Monday, July 06, 2009

Another work article

One of my favourite quotes is from Winston Churchill:

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

We learn best by doing, and Churchill certainly ‘did’ a lot – from his career as an officer in the British Army, through his exploits as a historian, writer, and artist to being the only British Prime Minister ever to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

There was no on line learning in Churchill’s day, but I am sure he would have embraced it. You may think on line learning was not available during Churchill’s life time, but in fact on line learning pre-dates the internet. The first recorded system was the Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations, developed at the University of Illinois in 1960 (and remained in operation until the 1990’s). In 1994 the Open University in the UK developed a Virtual Summer School.

As computers became an everyday item in households throughout the Western World, so on line learning also grew. During the early 1980s (in the days of 8” floppy disks) I worked for a large international computer company. There was excitement as the concept of desk-top computers equally as powerful as machines which, at the time, occupied whole rooms, were a reality that we saw grow nearer every day.

On line learning is now part of everyday life. Children today are given homework assignments and assistance via the internet, you can gain business qualifications and learn new skills without leaving the comfort of you own home. You can study with fellow students at a University half way round the world, if you so choose.

However, if you want to train to be a chef, you can complete a training programme, check recipes, find out about new foods, techniques, purchase the best tools – all on line. On line learning is an excellent enhancement to classroom and practical learning, in this example. The practical side can be done without external tuition, but the results and the credibility of the training may be perceived as inferior.

There are tremendous advantages to on line learning – but what are the barriers to learning? Access is important: you need a computer, probably internet access, and appropriate programmes for audio and video content. Learning styles are also highly individual and many people don’t like ‘reading’ what to do. There are also issues for those with reading disabilities (though audio and visual options are available for many systems). Some people just don’t like learning with a computer instead of a person. For example, I may find using the internet an excellent way to research a subject, but if I want to learn to identify birds, no matter how great the video, audio and catalogue resources on the internet – I actually want to be outside, listening, watching, and learning with a book or (even better), with an expert.

With management development, in a corporate environment, access is usually facilitated through the workplace. Individuals can work not only in the place of their choosing, but also at a time that is convenient for themselves and the business. Teams can work together in remote locations, company competency frameworks can be implemented globally and individuals can be given access to the tools they need to develop their skills.

Much has been, and continues to be, written about on line learning. What advantages does it hold over face to face, how flexible is it, do people really learn from electronic resources or is it just a cheap alternative to ‘proper’ training? I don’t need to go into a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons, because they are highly individual – the important thing is that this resource exists, in many forms from simple on line documents through interactive e-learning to simulations and live web and pod-casts.

On line learning is, above all else, a wonderful opportunity. For self development, business development, individual skill building or implementation of organisation wide knowledge sharing – on line learning is an extraordinary resource that, had he been alive today, Churchill would no doubt have welcomed with open arms and mind.
The Complete Trainer has launched their own on line academy - find out more on the main site.
Footnote: I published this article on Hub pages, ezines, on my work blog and on here - I wonder if that will affect the links status of the product? I do find using these different methods interesting to try and promote the business and do everything I can to try and increase search engine rankings.
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