We're living in a world where a great deal of inexpensive or free training is available on the internet. More than that, if we look at sites such as Khan Academy, we'd better realize we are just seeing the early days of this trend. There will be much more, and much better, free training in the future. If employees can easily find their own training courses and the cost is trivial, what should the training function be doing?
Here's the "disappointing" answer: "Let's just narrow our vision to nothing more than compliance training and a few organization-specific courses."
My answer: That hardly seems like a sufficient ambition for a world where learning is more important than ever.
And here's an even worse way to go about things:
"Training should clamp down on employees doing ‘unauthorized' learning. It made sense for training to control course creation when they cost a lot of money, however, if someone finds a useful YouTube on handling conflict, the training function shouldn't interfere."
Maybe you've heard some version of the above answers. I suggest we look at this in a two-fold manner. First, the training function should create conditions for optimal learning. This will include creating conditions so that employees take full advantage of free online learning. Secondly, training teams should track learning. They should track what employees have learned for purposes of talent management and they should track what learning is most effective so that employees are better able to find what they need.
Empowering employees to be in charge
Let's consider an example of how employees might be put in charge of their own learning. Imagine the in-store staff of a retailer would like to learn more about the products they sell, teamwork or dealing with difficult customers. In the old world, the training function would think in terms of how to create and deliver that training with a major rollout.
In the new world, the training function would consult with managers to find ways to overcome barriers that prevent employees from getting the learning they need. Perhaps managers need to give employees permission to take five-minute learning breaks; perhaps employees need tips on where to find content; perhaps what's really needed is a social learning technology that enables employees to share ideas with each other-even to the point of making their own micro-learning videos. In the end, we have an empowered group of employees able to drive their own learning. Everyone wins!
What if an employee takes an online course that appeared to be good, but proves to be a waste of time? How many employees will repeat that mistake? It's overbearing for the training function to try to control the individualized, self-directed learning of employees. However, it is helpful if they can gather data on which learning options are most effective. We don't need high-resolution analytics to determine the best courses, we just need to harvest information that will help employees get what they need faster.
What if an employee has learned important new skills on their own? Will anyone know? There is a clear need for the training function to find ways to track the ever-evolving skills and competencies of employees. This is the future of LMS technology. It will be less about administration and more about gathering and analyzing data for a variety of purposes.
Summing up: Let's embrace the potential
There is great potential for employees to be in charge of a large part of their own learning. This is a wonderful thing because they often know better than anyone else what they need to learn; they'll be more motivated if they are in charge. In addition, there's a great cost saving with this type of learning.
The training function could retreat to handling the parts of training that can't be delivered by this new model. However, a better approach is to embrace the possibilities and use the training team's expertise to find ways to enhance this self-directed learning. It's crucial not to slip into the mode of being over controlling. The training function has a lot of expertise to help managers create the right conditions and infrastructure for employee-led learning. Let's make that a big part of the value the training function delivers.
Beyond that, the training function should use technology to help track the quality of different learning options so that employees can be pointed to the best choices. They'll also want to use technology to track what employees have learned so that talent can be deployed in the most effective way.
Technology is changing learning and will continue to do so. A side effect of this is that technology is also changing the way the training function adds value. We can't cling to the old ways. Let's leverage the new!