Attitudes to work are rapidly evolving, and traditional training and development methods are increasingly having to adapt to a new ‘invisible’ workforce of remote workers. Jerome Wargnier at CrossKnowledge, takes a look at the challenges of providing learning solutions for this growing population.
Teleworkers are becoming a large, pervasive labour force: to be ‘at work’ nowadays has a lot less to do with being in an office block and a lot more to do with undertaking a specific set of activities that are often computer and/or web-based, making the traditionally fixed workplace redundant. The advent of widespread broadband in the home, combined with advances in wireless and mobile technology means workers can now be just as productive and efficient working outside the office as they are working in it, and perhaps more so. JALA International, in association with ITAC (the International Telework Association & Council), predicts that the number of teleworkers in the US by 2010 will exceed 40 million. This article explores how the e-learning sector is addressing the fresh training challenges posed by this rising number of distance workers, and in particular how it is providing a workforce which is rarely (if ever) able to congregate in an office with adequate training and development prospects.
The four specific characteristics evident when considering any type of remote worker are:
1: Worker autonomy: The assumption that remote workers are autonomous signifies that the relationship between the company and the individual is based on trust and is typified through management by objective. A manager sets an objective detailing precisely WHAT must be done, and the worker takes care of the how, subsequently accomplishing the task in question. The same approach can be applied to training and learning; it is essential that managers explain to trainees what skills they are expected to develop, so that they can focus on how to acquire those skills in an autonomous manner. Manager feedback represents a critical part of this process.
2: Time Pressure: Remote workers often have extremely busy schedules and are therefore likely to dedicate only short periods of their time to training; as a general rule these periods range in length from 30 minutes to two hours. Consequently, it is important to offer a variety of different pedagogical formats which are accessible and most importantly, adapted to individual workers’ needs.
3: Lack of human interaction: For distance learning to be successful, it is essential to bear in mind the need for workers to be able to build relationships and interact with fellow learners and colleagues. Distance learning providers are making a fundamental mistake when they assume that the e-learning element alone is sufficient to maintain remote workers’ concentration and motivation, since they are failing to address this most basic human need.
4: Geographical dispersion: Often spread apart over a large geographical area, it is not just complicated but also very costly to bring remote workers together.
These characteristics highlight the importance of a new concept developed by Princeton University, called the 70:20:10 model, which is based on research showing that 70 percent of our learning stems from experience, 20 percent is acquired through interaction with others and only ten percent is the result of structured courses and programmes. The model suggests that the objectives of tomorrow’s e-learning provider should be to look into new ways of integrating these three areas of learning acquisition (experience, interaction and training) in whatever way is most appropriate for the e-learners themselves. One step forward in achieving this goal would be to introduce more “Just-in-case/ ust-in-time” learning solutions. For remote learners, having access to a selection of easily consultable pedagogical resources (such as guidelines and an indexed search-engine), which enable them to obtain answers to their questions quickly and straightforwardly, is invaluable.
When a remote worker comes back into the office demonstrating an obvious increase in motivation leading to a tangible improvement in terms of results, it is clear that the e-learning experience has been extremely worthwhile, and it is not only the worker and his/her company that benefit. Remote workers are perhaps one of the most difficult categories of learners to address; they are tremendously demanding and to be able to satisfy their needs, e-learning providers must constantly explore new avenues in training accompaniment and communication, which can in turn significantly reinforce and improve the provider’s own service offering and product portfolio.
To provide an adequate e-learning environment for remote learners today implies going far beyond traditional e-learning methods which were still de rigueur up until a few years ago. Modern day e-learning involves the bringing together of a wide variety of components – marketing, communication, collaborative tools, mentoring, management contribution and search engines to name but a few, in order to successfully create a tool capable of remotely accompanying learners anywhere and everywhere they go.