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4 Digital Training Options for Workplace Learning

A man holding an ipad with the word online learning on it.

Augmented reality, microlearning, adaptive learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs): Digital learning plays a big role workplace learning.

It's important to understand what digital learning is and what it is not, said Don Dequette, executive vice president at New York City-based General Physics Learning Solutions Group.

"It is not a modality, it is not a type of learning," he pointed out during a recent webinar. "Digital learning is just making sure that if I need a piece of learning while I'm on the job … I can quickly find that [information]" such as from a podcast or video "… and integrate it right into the task I'm doing."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to HR Technology]

These four learning trends can help your employees get up to speed, and they use some of the latest technology available for work and play. 

1. Augmented reality (AR) 

General Motors has used AR to launch videos, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and quizzes to train salespeople—using their own smartphones—in its dealerships about a new technological feature on some of its cars, Dequette said. It's different from virtual reality (VR), which requires expensive specialized equipment to create a VR environment.

"It's already built into iPhones and iPads You just need the programming capability [to launch the training]," he said. "It's not much different than developing a normal course … [and] it's not any more expensive." 

Other companies have also developed AR applications for the workplace. It's being used in the manufacturing, construction, medicine, architecture, and oil and gas industries. At Boeing, for example, workers who assemble intricate wire harnesses that transmit signals and electrical power in planes use AR headsets with software developed by Upskill. 

2. Microlearning 

Microlearning—using short bursts of information typically through videos, podcasts and self-paced e-learning—is a trend that took off in 2017, said Dequette, who expects the demand for it to continue into 2018 and beyond. In the workplace, the branch manager of a bank might use online learning to review, in three to five minutes, the products or discounts available to the bank's customers. The videos and podcasts don't have to be studio-production quality and can be created quickly, Dequette said.

Microlearning can make learning more meaningful because it is "just in time." It allows employees access to information even when they are "walking between meetings [with] their mobile device in their hands," said Heide Abelli, who was vice president of leadership and business skills at Skillsoft, an e-learning provider with U.S. headquarters in Nashua, N.H., when she initially spoke with SHRM Online. She now serves as the company's senior vice president of content product management.

3. Adaptive learning

This is a relatively new trend in the corporate world, Dequette said. It uses technology that can, in real time, automatically customize online course material based on how each person answers course questions. Instructional designers create "a start-to-finish course in a linear and logical manner," he explained. The platform utilizes a series of algorithms to adjust the presentation of the course material based on the accuracy of the person's answers, the person's confidence in the answers given and the time it takes the person to answer questions. 

"If I send 10 people through the course, the system can set up 10 different [learning] paths," he said. 

There are two disadvantages to using this type of training for the workplace:

  • It requires significant investment in purchasing an adaptive learning platform.  
  • In higher education, adaptive learning is successful because there are thousands of students who use it. Over time, the volume and richness of the data help the adaptive learning program create a variety of successful learning paths. Employers have a much smaller user audience to draw from. 

4. Corporate massive open online courses 

The Web-based classes, often free, have been around for a while in academia, and HR professionals use them to develop new skills and advance their careers. It's a robust form of training that has gained traction in the workforce in the last several years. 

A 12-week online course Dequette took had specific start and end dates, with new course material launched weekly. The course's webpage included assignments and a meet-up tile to promote assigned discussions about lecture topics. Students accumulated points, recorded on a leaderboard, for completing various tasks. 

MOOCs, he said, are "a great way of providing that instructor-led experience in an asynchronous mode that allows a much higher learner satisfaction."

The webinar was hosted by Future Workplace, an HR executive network and research firm in New York City. 

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