional revenue opportunities for your organization.

2. Peer-to-peer learning sessions

ASAE recently published this article on the importance of peer-to-peer learning opportunities at conferences, recognizing the amount of collective expertise attendees bring to the table. What if you could take this one step further, and provide those peer-to-peer learning sessions after the conference or training course? Participants can have the opportunity to share their experiences and learnings as they apply the knowledge learned in the class or conference. Again, these could be developed as a series of smaller, regional in-person meetings, or as virtual events. Today, there are certainly plenty of tools and technology that can be used to foster face-to-face discussions such as WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Houseparty.

3. Develop post-event homework assignments

Looking to help learners apply knowledge in a practical way while also adding to your member resource library? We grew up doing homework in school for this very purpose, so why not add it as a component to your course or conference! Create a series of homework assignments for learners to complete at specific time-based intervals. If there’s an opportunity to have these count for additional CE credits, even better.

4. Create a post-event communications plan

Short, focused and frequent reminders of key points from an educational session or class is one extremely easy way to keep the material top-of-mind. Take a specific topic, session or chapter and break it up into a series of emails, each focusing on a single point or takeaway. This is not only a simple yet effective way to reinforce learning, it helps to keep your organization top-of-mind, which helps to boost retention, too.

Most of us recognize that learning is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. But many organizations still deliver educational content as a one-time event—whether at a conference or in a course. Creating opportunities to provide this same content several times throughout the year will certainly increase the retention and application of the material. But there’s an additional benefit for the organization as well. By increasing your touchpoints with members, you can also increase member engagement and the value of your programs. It may require a little extra work, but it’s definitely a win-win.

Big Ideas for Training, Continuing Education Pros from ATD Conference

 

“Every human is looking for the exact same thing—to live out the truest expression of themselves as a human being.” – Oprah Winfrey, ATD 2019, Keynote Address

In her opening keynote speech at the Association for Talent Development’s annual conference and expo, ATD 2019, in Washington D.C., Oprah Winfrey spoke to a packed house of training and continuing education professionals about the idea of living out the truest expression of ourselves, applying it to the crowd of thousands of training and development professionals seated before her. She explained that by applying our talents toward the greater good, a paradigm switch from the conventional business mindset, we can achieve even more benefits from our own talents—an idea that resonated with the education professionals in the audience.

As training professionals and association leaders, you are responsible for fostering the advancement of your industry through education. In essence, you are helping others develop and apply their talents toward the greater good.

As organizations that set the standards for an industry, associations are also catalysts of change. It’s your role to both lead change based on new industry developments and respond to it, as societal norms and expectations change.  Seth Godin, best-selling author, entrepreneur, teacher and ATD 2019 keynote speaker put it eloquently (and bluntly) when he stated at the top of his address, “The essence of your work is that you make change happen – or why bother.”

Adapting Technology for Educational Programming in a Changing World

We know what we do and why, but how do we stay at the top of our game and keep up with the ever-changing needs of learners who are now accustomed to remote work settings, the gig economy, and of course, technological advances in their field? Walking the floors of ATD it was apparent how fast-changing and competitive the education technology landscape really is. So, all we need is new learning technology and all our nuanced challenges as trainers and educators will get better, right? “Crapola!” pronounced an energetic Elliott Masie, education technology expert credited with coining the term “e-learning” and ATD 2019 speaker.

In his speech, Masie focused on first discovering how learners are changing and then deciding how and what technology to apply in order to make their experiences better.

So, how are learners changing? Thanks to the advent of the internet and mobile technology, learners can now search for answers by themselves, without a formal manual or instructor. They are engaging in self-directed, curiosity-based knowledge consumption. And what they find must be highly relevant, bite-sized content for microlearning—education industry jargon Masie sardonically called “learning words”. He suggests that we not pigeonhole ourselves into industry terminology, but rather focus on providing value to learners and their changing needs with the technology we choose to implement or create.

Other adult learners may want to gain the knowledge they need on the job, at the exact time they need it—just-in-time learning. In other words, people don’t want to memorize information and wait a long time before they can actually use it. Masie suggests there is “too much training at the wrong time.” And he’s not just talking about this in reference to millennials, which is often the microcosm for discussion among training pros on such topics.

“I’m not a fan of the millennial conversation. I don’t believe millennials are different. Anyone living in 2019 is different.”

