Alister Black of UK’s National Health Service on Innovative Blended Learning

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    Alister Black is an e-health trainer for NHS Lothian, an organization with over 28,000 staff situated in the UK. As well as classroom training and visits to community-based staff, he spends much of his time preparing eLearning. Prior to joining the NHS, Alister worked for Adobe Systems Europe for eight years providing technical support for Adobe Acrobat. You can contact him via LinkedIn.

    Q. It’s great to have you Alister—we’re looking forward to getting an international perspective. From your work at Adobe and the NHS, what trends are you noticing in the training and development space?

    One of the trends that I have noticed has been the divergence between how learners of different generations approach learning. Younger learners, those who are new to the workplace, have grown up surrounded by technology and their approach to learning tends to reflect that. Not only do they find learning IT to be easier, but they also increasingly expect to see that technology being used as part of their learning. For them, eLearning is natural and expected.

    For older learners on the other hand, technology can sometimes be seen as an obstacle. Using computers is something they have to do rather than something they want to do. Similarly eLearning can be seen as a chore, another mandatory hoop to jump through, something to get out of the way as quickly as possible rather than something to be enjoyed or to actually learn from.

    So the challenge is using eLearning and new technology appropriately in a way that can engage learners from all generations. It’s also proving that technology can be used as part of a solution that delivers a better learning experience and can do so in a very cost-effective way.

    Q. Are these challenges new because the related technologies are also new?

    Many of the old challenges remain—making learning engaging and effective. The difference is that we now have a plethora of tools to help. Choosing the right tools and deploying them in a cost-effective way is the key.

    Q. Back to the basics eh? Speaking of tools—something you’re probably very familiar with considering your career experience—where are these new tools taking us?

    The increasing availability of mobile devices and wi-fi will inevitably be reflected in training. Learners will be able to access eLearning not just from home but from wherever they are. They will also be able to connect with trainers and other learners. I think we will see organizations putting out their own apps using platforms like AIR to assist with learning.

    Q. So eLearning is evolving significantly.

    I think the trend is certainly towards eLearning and away from classroom based learning at the moment. Whilst many organizations talk about “blended learning,” controlling costs in a challenging environment—especially in the public sector—is a major driver of this trend. My hope is that we will see a rebalancing of this trend with technology being embraced as part of a genuine blended learning approach.

    Q. So what approaches do you anticipate? Could you help us envision a 21st century training program?

    I envisage users having access to learning platforms that will offer person-to-person contact, eLearning, user communities, printed materials, podcasts, video-casts and other materials as well as providing access to classroom based training. Classroom training, mentoring and one-to-one training will still be a central part of that program, learning together in small or large groups can be a great way to learn. But access to learning via mobile devices will certainly grow and come to be expected.

    Q, Some great thoughts there. I know that mobile has certainly changed the way I live. In some ways, I’m always connected to my friends through various online communities. How might community play a role in eLearning?

    I can see a big role for online communities that are perhaps focused around a specific area and healthcare is a good example of that. In the public sector especially it makes sense to share experiences and resources with each other. NHS Education for Scotland for example has a great shared learning portal which allows users to share resources under creative commons licenses. It also provides links to free and open source software which is a big plus in a sector where resources are often stretched. Communities like this can come together to get better deals on some of the professional software and services that are available as well.

    Q. Seems like there’s more value to community than meets the eye. Alister, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. We do appreciate it. To close, would you recommend any literature for our readers?

    I enjoy Articulate’s eLearning blog.

    In the healthcare sphere, I like the NHS Education for Scotland shared learning portal and its equivalent in England and Wales.

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