Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yes, But Not Necessarily Just for Digital Natives

In answer to the May Learning Circuits Big Question, I say yes, I think we need to redesign learning but not necessarily just for digital natives. I think we have access to more tools now. In addition, the business world and how they view learning is changing. I realize that the Learning Circuits blog refers to e-Learning, but I find it hard to just stick to that mode of instruction because I think we need to think of how to get the right information to the right person at the right time. It won't always be a course and it won't always be online. I am going to use a re-designed management development course that we are implementing in phases (i.e. there are only 1 and 1/2 of us doing this - I am the half - so there is only so much we can reasonably get done). The program includes pre-work (reading materials we send, a virtual class, and possibly e-learning courses or parts of courses), three half-day classroom sessions (self awareness, communication, and coaching), and eventually post-work e-learning courses, virtual sessions, reading and whatever else we determine might emerging leaders as they transition into new leadership and management positions.

We are talking among our leadership group about transfer of learning, keeping in touch with people after the classroom sessions, and encouraging communities of practice. Some of this has been prompted by the realization that many of our new leaders are Gen Y, gamers, digital natives, or whatever you want to call them. But in these discussions and discussions with some of the non-Gen Y attendees to the pilot session for the course, I think we have realized everyone likes these ideas, not just digital natives. I know in Gen X and Baby Boomers you probably have more non- and late-adopters, but I think it is a big mistake to think that "we old people" wouldn't benefit from an overhaul of how we view training too.

The virtual session for the kick off to the course is something new we are trying for this type of class. For the pilot we just finished, about half the people had attended a virtual session before because we polled them to find out (we had a mixed generations class). We used this mode of instruction on purpose because we want people to start using these technologies, so we intentionally had them attend so they can see the tool and know it is out there for them to use. Everyone liked it. I think the fact that some younger people hadn't had a chance to attend a session points out something else I think is important - don't assume digital natives know every single type of device and tool out there. They only know the ones they have been using.

Getting away from technology for a minute, I think the other thing we have to remember is that the younger generation is used to collaborating. In our management class pilot, we are teaching soft skills so there were no computers in the classroom. We made sure we were getting them involved in conversations and doing partner or group activities often. Everyone liked them, but the younger attendees were totally into the participation in these.

I also would like to send up a caution or at least something to think about. I don't believe everything needs to be all digital all the time. We sent out a short booklet for pre-work on feedback. We got comments that they loved having this - it was a quick read, had very practical steps, and a list of common mistakes. Many attendees, including younger ones, mentioned that they have it sitting on their desks so they can quickly refer to it. We are trying to figure out how to use a variety of formats for information and reference so that they can choose how to access things. I agree with Karl Kapp when he said to give people just-in-time learning opportunities and think outside the course. That was a recurring theme at the SkillSoft user conference I attended.

It would be great to be able to implement all the things we want to try, but I think there is a certain amount of frustration in the corporate world because there can be a lot of resistance from the IS department. We still can't IM people within our own company even behind the firewall. Small pockets are allowed, and of course that includes our whole IS department, so it gives the rest of the company the idea that the IS department assumes that the rest of us are either too dumb to figure it out or not trustworthy enough to only stick to business uses. Karl Kapp mentions using gadgets in our training, but some companies still restrict who is allowed to use certain devices. I know we should try to blaze trails, and some of us in our training groups do. For example, we want to give using wiki a try soon (and so do a couple of other groups), so we are looking to see if we have something "approved" already. Otherwise we will implement and apologize later. (Gee, I hope no one from the IS department reads this!)

So yes - we need to think differently about how we train, and the digital natives are helping spur the transition. But I think it makes what we do better for everyone.

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