Education professionals have historically relied on developing learning programs and strategies based on demographics. But this isn’t a relevant way to think about education anymore. We have all become equally reliant upon technology and tend to use it fairly similarly. Instead, think about how to use technology more thoughtfully to support the learner experience at any age.

Do Better, Not More

As training professionals walking the floors at an international conference and expo like ATD, it’s easy to not only be inspired by the advances in education tech, but it’s also quite easy to be intimidated—especially for association leaders who many times feel they are already behind the ball of their corporate counterparts. Stay calm, it’s ok to feel overwhelmed or to feel that you or your organization could be doing better when it comes to implementing technology into your programming. Instead, focus on doing better at meeting the needs of your learners with thoughtful curriculum. Start incorporating technology by breaking up and reorganizing your existing training content into bite-sized chunks that your learners can access easily on their mobile phones. Test and experiment with content delivery methods for effectiveness first before jumping into a costly overhaul of your education technology.

After speaking with attendees at ATD, we know that technology updates are top of mind. And according to our annual training trends report, they have been for quite some time.  Across industries, whether association or corporate, be assured that not everyone is there yet. Not everyone needs to be there yet. Be thoughtful in your approach to how you implement technology and your courses and your learners will be better off for it.

The Google Effect on Your Training Program Courses

Once upon a time, associations were the singular source of industry information and knowledge. Today, associations find they are up against an extremely intelligent and almost omnipresent competitor: Google. The behemoth search engine’s complex algorithm delivers answers to questions almost instantaneously and, often, for free. These search results are getting smarter, too—more predictive and conversational, with the focus shifting from targeting keywords to answering questions. What’s more, is that younger learners have been conditioned from a very early age to rely on Google as a primary source of information.  In order to remain relevant and drive program growth, associations need to think about how to make their protected content accessible to search engines without decreasing its inherent value to members.

Young Professionals are the Key to Training Program Growth

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Millennials in the U.S. has eclipsed Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, Bloomberg estimates that Generation Z will surpass Millennials in size. This means the pipeline for prospective learners is substantial, if organizations can connect with them and deliver the value they’re looking for.

Unfortunately, according to our 2019 Training Trends Report, associations are not yet seeing a corresponding rise in the number of Millennial and Generation Z members or learners. According to the report, Baby Boomers, on average, make up about 50-70% of training course attendees.  On the flipside of the equation, Millennials only make up about 20-30% of learners, and Generation Z is about 10% or less. The reason? A significant percentage (49%) of organizations have not yet developed a strategy to address the needs and preferences of younger professionals.

The good news is that early observations note that Generation Z is a more pragmatic generation who are actively seeking out professional development opportunities. This, coupled with their size, make them a prime target for training programs…if these young learners are aware of them, that is.

The Case for Making Training Program Content Searchable Via Google

As organizations think about how to develop educational programs that are relevant to younger learners, the emphasis is often placed on content accessibility and delivery. Much of the discussion in today’s professional development circles centers around themes such as micro-learning, mobile learning, and gamification, for instance. There is significantly less discussion around the discoverability of this content—what questions are young professionals asking, and where and how are they finding the answers?

In 2012, Pew surveyed middle and high school teachers to understand how their students conduct research for a class assignment. Ninety-four percent of participants said their students were very likely to use Google as one of their primary tools, far outweighing any other information source, including Wikipedia, social media, peers or even textbooks. Today, these students from the 2012 survey are Generation Z young professionals. They are conditioned to look to Google for the very information and knowledge that most associations provide.

Many associations “lock down” educational content to protect both the value of that content and the integrity of their training programs on behalf of the industries they serve, and understandably so. Content exclusivity is what drives member value. The negative consequence of this, however, is that it is often done in a way that prevents search engines like Google from crawling that content as well, making it more difficult to attract new learners.  In order to grow training program attendance, associations will need to strike a balance between making educational content searchable by search engines, without giving it entirely away for free.

Use Content Marketing to Strike the Right Balance Between Value and Accessibility

As our 2019 Training Trends Report illustrates, 77% of respondents do re-use the content from their training programs. However, it’s primarily being used to reinforce key learning concepts to those that attended the course. Only 33% of respondents indicated they are using content to market and promote training courses. To get your programs in front of more prospective learners, it’s important to think about how to re-package and re-purpose smaller snippets of your course content as part of a larger content marketing strategy. This will not only help you get in front of search engines, but it will also give prospective members a useful sample of the types of questions your organization can answer and the development opportunities you provide before you convince them to register for a course.

