Hello from Shanghai, where I am on a one-month, five-country learning tour seeking to explore how workplace and societal learning are evolving in Asia. Here are a few observations:
Serious learning roots: Learning is taken quite seriously in China. Starting in elementary school and continuing into workplace certification, schools provide highly structured teaching and studying formats with lower levels of discussion/interaction than Western classrooms. Parents continually monitor and enforce students’ study commitments, which often lead to highly pressurized exams that determine selective entry to the next academic or vocational level.
Workplace certification: Employers are heavily focused on a large number of workplace certifications. I reviewed a number of resumes submitted to a local business, and having between one to five certifications ranging from language competency to IT system knowledge to program management and customer service was a striking commonality. Having a globally recognized certification is even more impressive and greatly impacts one’s hiring and compensation prospects.
English, even Disney English: Learning English is a core part of the schools’ and colleges’ curricula and can be seen throughout the Chinese culture. It does not always result in conversational English, and one can see thriving businesses aimed at growing individuals’ competency. We were surprised to discover a “Disney English” enterprise, offering families the ability to have their children study English in multimedia centers using Disney characters and movies as a motivational force.
Mobile and digital learning: While there aren’t many overt mobile learning programs deploying online courses to phones or tablets, there is widespread mobile usage, and just-in-time learning is obvious. Social media-based knowledge systems, mobile study guides and emerging forms of performance support/workplace GPS can be seen on workers’ handheld devices. Mobile device penetration in cities is almost 90 percent, and people use them constantly at work for everything from language translation to checking on the best dishes to order in a restaurant.
Business growth: Coming from America, where the political dialogue has been so focused on the lack of business and job growth, the contrast in China is dramatic. The rate of business growth is stunning and is reflected in construction surges, employment bursts and a vibrant job market. It is not unusual for a talented young person to have four jobs in two years — being headhunted away after just a few months for a higher salary. Once again, employees with a few certifications find themselves at the top of the employability mountain.
Working globally: Workers in factories and offices around Shanghai are often part of global enterprises and have to interface and collaborate with colleagues in other parts of the world. Organizations are investing in programs and organizational development efforts to increase their workforce’s global readiness, including:
Digital collaboration: Using an enterprise-wide project management or collaboration system — for example, SharePoint — to coordinate and optimize processes.
Managing remotely: The skills for managing a team scattered across the world — in multiple time zones and speaking multiple languages — are not routinely taught in Chinese MBA programs.
Human resources in a global team: There are intriguing challenges when several people on a team with the same role are receiving highly differentiated compensation and work at divergent levels of time and intensity.
Growing learning industry investments: We have seen sharp increases in the number of for-profit learning enterprises in China. They range from new online and blended learning colleges to language institutes to Web-based learning systems. I have been intrigued to see several startups playing with the use of technology to extend and scale Eastern approaches to learning. China is focused on both internal and external markets for learning investments and will be adding new LMS and online collaboration systems soon.
It is exhilarating to meet and collaborate with learning colleagues in Asia. They share our excitement about the role learning and technology can play in human, business and societal development.
Elliott Masie is the chairman and chief learning officer for The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.Filed under: Learning Delivery