If I had written this last year, I would have started with the one word that was paramount in the training world: gamification, a theory in which I believe, saying that learning is a difficult and painful process, which can be eased through play. By playing, we learn without being aware that we are learning. Now I would say that, through the lens of the digitalization wave, the magic word is micro-learning.
Why micro-learning? Because in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information, we defend ourselves by building barriers and our attention fades after a few minutes. Whatever we do, be it reading, following a class training, watching a movie, our attention cannot sit still for too long. We are used to zapping channels on the TV remote, to scroll on a longer article or scan a text to get the essence of it. And the learning process is adapting to this context and, in order to be able to convey a message or teach a skill, it takes the form of micro-learning: shots of learning sessions, very short, concentrated, focused on one topic and mostly visually delivered.
We are now learning most things from tutorials and we research all the things that we do not know how to do on YouTube. How could a learning message capture our attention otherwise? That is why I think that the future of learning goes through micro-learning. I saw that when, installing Google Analytics, I got an email telling me that I was offered an hour of training about the use of the application. And that scared me anticipatedly. By accessing the link provided in the email, I was happy to discover that it was in fact consisting of ten short films, five minutes each, which you could watch separately, and they showed each functionality in a simple presentation structure.
So, again digitalization. The advantage of online training is that you can take a course in whichever moment you choose, when you are ready and available to give it your attention, over coffee, on your lunch break or in the park but at the same time the disadvantage is that you have higher chances of getting distracted by the environment. And from here sparks the debate which we all took part in during the lockdown, related to how to focus in an environment we do not see as a professional one.
I surely do not believe that the role of the trainer will disappear or that all the in-class sessions will be held online instead. E-learning platforms can cover some areas of training, but the soft skills cannot be transferred in the total absence of human interaction. An important part of the learning process takes place with the others, watching how they react, what they do and say, what their opinions are and asking yourself: is their way better than mine? Could I actually apply this to my team or in my environment? If we consider only the added value of these questions arising from human interaction and we would still have that ignition of introspection and creativity, without taking into account the “eureka” moment that successful trainings create within us, the second we understand and adhere to a new idea.
And going forward, on the topic of the reasons why face to face training remains needed and relevant, I would like to underline the importance of the content of trainings, especially for soft skills. And I enthusiastically join Trevor Muir in his effort to rename soft skills and call them essential skills. Let us not call them soft skills any more, they are essential both for our personal and professional life, they can get us hired or fired: collaboration, communication, presentation, critical thinking, vision.
In the future training will focus more on these and I do hope they will be seen as a rule to be essential skills to be taught in school, instead of some of the current topics of today with less and less applicability in today’s real world. I dream of a future in which instead of chemistry for example (I have nothing against chemistry, I have just not had much use for it in my life so far), we will study public presentation or persuasion and we will learn how to think in a structured manner and how to express ourselves, respond to a challenge or ask pertinent questions.
It is also relevant, beside the migration from in-class training to the virtual condensed learning, to be aware of how much more important skills such as collaboration and communication have become and let us not forget that trainers will be training a changed public, as we have all been scarred by the pandemic and worried about the future, nursing insecurities that we did not have before. And I believe that this angle will significantly influence how we will perform training in the future.
To have a training which fulfils its objectives in term of transferring skills or information, we will start by approaching the audience differently than before and we will pay more attention to the mood of the room, the intensity of the participants’ attention and their level of involvement. Before asking them if they are ready to learn about conflict management, I believe we will ask them how they feel, what worries or scares them. Because this side affects their capacity for learning and their ability to focus and it should be discussed and cleared before the training, otherwise it will end up by making the learning process that much more difficult. Training is meant to improve an existing foundation, to stack bricks over the base of rocks. After the pandemic, that base seems compromised by the fear for the future, so it is crucial that we start by enforcing that base.
And, last but not least, as a company is made of people foremost, the training of the future will take more and more steps towards the engagement zone, because the most relevant item we can convey through training is the company values and culture, leading people to internalize them, embrace them and live them as brand ambassadors. Organizations now need more than ever each employee, not only to represent their brand but also to stand with the organization through difficult times as the ones we are living right now.
Transparent communication plays a central role, as before the pandemic brands could be stable but now the insecure context brings about mistrust and a need to re-stabilize. Communication wins the race and rips the finishing line in the contest of which skill matters most as the one which will make all the difference in the level of engagement of employees. That is why in my opinion communication should be pivotal to all training content in the future, leading towards engagement. Otherwise, values will remain just words on corporate walls and training will remain just a KPI to be checked in the HR agenda.