Here is just one example of how to do this.

Finding Relevant Topics

Start by evaluating your most popular training courses and the specific topics covered. Use Google’s “Searches Related to” tool found at the bottom of search results pages to see what types of topics and questions users are searching for that may be related to your educational content. There are also several free and paid tools on the market that find the most popular questions asked across the web on specific topics, like SEMrush and BuzzSumo.

Publishing Content

Turn snippets of your most popular course material or relevant Google search queries into blog articles published on your website. Better yet, ask your instructors or subject matter experts to contribute, if possible.

Promoting Content

Promote your blog article via email, through social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and through any industry partners.

Associations don’t need to open their training material to non-members if it doesn’t align with their organizational strategy. But there are ways that organizations can, and should, openly publish samples of their educational subject matter for prospective members to discover.  Like it or not, Google is key to organizational growth.

Mobile Training Programs: Optimizing Educational Content for Mobile Learning

Is your association considering—or currently offering—mobile training programs? Follow these simple steps to optimize your existing educational content for mobile learning.

Why Consider Mobile Training and Learning Programs?

One of the top trends in training and education is the development of mobile training and learning programs to make learning more accessible. Mobile content is not only convenient for the learner, but it can also increase retention and productivity by delivering critical knowledge at the exact moment it’s needed. Also known as “just-in-time training,” organizations are recognizing the benefits of pairing in-depth learning with opportunities for real-time reinforcement and practical application. For this to truly be effective, however, content needs to be optimized so that it can be searched and delivered quickly on a mobile device. The practical applications for just-in-time learning are considerable. For example, think of the technician who is on-site to install or repair a specialized piece of new equipment. Although they were formally trained on the process months ago, the ability to access reinforcement material will help increase accuracy and productivity.  Simply by scanning a QR code on the equipment, or clicking a link to a searchable resource library, that technician can pull up the exact documentation they need to complete the task quickly and accurately.  Within the office environment, just-in-time training resources empower employees to make decisions and handle difficult situations with greater confidence. In a perfect world, this just-in-time content would be developed specifically for mobile training. Short instructional videos or easy-to-follow visual documents tend to be the most user-friendly in these situations. But developing all new content may not be practical for many organizations due to limited financial and personnel resources.  However, it is possible to use the content you already have for a mobile learning program if you take a few simple steps to ensure it can be delivered to the user quickly.

  1. Provide a centralized “home” for your mobile content

Members and employees need to be able to find relevant content easily. Provide cloud-based access to a centralized library where this content is stored, whether that’s within an existing LMS or an online resource library.  Whatever tool or system you choose, make sure the search functionality is powerful and dynamic enough to provide robust search results for the user.

  1. Modify document layout, if possible

While it may not be possible to completely re-create shorter, more visual content, look for opportunities to modify the layout of existing, multi-column documents to a single-column format where possible to reduce or eliminate the need for left-to-right scrolling. While vertical scrolling is common on mobile devices, horizontal scrolling is extremely disruptive to the user, increasing the time it takes to read a document while reducing overall comprehension.

  1. Minimize the file size

Mobile devices, although convenient, are limited when it comes to processing power. The last thing a user needs in a time-critical situation is to attempt to access a PDF file that takes minutes to open or download. If you are developing new content for mobile training and learning, create it with the intention to minimize file size. Limit the number of fonts and use lower resolution photos and graphics. If you are working with an existing document, there are several file optimization tools available in Adobe Acrobat®. The exact steps will depend upon which version of Acrobat you’re running, but some general guidelines include:

  • Use the Reduce File Size command or PDF Optimizer
  • Enable Fast Web View in the File > Preferences dialog box
  • Unembed unnecessary fonts
  • Downsample or compress images
  1. In longer documents, create bookmarks or hyperlinked table of contents

If your educational content takes the form of a longer textbook or training manual, it may be impractical to break it up into separate, shorter documents. But it is possible to make these documents easier to navigate by creating bookmarks in your PDF to create jump destinations that link to other documents or web pages.  If you are housing your educational content in an online resource library, each publication can be broken out into easy-to-navigate, hyperlinked sections and backed with contextual search capabilities so users don’t have to scroll through hundreds of pages to find the answers they need.

