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Gone are the days when learning necessarily occurs in a classroom with a single teacher on a predefined schedule.
If people want to learn today, they have several anytime, anywhere options. They can watch a YouTube video, read a wiki, take a massive open online course (MOOC) or participate in an online forum.
But where does this leave corporate learning? If employees no longer have to rely on their human resources departments to provide business classes and training courses, what is the new role of today's corporate learning professionals? According to several speakers at the Human Capital Institute's Learning and Leadership Development Conference, held last week in Boston, it's now about providing context instead of content.
Sandra Edwards, senior vice president at American Management Association International, encouraged learning professionals to brainstorm about how to embed formal corporate education into on-the-job learning.
"The challenge is to ... place our expertise within the workflow so that the learning we deliver is extracted from the work, not superimposed onto the work. We need to evolve so we are coveted for our ability as curators of improved performance rather than training providers who interrupt the workflow," she said.
In the 70-20-10 model of corporate learning that many companies ascribe to -- 70% on-the-job, 20% informal and 10% formal training -- injecting the 10% into the 70% will help training to stick better in employees' minds, thereby boosting performance, Edwards said. "People want to invest by doing -- we know this -- but they don't invest by doing when they need to do it. Whether it's [tackling] a budget for the first time or [putting] together a marketing plan, it's in the doing that ... knowledge is attained."
In addition, Edwards pointed out that corporate learning professionals can act as guides in the self-service learning arena. "We can be the people to let people know where to find [content]," she said.
Context also involves delivery methods. David DeFilippo, executive vice president and chief learning officer at BNY Mellon University, brought up this point in a panel discussion on staying relevant in today's rapidly changing world.
"What's really changed is channels of distribution ... things like gamification [and] e-learning," he said. "The question in my mind is how do you take the foundational things and translate them into the right channels?"
Glocalization -- the tailoring of global initiatives to local market specifications -- also has bearing on the context of corporate learning initiatives at multinational companies, DeFilippo said.
"What works in one culture may not in another," he said. "We need to be open to the fact that there's going to be nuances that are cultural, regional [or dependent] on the maturity cycle of the business." With this in mind, the challenge for corporate learning professionals is to strike a balance between standardization and customization in learning initiatives, DeFilippo said.
To Ellie Gates, director of global management effectiveness and performance at Adobe Systems, corporate learning content in many cases now takes a back seat to the discussion it triggers. "The conversation is the content," she said. "Finding a juicy topic and putting it out there to draw people to [it] will facilitate learning [largely] without instructional design."
In this scenario, learning professionals wear the hat of discussion leaders. "It's seeing our value not through the content we use, but the way we facilitate conversation," Gates added.
But regardless of the content strategy, Andrew Benett, global president of Havas Worldwide, stressed that embracing technology and digital means of learning are crucial for organizations to keep pace with change.
"I think two, three [or] certainly five years from now, we won't talk about this thing called digital," he said. "It'll just be everything."