Tech Trainers, Learn From Your Peers in Higher Education

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As learning and development professionals, we are our organizations’ educators. We have a responsibility to support our students’ journey. L&D professionals and traditional educators use many of the same tools to support students.

The only difference is the content we teach, the characteristics in the student population, and the educational setting. Even with these differences, there a lot we can learn from our traditional educational counterparts.

The Move to Online Learning Platforms

The traditional educational model has been greatly disrupted by technological advancements over the last 20 years. Now, students of all ages have a variety of educational options such as asynchronous online programs, competency-based models, even massive open online courses (MOOCs). The classroom is changing, and L&D professionals should take note because these changes will greatly reshape adult learners’ expectations and needs in the future. These needs will create organizational learning gaps.

The traditional education space has seen a significant increase in the adoption of distance education options. For example, in 2003-2004 approximately 15 percent of college undergraduate students took a distance education course. According to the U.S. Department of Education, by 2011-2012, this percentage doubled to 32 percent. In 2016, the Online Learning Consortium reports the number of students taking online courses grew to 5.8 million nationally, continuing a growth trend that has been consistent for 13 years. Perceptions around education and learning have shifted accordingly.

Historically, L&D professionals have been quick to identify and leverage industry trends. Consider the widespread adoption of technology in learning delivery, giving rise to. simulations and e-learning software. There are numerous high-capacity, national conferences that focus on learning technology, such as DevLearn and ATD’s TechKnowledge. Yet, we have not acknowledged the impact that changes in higher education can have on our employees’ learning expectations.

Learning management systems such as Canvas and Blackboard are staples in the educational field but are not widely adopted by learning professionals. These are the LMS’s students will experience while completing their formal education. So why not leverage the same tools? Funding for technology tools can be a challenge, but many of these platforms such as Canvas offer free private accounts.

Looking ahead, the roles within the L&D function will need to change. For example, if a platform like Canvas is adopted, L&D professionals will need to learn how to design and develop online curriculum that is different from e-learning and traditional onsite workshop designs. It’s the same transition college professors experience when converting on-campus courses to online offerings to meet students’ new expectations.

Make Way for New Degree Options

Linking corporate L&D and traditional educational environments even further, L&D professionals need to acknowledge the changes in degree completion options. Historically, if you went to a college or university, you would complete a formal degree, but this may no longer be the case.

Now, with the employee skill gap widening nationally, higher education institutions are rethinking traditional degree design and offering alternatives such as nano degrees or alliances to create corporate universities. Both options either fill the greater skill gap in a shorter amount of time or provide customized curriculum based on organizational skill gaps. These offerings offer a shorter overall time to completion and a lower cost to the employee.

The concept of a corporate university isn’t new. It can be traced back to General Electric’s Crotonville Management Development Institute and Walt Disney’s Disney University. Today, instead of these models, we see partnerships between universities and organizations where students can attend condensed course offerings specifically based on organizational needs. It’s a true partnership between both parties.  

Nano degrees are a hot topic in higher education for good reason, and organizations have noticed. The concept of a nano degree is to, “Get Job Ready” according to Udacity, a leading provider of this model. The company has partnerships with Google, Amazon, IBM and AT&T. Its nano degrees focus on mastering in-demand skills by building and designing amazing projects that result in valuable credentials recognized in specific fields.

These changes impact the expectations students will have for L&D professionals and learning programs. For example, most organizations have leadership development or new hire training programs. These result in some completion recognition. For students who have completed a nano degree, such L&D programs could be viewed as a waste of time or too theory-based over applied learning. These views could greatly devalue the program and impact the results. Instead, L&D professionals should step away from a formal program design and offer open enrollment courses driven by the employee’s identified skill gaps.

Marry Access to Knowledge and Expectation

We have already acknowledged the impact technology has on our world, but how are L&D professionals leveraging these changes? Consider our everyday access to unlimited information. Search engines such as Google and Bing have become the norm when something is unknown. L&D professionals should adopt this level of access to information to meet employees’ new expectations.

For example, organizations should not limit search features for their intranet. Instead, have an entire database of learning resources available. These databases provide access not just to training materials, they promote learning in general as they facilitate self-directed development.

L&D is no longer the knowledge keeper. Now the function must curate, and provide easily accessible ways to obtain information. Consider how YouTube has become a worldwide learning tool. L&D professionals should mimic this design, and customize it fill organizational needs.

Technology is actively reshaping our world, and organizational learning professionals have only leveraged some of the changes. It’s time to step outside of the L&D bubble and embrace change as traditional educators have. Their students are our future employees. We can learn a lot from one another.