Mobile Training Can be Worth the Time it Takes to Optimize Educational Content for Your Learners

Providing quick, easy, and just-in-time access to learning and training materials is going to continue to be a key component of mobile training programs moving forward.  It not only increases retention and success for the learner, it also increases program value by providing practical application of education concepts when they are needed most. Eventually, educational content will need to be designed with this in mind. But if you don’t have the resources nor bandwidth to tackle this today, don’t let that stop you from testing some small pilot programs. It is possible to re-use existing content by taking a few, simple steps to optimize documents for mobile delivery.

Just Released: The 2019 Training Trends Report

 

Hot off the presses! Our 2019 Training Trends Report is available for download. As a new year kicks into high gear, changes in technology, learner demographics and preferences are creating new challenges and opportunities for training and continuing education professionals.

For the past three years, Omnipress has surveyed over 100 continuing education and training professionals from associations, corporations and other organizations to understand how education is being delivered to learners today, and which trends training professionals are keeping an eye on for the future. This year’s report highlights just how valuable training and education is for organizations, as most have plans to increase the breadth and depth of their programs in 2019. But for training professionals who already manage a significant content portfolio and a wide array of responsibilities, this additional growth may create strategic tradeoffs.

For instance, this year’s report indicates that 51% of respondents currently offer at least 11 different programs or courses, with 60% of respondents expecting to increase that number in 2019. Education professionals are also delivering this educational content in a variety of formats to address the diverse preferences of learners. As a result, respondents are spending more time than they would like on tasks such as managing content changes, and less time on strategic initiatives designed to advance and grow the organization.

What are some other key findings in 2019?
• On-site, instructor-led programs are still the predominant way organizations are delivering courses and workshops, although there has been a noted year-over-year increase in self-guided e-learning opportunities
• While educational programs have the potential to deliver significant value to the organization, there is a self-reported gap between this opportunity and program effectiveness
• Although widely discussed, many of the “hot-button” learning trends are only being put into practice on a limited scale, if at all
• Organizations have not yet fully addressed the needs of younger generations

The purpose of this report is not just to shed light on common trends, but to help spark a strategic conversation on how organizations can leverage their greatest asset—educational content—to strengthen their connection with new and existing learners.

Download the free report to read the full results.

The Future of Continuing Education Can be Found in K-12 Classrooms

 

It seems that you can’t go a day without reading an article about current and emerging trends in continuing education—from micro- and just-in-time learning, to mobile technology and gamification, to virtual and augmented reality.  But these tools and tactics are just the means to an end. Behind the jargon is a macro-level trend of greater significance: how we deliver education is fundamentally changing because our understanding of how people learn best is changing. The origins of this shift can be traced all the way back to the K-12 classroom.  The school-aged learners of today will soon be the adult learners of tomorrow. And their current classroom experiences are going to affect professional development programs in the future.

We spoke with four long-time K-12 teachers to discuss how and why the classroom has changed, and how this has changed the role of both the student and teacher in the learning process to better understand how continuing education programs may need to evolve to meet the needs and expectations of tomorrow’s workforce.

Five Fundamental Shifts in Classroom Learning

All four teachers we interviewed indicated that the K-12 classroom has undergone a significant transformation in the past decade. While each represented different grade levels, subjects and school districts, they all identified the same five themes present in today’s educational environment.

  1. Moving away from a defined curriculum

All of our teachers remembered a day early in their careers when they were essentially handed a textbook that served as the class curriculum.  Each day consisted of some amount of rote instruction, with lessons pulled directly from the book. The learning, as one teacher noted, was much more “spoon-fed” to students, with some moderate amounts of hands-on or group activities to enhance the lesson.

Today the curriculum is much more generalized, with teachers being given guidelines on the topics that need to be covered and the foundational skills that must be learned. But it is up to the teacher on how they want to deliver the material. As a result, teachers are given a lot more freedom to get creative with lesson plans.

One example from a foreign language teacher illustrates this perfectly.  Historically, foreign language instruction included memorization of vocabulary lists. But this does not promote true language fluency. Many of today’s teachers are ditching the standard vocab tests and instead approaching foreign language instruction using the same building blocks we used to learn our first language—through active listening and speaking for the duration of the class, using relevant, real-life applications.  In one Spanish teacher’s example, she has students answer questions about themselves in Spanish as best as they can, and the class takes notes. She then plays a trivia game where the students guess things about their classmates based on the notes they took.

