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Mar 28, 2019 Jennifer Hofmann

Are Time & Collaboration the Most Valuable Training Commodities?

Collaborative Learning and Time for Corporate TrainingThis weekend I had the luxury to catch up on some reading. Well, not just reading. There was a podcast, a whitepaper, the (digital) newspaper… in other words, it was a good weekend.

Some of the media I consumed was related to the learning and development industry, some was not. I was trying to give myself a break from work by engaging what intellectual bandwidth I had left at the end of the week in less heady content.

But, as is often the case, even the non-work-related content came back to learning and educational technology.

It was a moment of convergence for me. There was a connection between all I learned.  The seemingly unrelated pieces started to illustrate a pattern, a pattern I think is critical for us to pay attention to as we consider the future of learning.

This is what I consumed, and what I took away from each piece. (All are recommended.) 

“Screens used to be for the elite. Now avoiding them is a status symbol.” The author examines the idea that the richer you are, the less time you spend on screens. Instead, the uber wealthy are spending money on things that connect people to other people.  For adults, it’s recreation, travel, dining, etc. For their children, the trend is to focus on experiences with other children, with even trending towards screen-free educational experiences. 

As BYOD becomes more common in the workplace (creating workdays that seemingly never end) and school districts are attempting to provide every student with a tablet or laptop, it is suddenly apparent to me that the ability to leave your screens behind is, indeed, a luxury good.  

And it’s true in learning and development, too, isn’t it?  Face-to-face training is becoming the (supposedly) luxury experience – compared to seemingly less personal virtual classrooms, eLearning, and (back to BYOD) learning from mobile devices.

It’s true, these things are happening. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right answer. In my experience, the trap here is that we reinforce the idea that virtual training and other forms of digital learning are somehow ‘less than’ a more live experience. We’ve all been to enough bad training and boring lectures to know this is not so.  And being able to connect with people digitally is much better than not being able to connect at all. We do need to keep in mind this trend however, and find appropriate, authentic ways to encourage true human contact, and teach the skills that support that contact. 

This quick piece nicely summarizes the fact that, to the average worker, “learning is more often an inconvenience.” No matter how motivated an individual is, there is simply not enough time in the day/week/month to learn all that needs to be learned. Learning is hard, if not impossible, to prioritize.

In response, we develop more on-demand learning and microlearning – which might solve the time issue but doesn’t always solve the LEARNING need. The author encourages us to not be afraid of learning interventions that require people to “step away from their job.” Rather, the trick is to ensure these interventions meet the need, and are viewed as a valuable investment. 

In other words, acknowledge that time is a precious commodity for all of us.  But we can’t be afraid to design content that takes time – we need to take care that we create learning experiences that work. 

Like the NYT article, this podcast addressed social norms and rules of different social classes. It was a fair listen through the first half – talking about so-called “A-Listers” and how hard it is to break into cliques.

The second half of the episode struck a nerve – it started to talk about TIME as the new social currency.  (Speaking of your valuable time, If you don’t have time to listen to the entire 47 minute episode, access the transcript.) There was an in-depth discussion about ‘inconspicuous consumption’ as markers of people who choose to spend money on saving time, and also invest in more interactive and educational opportunities for their children, like piano lessons and SAT prep classes.  And children who have the opportunities for these educational opportunities are better set up to succeed later on.

It made me consider that the learning and development industry has a job very much like parents. Our job is to provide educational opportunities that set the workforce up for success – and, building on the lessons from Pardon the Interruption, to not be afraid to create valuable interventions that actually take an investment of time.

This “Tips” article gives good, quick advice on taking advantage of the ubiquitous screens. It’s notable that a focus on human interaction and a focus on rich discussions are both recommended.

Which is great advice – we don’t WANT human interaction and discussion to be a luxury when it comes to workforce development.

I don’t recall what in my weekend reading brought me to this whitepaper, but I was struck by the connection of SKILLS to CURRENCY, when my earlier explorations seemed to equate TIME and HUMAN INTERACTION as the coin of the realm.  The whitepaper introduces 10 strategies for building a skills-based labour market, including advice on learning ecosystem strategies, workforce ecosystem strategies and enabling environment strategies.

I see a strong connection between these pieces, and expect that it's more than coincidence that cause them all to be published so close together.  

After all, identifying the right way to minimize the disruption of learning on the workforce while promoting the value of human interaction while building skills might be the mission of the learning industry in general.  The question is, how do we use what we know to be true about what the workforce needs, and create the impact that really positively affects our organizational goals?

Don’t get me wrong, by the way. I think that screens have improved most of our lives and have given us the opportunity to get important training content the people who otherwise would have no access. We’re connected with people in real ways, even if we never interact with them in person.
To me, the challenge is more about how do we create the time for meaningful human interaction, whether it be face-to-face and virtual classrooms, or in some other social collaborative way, and make sure we help build the skills needed for the workforce.
Published by Jennifer Hofmann March 28, 2019
Jennifer Hofmann