Unfortunately, the ability to learn effectively in practice, whether as an organisation or as an individual, has become increasingly difficult in the face of the increasing pace of work and intense pressures of the current financial crisis.
Today’s organisations are in an environment of global competition and financial constraint, whilst individuals are striving to rapidly make effective business decisions amidst a sea of distracting content on the internet. In these circumstances, it is essential that learning strategies support the rapidly evolving business landscape. In the US analysis of the failed attack on a plane on Christmas Day last year, President Obama highlighted that the Government had the appropriate information to prevent the attack, but had failed to learn from it and put that knowledge to work. The challenge to learning today is highlighted by his suggestion that. “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.”
This need to ‘connect the dots’ between people and relevant learning is made more difficult by the sheer volume of information that we now consume on a daily basis. A recent study from the University of California, San Diego highlighted that an average person consumes 10,845 words or 34 Gigabytes on a typical day – not even allowing for information at work. This figure is nearly four times the estimate for 2010 that was made in 2007 (an indicator of accelerating information growth over the last three years) and equates to a tenth the capacity of a reasonably specified laptop. It would appear that whilst we have become extremely effective information processors, the Obama example highlights that our working practices are somewhat less effective. This creates a considerable challenge for executive education; there is a need to learn in order to make effective decisions, but little time or inclination to do so in practice.
So how can busy executives find time to learn in a world where there is barely time to think? Is there a way that technology can help rather than simply generate still more search results? To answer these questions Ashridge have invited contributions from over 200,000 end users of our virtual solutions and have engaged in discussions with over 200 corporate clients. This paper distils this work to explore appropriate strategies for selection of effective virtual learning practices that can help to preserve learning in an age of information overload.
Designing the right mix of learning for a given situation could be explored through consideration of two dimensions that:
- Balance the need to provide customised solutions to large groups whilst serving the preferred learning styles of individuals, and
- Balance the need to help organisations and individuals understand the principles of a theme with the need to create lasting impact by applying that knowledge to real situations in practice
This results in a range of options
- Information delivery – an opportunity to open the eyes of individuals to current situations, and highlight the need for a fresh approach
- Interaction – Group activities from large group knowledge delivery sessions to detailed workshops that add organisational context to key themes
- Insight – deep engagement with the individual situation resulting from both knowledge and appropriate psychometric instruments, 360 feedback, personal reflections and so on to create a clear action plan for personal development
- Integration – development, commitment and belief in an approach that blends individual needs, organisational needs and the most appropriate knowledge in order to create lasting impact
These ‘4Is’ are critical to effective organisational learning strategies (in particular the ‘insight’ and ‘integration’ areas as these areas help to enable effective business decision making) and the number of potential interventions in each area is considerable. In recent years, the choices of potential face to face interventions to support these goals have evolved relatively slowly and will still tend to include elements of classrooms, coaching, collaboration and consultancy. In parallel, however, the rapid evolution of virtual learning solutions has started to offer an increasingly rich suite of interventions for today’s learning professional. These solutions include real time web conferencing for action learning, adopted co-creation of content to create rich group activity via wikis and even shared learning experiences through avatars in virtual worlds such as second life; just three examples of technologies for learning that were unavailable to the learning designer five years ago. The effective selection and use of appropriate virtual learning solutions can help to supplement and reinforce the impact of face to face interventions by supporting people where they spend most of their time – out of the classroom but doing their job.