What is the impact this flexibility is having on teachers? According to one member of our panel, “We have to be okay with not knowing everything while we allow our students to try something new. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but in the end, we all learn from it.” Another teacher indicated, “We used to be pretty siloed in our own classroom. But today there’s a lot more collaboration happening in teaching through at-school teams and virtual connections—to get ideas from our peers, understand what’s already been tried and refined before we bring it to our classroom. We’re all figuring this out together.”

  1. Teacher and student roles have changed

With the migration away from a pre-defined curriculum, teachers spend less time at the front of the classroom telling students what they need to know. In today’s classroom, the teacher often models new material and then, “lets the kids run with it,” moving through the classroom to provide guidance. Teachers are also spending more time working with students to set learning goals and helping them craft a plan to reach these goals.

Conversely, this means the students have more accountability, as they play a more active role in their own learning.

  1. Students have more choice and voice in their own learning

With increased participation and accountability, students are also given greater flexibility in choosing how they learn best.

For one teacher, subjects from math and science to social studies can be taught any number of ways. Given the same subject and learning goal, some students may decide to use art supplies to create a project, some may use a computer program, while some may make a movie or slideshow.

This concept of student choice also translates to the classroom layout. According to all four of the teachers we interviewed, you generally won’t find many classrooms in their schools that contain the standard rows of desks. Many classrooms feature flexible seating arrangements where the kids can sit where they want, including at group tables, in bean bags, on couches or even on the floor. With a more fluid learning process, there is often more movement incorporated throughout the day, with students transitioning to various areas in the classroom based on the current task or assignment. According to one teacher, “As long as they’re staying on-task and not distracting others, it’s up to the student to determine what works for them.”

  1. Technology is the great facilitator

Our teachers agreed that technology has played a large role in this transformation. Tablets, laptops and other devices have become substantially more prevalent in the classroom. Two of the school districts have implemented a 1:1 ratio of student-to-device, while others supply a variety of devices for use in the classroom. These devices help facilitate a more personalized approach to learning. Math apps, for instance, allow the learner to follow a self-guided path based on their current level of proficiency. Instead of simply putting pen to paper, students can use technology to perform research on-the-fly and bring concepts to life.

  1. Assessments have changed

Historically, tests and other learning assessments have been recall-based (does the student remember what was taught?). But some school districts have started to more widely recognize this does not necessarily reflect whether the student comprehends the material. Testing methods have started to evolve to more accurately reflect true proficiency through real-world, application-based assessments. As one teacher puts it, “We’ve moved from testing on whether a student can remember what’s been taught, to whether they know how to use it.”

Additionally, some districts are also starting to use grading systems that separate effort from proficiency. As one teacher illustrates, “An ‘A’ student and a ‘C’ student can easily be equally proficient. The only difference is the amount of effort they need or choose to put in to get there.”

What’s Driving These Changes in Classroom Learning?

Technology has certainly played a role in the changing classroom, simply because it provides more ways to teach the material. But, according to the teachers we interviewed, research was the central driver. Over time, studies have shown that a one-size-fits-all approach is not necessarily the best way to engage students and support retention. The teachers we interviewed agreed. One teacher noted, “Students remember things they want to know. So, by taking subject matter and allowing them to apply it in a way that is most meaningful to them, we achieve the same goal.”

The Impact on Continuing Education Professionals

For training and education professionals focused on adult learning and professional development, these changes in schools could have a major impact on curricula and certification assessments for future CE programs.  These young professionals will enter the workforce expecting their learning experiences to be delivered in a way that is consistent with their previous schooling. Now is a great time to start experimenting with small changes to existing programs to see what works best.

In a previous blog article, we provide some food for thought on how Generation Z might shape your organization’s continuing education programs.  Here are some other ideas to consider:

  1. Does all the learning have to take place during the course or in the classroom? Are there opportunities to provide real-world applications of the material within a certain timeframe that can then be used for a future assessment?
  2. Are your instructors capable of evolving their role from teacher to facilitator? Do they have the skills to adapt the material from the course book in creative and personalized ways?
  3. You’ll want to provide options for how your learners interact with an apply the course material, while keeping your workload and budget manageable. Can you achieve this by providing simple guidelines for your learners, while putting them in charge of how they want to learn?

While it’s impossible to predict the future, taking a glimpse into the K-12 classroom certainly provides some indications of how principles of adult learning will continue to evolve. Each organization will have to determine the best way to adapt in order to achieve program goals in a way that realistically aligns with resources.

Should Associations Take A Blended Classroom Approach to Instruction?

