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Is classroom-based training dead?

Is classroom-based training dead?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article on whether legacy L&D infrastructure was aligned with the habits of today’s learners. During that article I made reference to how we as L&D professionals need to move from ‘just in case’ learning to ‘just in time’ learning. But what does that actually mean?

Well, traditional ‘programmes’ are built using a set of objectives, typically expressed by what a learner should understand or know, and then through the use of ‘instructional design’ create a format for how that content should be remembered. When the issue arises the learner is then expected to draw on this knowledge, the bulk of which is usually forgotten by this time. (‘Just in case’ learning)

The world we live in today allows for instant access to information at our fingertips whenever we need it, and has paved the way for how we store information. Or rather, how we don’t store information. It’s become easier for us to look for the answer, when we want it, rather than try to remember it when the time comes. How many times have you looked up the same thing over and over again just because you knew the answer was there? (‘Just in time’ learning)

In light of this, moving from ‘courses to resources’ should be at the top of every L&D professional’s priority list.

But if shifting to a resource-first methodology is the new go-to, where does this leave classroom-based training?

In my opinion there is still great value in getting people together. Recently we ran an open day for a new internal leadership academy where we brought together a group of people who had largely never met before. On receiving the feedback, the positives for most were “meeting people from across the business”, “sharing experiences” and “creating connections”. But more than that, classroom-based training allows for creating simulations or rehearsal.

Nick Shackleton-Jones, a Learning & Innovation Director at PA Consulting, writes about ‘experience design’ as opposed to ‘programme design’. The difference being that conventional programme design is content-centric, and is designed to try to get people to store information, whereas experience design focuses on overcoming a challenge which is context-centric and encourages learning. I think most of us will agree the most effective way to change behaviour is to practice something, and so this premise makes a lot of sense.

So what is the answer?  

There is no doubt that classroom-based training has its place in the L&D hierarchy, but there needs to be a fundamental shift in how it is designed. Firstly, cut out the part of the session that involves ‘content dumping’ and translate that into accessible, performance-enhancing resources. By this I don’t mean chopping it up into inefficient online micro-learning or just as inefficient SCORM based e-learning. I mean good, useful resources that enable the learner to do what they want to do in the moment. Then provide an environment with context rich simulations for the learners to practice and hone their skills. A great by-product of this is the opportunity to learn from each other’s mistakes and experiences. Hey, it may even harbour a bit of healthy competition!

For me the combination of these two approaches is so powerful because they both aim to do the same thing – empower performance. And that’s really the least an organisation can ask of its Learning & Development department.  

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