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Mobile Learning, Learning Communities, & More: Musings from Intel’s Consultant

Written by Bloomfire Admin

Every so often, we will feature interviews with clients and Learning & Development professionals from all over the world. In the spirit of social and collaborative learning, we want to help Learning & Development professionals teach and learn from one another.

If you would like to suggest an interview candidate, perhaps a top-performing employee or a brilliant colleague, please don’t hesitate to contact Nemo Chu at nemo@bloomfire.com.

Paul Angileri is an Instructional Design consultant working with Intel Corporation’s End User Training group in Chandler, Arizona. Paul’s focus is designing and providing training and performance support solutions for enterprise software platform projects. He can be reached through his blog, There Is No Chalk, or via LinkedIn.

Q. Paul, thanks for lending us your time. We’re excited to hear from a training and development professional that works for a firm as innovative as Intel. Could you lend us some insight into common pitfalls that training organizations face?

I would say that the greatest challenges facing the modern training organization are:

  • Organizational needs for solutions beyond training
  • An increasing need to quantify actual impact from an intervention
  • Demands for flexible, non-traditional training designs
  • The need to compress training-to-production times, which also creates a greater focus on retention.

In my group the focus has shifted massively away from formal sessions where employees go to a place and learn, or attend an online session. Increasingly the time pressures are driving a focus on JIT and on-demand solutions that function as asynchronous links between experts and employees, and that need to be flexible so that updates can occur in a timely fashion. If there are training sessions held, their structure tends to be increasingly less rigid—they tend to be broken into smaller segments of time, maxing out at 120 minutes—and group discussion is a prime characteristic.

Many of these factors are partly dependent on the type of company, organization, and content I work on every day, and no two organizations are alike. However, the rapidity of technological increases of late is causing very significant shifts toward the dynamism of learning systems and the autonomy of individuals.

Q. Tell us more about this shift. What’s changing?

Past challenges were quite different from today’s, but for similar reasons. With respect to the technology question, the lower-grade technology of even the recent past allowed for the more traditional classroom-focused, teacher-centric models of education to gain or remain viable. Distances were longer, communication systems were less complex, the lives of people had more distinct boundaries for work, family, education, etc.

Society also affects educational challenges, and past societal norms, as evidenced by a study of the various generational groups of the twentieth and early 21st century, shows. Major historical events can have initially undetected but meaningful impacts on education. Changes in governmental policy, workplace organization, etc.; all of these and more have and continue to change the equation for us multidimensionally.

Today we have to account for more dimensions because the expectation is for learning to be facilitated, not given. We are expected not necessarily to do the training, but to bring it to people and allow them to process it.

Q. Are these expectations resulting in certain trends, maybe technology and research trends that will be here to stay and have an impact on tomorrow?

I think the biggest trend on the technology side is toward not just autonomy for the adult learner in the workplace, but autonomy for the workplace learning and performance specialist. We have all of these fairly new Web/eLearning 2.0 applications that we can use, that five years ago did not exist. There are so many applications that make complex instructional design and training tasks simple, tasks that five years ago required teams of skilled individuals.

A lot of the software vendors have met a lot of the early challenge in late twentieth/early 21st century eLearning. But there’s still a ways to go. There are a lot of options, and in my opinion no single option handles everything I need. Now, options are always great to have, but there are times when a single solution can solve a lot of problems. I also think there are a few common fixtures in the industry that need rethinking and rebuilding from scratch. Right now we have several old programs that have been fitted to do new things, but the legacy core needs a rework.

On the research side, I think serious impact will come from studies of diversity in an increasingly global competitive environment. Because of this I think the perspective of organizational development will evolve. I can also see research into social media paying some dividends as companies seek more efficient, quality-focused means of locating and bringing in talent. We’re probably a few years away from being able to formulate a clear picture of how social media and networking is changing companies.

Q. Even if the picture isn’t crystal clear at the moment, what can we gather about the future from what we’ve got? In particular, give us your thoughts on the future of organizational learning.

What I see for the future is a strong emphasis on robust internal curricula. The workplace is becoming ever more mobile and dynamic, driving the need for employees to be able to access professional development modules any time, anywhere. I also see an increasing need for professional development to become part and parcel of annual reviews. With global competitiveness reaching greater heights, the future could place a consistently high emphasis on an individual’s development path and progress. This has implications for employment, work/life balance, even education outside of the workplace.

Q. Those are some far-reaching implications. Could you provide an example of what that kind of program will look like?

Imagine an orientation program where one or more new employees arrive on site for their first day. They are given their business smartphones, and loaded onto each is a full, function-specific orientation program. The new employees are then released into the workplace environment and direct themselves according to the instructions in their respective program, allowing them a chance to experience the environment without hand-holding (and also freeing up HR or other staff).

The program may take one new employee to a room with a pico projector that plays a presentation on the person’s new phone, whereas another user is directed to IT to pick up her laptop and other materials. The programs end with a multi-item quiz on important orientation topics, and incorrect answers direct the new workers to the answers whether they are on the corporate intranet, or a location or individual in the office.

Q. Wow, that’s breathtaking. I’m guessing you’ve probably heard of internal learning communities too? Thoughts on organizations that support their own learning communities?

I think these efforts are important, particularly in very large corporations. These formats are not only good for information sharing, but also foster internal networking, which can be an invaluable outcome of collaboration and discussion. Learning communities are a fixture at Intel, for example.

And I definitely see a future where the duties of a training and performance improvement specialist will include planning, designing, and implementing connected communities internally. Recently I have had the opportunity to try out Atlassian’s Confluence internal social networking platform for enterprises. I’m excited about the possibilities inherent in getting some of that LinkedIn enthusiasm and participation to occur in the workplace.

Conversely, my sense is that organizations that shun these developments will find themselves stagnating, or at least struggling to remain competitive and innovative. We are social beings, and technology can now foster that innate behavior by shortening distances in communication, which brings goals ever closer.

Q. I completely agree. Paul, a real pleasure to have you. Would you mind sharing some literature that you find helpful? Blogs? Magazines?

I think Chief Learning Officer is a useful periodical for those with an eye toward leadership. CLO also helps for those seeking to understand the leaders they work for in workplace learning and performance.

I’m also a big fan of several blogs. Tony Karrer’s eLearning Technology blog is a mainstay of mine, as is Stephen Gill’s Performance Improvement Blog for the HPI professionals among us.

For some challenging and thought-provoking posts, I like to read Donald Clark’s Plan B. And Harold Jarche and Clive Shepherd provide some good posts on mixing theory and practice in workplace learning. To me blogs are the way to go to stay current, but selecting the most important ones for you is a time-consuming task, but worthwhile. A few of the blogs above are good to start with, and through those you can exhaust their respective blogrolls to locate your most valuable regulars.

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