 

Blended learning first emerged as a buzzword for continuing education professionals more than a decade ago and continues to be considered among the top trends for continuing education programs because of its effectiveness for knowledge delivery and retention. As a result, many associations have implemented a blended learning strategy into their training programs, offering learners the opportunity to access education both in the classroom and through e-learning. Looking forward, there are indications that the conversation is starting to shift from blended learning to blended classroom, and associations may want to take note.

Blended Learning vs. Blended Classroom

Typically, the term “blended learning” is used to describe an approach to training that mixes traditional, classroom-based instruction with online learning modules outside the classroom.  While the use of e-learning tools is a way to extend the learning experience, this traditional approach to blended training may not go far enough to meet the needs of learners—particularly the emerging Generation Z. In response, some organizations, taking a cue from trends within the K-12 learning environment, are focusing on ways to blend multiple learning formats and technologies within a single classroom setting to meet the personalized needs of learners and provide deeper knowledge.

In the most common execution of blended learning, the only component that is truly “blended” is the subject matter. Although complementary, the in-person content is delivered separately, and often in a separate context, from the e-learning modules, which can lead to inconsistencies in both delivery and retention. Additionally, in the traditional approach to blended learning, the classroom content typically takes the form of a lecture, with little opportunity for in-field practical application.

Within a blended classroom, a learner may interact with printed materials, an LMS, mobile content and even virtual and augmented reality technology all as part of a single learning experience. E-learning is no longer a separate activity, but rather, it becomes integrated into the classroom, and vice-versa. The role of the in-person training becomes less about delivering fundamental principles, and more about facilitating a deeper understanding of how to apply the knowledge.

How does this play out in practice?  Here is one example: An instructor may introduce a broad concept using a printed coursebook, then have learners turn to a video or e-learning module to illustrate the concept. The instructor then may incorporate independent study time for participants to use AR and VR tools, e-learning simulations and printed workbook exercises to deliver personalized, hands-on application of the discussed concepts, followed up with group discussions to share experiences and ideas.

Consider a Blended Classroom Approach to Learning for Your Association

While blended learning is a major topic of conversation among adult continuing education and training professionals, the execution of a blended classroom is most commonly found in K-12 and even technical and trade school programs. Which is the very reason associations may want to start thinking about applying it into their continuing education programs. In a few short years, your newest (and youngest) members will be conditioned to expect it.

A Lesson on Innovation for Continuing Education Pros

 

Innovation is a concept that is often tossed around a little too freely without much definition of what it really means, or even how to achieve it. In almost every industry, organizations are tasked with finding ways to continually innovate and transform—in the continuing education and training industry, this means continuing to produce innovative educational programming. Without a clear understanding of how to apply such an abstract concept, however, most of us tend to default to focusing improvements on the very concrete, daily tasks in front of us. The opening keynote session at this year’s ICE (Institute for Credentialing Excellence) Exchange Conference led by Dr. Megan Alrutz, encouraged attendees to experiment with the notion of innovation, even if it meant going beyond our comfort zone.

Innovation and Continuing Education Programs: 2018 ICE Exchange Opening Session

The format of Dr. Alrutz’s 2018 ICE Exchange opening session was anything but traditional. Dr. Alrutz directed a group of several hundred continuing education professionals, sitting at tables of 6-10 participants, to discuss thought provoking questions such as:

  • Can you innovate without risk?
  • Can you have safety with innovation?
  • Think about a time in your life when you stepped into the unknown.

She encouraged us to “play in the space that is uncomfortable” and challenge ourselves to grow during these discussions. She compared this “uncomfortable space” or “threshold” to that where the ocean meets the cliffs. This space is not the calm found in the middle of the ocean, nor the solid foundation of cliff formations. The threshold is the place where the energy of the waves challenges the sturdy and majestic cliffside. This is where innovation happens.

As the groups engaged in lively discussion, a very distinguishable buzz and energy permeated the room. This energy continued as everyone came back together for the full-group discussions. As the conversation started to dissipate, a sense of calm washed over the room. It was at this moment that Dr. Alrutz would throw out another question for group discussion, bringing with it the same buzz, followed by calm; buzz, then calm, again and again. The room became a tangible illustration of the very threshold where the ocean meets the cliffs that Dr. Alrutz described earlier. I believe this was her way of demonstrating how innovation is supposed to feel: moments of buzz and chaos, followed by brief moments of calm.

