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Making the Grade

Are You Taking Learning Personally?

Whether learning happens online or in person, the goal is to help a person connect with learning that’s relevant to them.

co_0916_makingthegrade_302A lot of chief learning officers and college administrators spend time answering two questions to help people excel professionally or to embrace a new educational construct: If you can learn something online, then why provide instruction in person? And if you can teach something in person, why offer online instruction?

Both higher education and the corporate learning world get tripped up by these questions, but they’re red herrings. Consider a CLO making a policy decision about professional development plans for their company. Or take a college dean deciding how best to make courses available to adult learners. Both spend time figuring out if these approaches make sense. But they shouldn’t. Here’s some context for why.

For 20 years, CLOs have seen a migration toward online education vis-à-vis corporate learning. In the 1990s, people touted online learning as a means to save costs. Remember the promise of building a course once to deliver it many times? By the early 2000s, employers learned that online learning wasn’t so cost effective after all, and a fully synchronous course isn’t that cheap to build. So the learning industry’s message du jour became: Online learning equals just-in-time, just enough and just-the-right learning content.

There is definitely a place for self-service learning, but there’s a huge and growing market for in-person learning, too. Take business coaching, for example. Research firm IBISWorld reported in a June Business Coaching Market Research Report that the industry generates $12 billion annually and grew 3.4 percent from 2011 to 2016. Almost every executive will tell you how important business coaching is, whether it’s done in person or by phone. Corporations see big value in having a personalized coach and using the Socratic method to help people gain a deeper understanding of whatever they’re learning.

The intersection between online and in-person learning is personalization. Whether learning happens online or in person, the goal is to help a person connect with learning that’s relevant to them. Some of this is based on the learner. Some relates to the topic.

For instance, grand rounds, where a physician presents a medical problem and specific treatment for a patient to a group of residents and medical students, occur in person. Doctors and students, like law professors and their students, engage in the Socratic method. The line of questioning is ever-changing, and this could one day be augmented by artificial intelligence. But we’re not there, yet.

That said, medicine is increasingly moving to a remote model where some patient education, especially follow-up on wellness visits, is now done online. So the question remains for educators and CLOs: Which instructional method is best for which circumstance?

But that’s not the right question because delivering learning is not about a choice between doing something in person or online. Delivering learning is figuring out how to help a person engage and improve their behavior or move intellectually to a new place. The question for CLOs and educators is: How does one make learning personally engaging?

One answer lies in the fundamentals of good instructional design. Focus on the desired outcome for the training or what behavior the learning will change.

As Stephen Covey wrote, “Begin with the end in mind.” Think about whether learning is knowledge-based or behavior-based. If it’s the latter, a CLO or academic must put enough support, experience and time into program designing to lift the learner to a higher level of knowledge.

Even with the right goal in mind and the right method grafted onto it, a lot of behavioral changes don’t happen in a prescribed amount of time. If changing a learner’s behavior or taking him or her to a deeper understanding is the goal, we have to build a nexus between the instruction and the student. Engaging someone means they are taking learning personally, whether online or in person.

Lee Maxey is CEO of MindMax, a marketing and enrollment management services company. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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