There’s an item in the news today about how the elderly are feeling increasingly alienated in the high street. The introduction of self-serve checkouts, automated ordering points and lack of seating mean that shopping isn’t the social experience it once was. The modern high street doesn’t meet their needs, so they are starting to stay away. That’s a shame because the elderly form a significant part of our population, they have money to spend (if we make it easy for them) and more than that, we will all be elderly one day!
It’s a similar story with digital learning. Everything I’ve read or listened to this year has been about making learning digital and instantly accessible. People want learning via an app on their smartphone; we can use virtual reality to simulate real life; ‘everyone’ accesses YouTube every day to learn something. Well I don’t.
This is partially down to preference – I prefer to learn via other people, whether that’s formally on a workshop, or (more likely) informally via a conversation, group discussion, unconference or social media chat…all happening live and in ‘real time’, so I have some input into the learning.
But mostly it’s down to the technology itself. If you follow me on Twitter, you will be well aware of my terrible broadband, and not having access to the right equipment makes digital learning very difficult and frankly, unsatisfactory. YouTube videos freeze, podcasts drop out, e-learning takes so long to load I rarely finish a course. And even if I DID have good broadband, I’d still have to have the right programme, and the right version installed – sometimes engaging is Skype sessions just isn’t worth the hassle because of all the updates and registrations that need doing.
I can’t be alone. I wonder how many people out there can’t access digital learning, even if they want to? Of course, it’s not just individuals – many companies don’t have the infrastructure either. Small regional offices or branches probably don’t have the same service as head office, and that’s where the majority of employees are. Or maybe a large number of employees aren’t in roles that have access to mobile devices (maybe on a manufacturing shop floor or in a retail environment), and even if they do, it’s likely that many of the sites that would be used for instant learning are blocked by the organisation. Add the fact that many people in front-line roles don’t want to complete work-based learning on their own time (assuming that they have the accessibility at home). We can’t discriminate against huge chunks of the workforce because they aren’t ready willing or able to join the digital learning revolution.
Yes, there’s absolutely a place for it, and that place will become greater in time, but let’s not change too quickly. Just as there’s a place for automated checkouts – they suit some people, but not everyone. And as businesses increasingly have multi-generational workforces who ALL need and want to be developed, we need to take an evolutionary approach to L&D rather than a revolutionary one and offer as wide a variety of approaches as possible.
Face to face learning isn’t bad. Digital learning isn’t good. Learning is learning, and each organisation (and individual) must find the blend that’s right for them and the learning needs they have.