With a clearer understanding of what innovation looks like, the next challenge is how to make it happen. What do you need to do to step into the threshold of innovation? According to Dr. Alrutz, there are two simple commitments each of us needs to make:

  1. Bring yourself fully
  2. Challenge yourself to take a risk

If you can find small moments throughout your day to incorporate these two commitments, even while tackling your daily to-do list, you’ll be on a path to innovation without even realizing it.

Continuing Education Pros: Take our 2019 Training Trends Survey

 

How do you plan to deliver your training and education programs in 2019? Which technology trends are truly “hot” for your organization? What challenges are you faced with as you deliver educational content to an increasingly diverse group of learners? Take our annual Training Trends Survey, and let your voice be heard.

Each year for the past five years, we’ve collected data from continuing education professionals to understand trends surrounding educational content, including how learners want it, how organizations provide it, and what changes lie ahead as demographics and preferences change. In March, we use this information to publish our annual Training Trends Report.

Our goal with this report is to provide peer-to-peer benchmarking, as well as ideas and trends you can use in your planning sessions.

For instance, in the 2018 Training Trends Report, we learned that the demand for educational programs continued to rise, as a majority of respondents planned to increase the number of programs they offer. This brought both opportunities for education professionals, as well as clear challenges, as respondents look for ways to minimize lower-value tasks in favor of spending more time on program and content development.

Additionally, education professionals face an increasing challenge of trying to balance the diverse needs and preferences of a multi-generational audience, particularly as many organizations have not defined their plans to address the needs of younger members.

What insights will we gain in 2019? We need you to help us determine that and we’d love to have your voice included in this year’s results. The survey takes just 5-10 minutes to complete. All responses remain confidential for the report. As a thank you for your time, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card!

Please take a moment to complete the 2019 Training Trends Survey and pass it along to your colleagues as well. We look forward to sharing the results with you in early 2019!

Applying Micro-Learning Concepts to Your Printed Course Materials

 

In an earlier post, we discussed how micro-learning—or “the delivery of bite-sized content nuggets”— is considered to be the #1 trend for training professionals in 2018. But this doesn’t mean it’s being widely executed. While some organizations are starting to experiment with their offerings, most are still figuring out how to get started.

The discussion of micro-learning is typically centered around online and mobile-based training programs, which, according to recently-compiled data from a series of industry studies, is one of the primary reasons that the implementation of micro-learning programs isn’t as widespread as you would think. Continuing education professionals stated that the time investment required to create online and mobile-friendly content is a major barrier, particularly for those who are already tasked with growing their programs using the same or fewer resources. Meanwhile, according to the same series of studies, nearly three-fourths of participants provide printed training materials. If there is a clear, strategic benefit for your organization to create programs that consist of smaller learning segments, it may be possible to pilot a program by re-thinking how you present your print-based content.

Historically, course books and training manuals have been designed to support long-form learning, organizing content into longer chapters that both introduce complex concepts and dive into all of the supporting details.  Recently, however, some organizations have started looking at ways to redesign existing content in order to serve up the same information smaller pieces that can be consumed and referenced much more quickly. Here are just a few ideas to consider:

From One to Many

Take a large, single course book and break it out into a branded series of separate pieces that are each more singularly focused.  In doing this, you may have room to play with the format and add notetaking pages or other self-reflection and application exercises to make the content more personally relevant.

Keep Sections Short

If you determine that offering a single course book is the best way to deliver your program, consider reducing the length of your chapters and sections, providing more frequent breaks in the material so readers have a logical place to pause and digest.

Turn Text into Graphics

If you are outlining list-based information, try substituting pages of text with a simple-to-follow infographic to help increase retention.

Provide Easy Access to Supplemental Digital Material

Most of us are never more than an arm’s length from our phones or other mobile devices at all times. Rather than presenting all of the necessary information in your printed piece, consider using print as a means to give a more concise overview or introduction of a topic, with directions throughout the piece to supplemental online materials from your organization or your industry’s thought-leaders, including videos, podcasts and virtual renderings that can be accessed while the learner is reading.

If you are looking to incorporate micro-learning practices into your existing continuing education programs but don’t feel you have the time or resources to develop online and mobile-friendly content, consider starting with your printed materials. This not only gives you an opportunity to take a fresh look at existing content, but is also a lower-cost way to test-pilot micro-learning techniques before making a larger investment in new, digital materials.

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