Why We Need to Rethink What We Mean by “Courses”

  • 4 Min Read

Small, collective contributions of knowledge within an organization can have a big impact on workplace learning.

With new skill sets increasingly required for individual roles and more demand in the workplace for ongoing professional development opportunities, learning and development in the workplace should adapt to help employees keep up with a changing world of work, and that means rethinking what we mean by “courses.”

What’s becoming increasingly obvious to those of us in the learning and development world is the traditional approach of sitting employees down once a year for half a day of training is no longer enough to adequately prepare them for the future of work. As Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report critically called out, the concept of  ‘career’ is being shaken to its core, driving companies to offer “always on” modern learning experiences that allow employees to build skills quickly, easily, and on their own terms. These days, workplace skills require continuous updating; the average skill has a half-life of five years now and today’s employees are also having to consider the prospect of a 60-year career. Couple that with their strong desire to access relevant learning on demand, or just in time at the point of need, and certain challenges arise when it comes to workplace learning:

  • How can learning and development professionals create courses fast enough to keep up with the short life of necessary skills, ever-changing information, and the need for continuous learning?
  • When traditional courses can take hundreds of hours to create, how can training stay agile, affordable, and continuously up to date?

To help answer these questions, the traditional ‘taking courses’ approach should be replaced with more flexible modern learning that involves smaller bite-sized, crowd-sourced pieces of learning that more effectively facilitate ongoing professional development. While there will always be a need for longer, more formalized courses, we should rethink what a ‘course’ actually is and how it’s accessed if we’re going to help employees prepare for the future of work. Here are a few ways it.

Make learning bite-sized

For many skills, we don’t actually need them until we need them immediately, hence the rising popularity of just in time bite-sized learning for professional development. With demand for more bite-sized learning from both employees and managers, learning and development pros should move beyond the idea of a bulky course containing thousands of words, images, etc., and instead think of the content we create as discrete learning objects.

A discrete learning object would include:

  • A singular purpose (one or two learning outcomes to focus on)
  • Small, yet complete content/opportunities for learning that provide the needed information, preferably as contextualized as possible to make it concrete for the learner, and
  • Some type of activity to practice or demonstrate proficiency in the outcome.

This isn’t novel. Learning and development pros do this all the time in the form of small chapters, units, modules, etc.  What should be rethought is how small these can be, who creates them, and how they can be accessed by everyone. This is where reimagining formalized learning and content creation becomes exciting with a modern learning platform.

Turn courses into unique learning objects

Quick to curate, decentralized, short bits of just in time information and guidance from leaders and colleagues in your organization are great ways to provide social learning opportunities,  and the proof is there in the workplace that there is a demand for and interest in creating that kind of shareable peer-to-peer content—80% of all corporate learning takes place through on-the-job interactions with peers. That kind of learning content doesn’t have to be Shakespearean or Spielbergian in quality either; most learning and development pros are fine with low quality as long as it gets us the information we need.

Think about how quickly you could create a video that discusses all the key takeaways from a recent project that you successfully completed. These days, that can be done easily using your phone,  a modern learning platform, or both, in under a minute, and can have a significant impact on a colleague’s performance if you can share it. Here’s how video can be used for Social Assessment™ in the workplace.

Decentralize knowledge

By providing opportunities for everyone to create discrete learning objects, employees can learn from everyone in the company. Baby boomers, for example, can share their experience and knowledge with the organization before they retire. Experienced staff can reflect and share on their past successes and failures. New hires can help one another on their path to greatness. A modern learning culture involves enabling everyone to share and access the collective knowledge of an organization. This excels productivity and creates a sense of community and support.

Check out our roadmap for how to create a sustainable modern learning culture

Aggregate for larger learning and development programs

By creating larger quantities of discrete learning objectives across the organization, learning and development departments are able to place them into larger courses for more complete learning. Once a learning object is created, it can stand alone as its own bite-sized piece or be added to any number of courses. Think of the reduction in the redundant creation of identical information! This is where consistency is critical though as, once you decentralize learning, quality can vary greatly based on the original creator. Learning and development departments will still need to play a role in ensuring quality control of larger workplace learning programs and content curation and should focus energy on enabling learning champions (those individuals who seem keen to share their knowledge) to create higher quality content.

To find out how you can work with D2L to rethink your courses, check out how you can partner with our Learning and Creative Services team.