Every few decades, there is a shift in the ways in which people get their information. Printing presses made leaflets and newsletters easy to produce. Journalist networks gave rise to the morning paper. Widespread adoption of television led to the nightly news. Nowadays, social media is becoming the primary way that we find and ingest information.
According to the latest research from Pew Research Center, 78 percent of Americans use social networking sites. For those ages 18-29 who are just entering the workforce, that number is closer to 90 percent. These numbers reflect the fact that social media has become the way in which most Americans stay in touch, share information, and get up to date on news they care about.
All of this makes one wonder why formal learning, particularly corporate training, is stuck in a model that, literally, arose in the Middle Ages. (It’s true: The lecture model of learning, where a single expert recites prepared remarks to a large audience, started in medieval academies and monasteries. Because there were no copy machines, students had to hand-write their own copies of important texts for future study and discussion. To do this efficiently, a teacher would simply recite their copy out loud in a lecture hall for the students to rewrite. It was monotonous, to say the least—and never designed to actually teach anything!
Suppose, then, that we were to redesign corporate training so that it transferred skills and information in a way that people were already accustomed to doing on social media. What would training courses look like?
They would be available on many types of devices. We’ve arrived at a point technologically where we do not have to be locked into using one device for one purpose. Social media is a great example of this: People access it from their desktop computers, their phones, their tablets—whatever is convenient at the moment. The best learning content should have that level of availability and convenience as well.
They would be part of a constant feed. In the past, logistical hurdles meant that content was delivered as a single package to be consumed throughout the day, week, or month. The morning paper is a great example. In contrast, today’s social media provide a constant stream of content that is updated and delivered as quickly as it can be produced. Likewise, learning content should be constantly revised, updated, and distributed.
They would be available any time. Not only is the information presented by social media updated constantly, it is readily available at our fingertips at any time. Because most social media sites are on the web, we can access them morning, noon, or night. Five spare minutes between tasks? Enough to hop on social media! Learning content should also leverage technology so as to be accessible whenever needed.
The learner would have greater control. Because social media has a constantly updated feed, readers can pick and choose what to skim and what to dive into more deeply. Now that such control is common, it is hard to give up. Learning and content systems need to keep pace by giving the user more choices and more opportunities for those “deep dives.”
Content would come in smaller bites. Our social media feeds present news and information in small, digestible chunks. Sure, those chunks vary in size. An in-depth article might take 15 minutes to read while a short video or fun story might take just one. Still, no one is posting a book on social media, and understandably so: Social media has acclimated us to quick, efficient information sharing. Learning content should also be in small, digestible bites.
Content and courses would be presented in varying media. A single social media feed on a given day might have links to short articles, videos, infographics, and more. Seeing and hearing the same content in different formats gets the information across more efficiently and makes it more likely to “stick.” Learning today would benefit from using varied media types, especially video.
Courses would be less passive, more involved. Older media, like radio and television, are much more passive experiences than social media. With social media, people not only consume content, but react to it, comment on it, and share it. They may engage in discussion and offer different points of view. Or they might even take a quiz and share the results. All of this allows for a deeper level of engagement with the material and with other people. Learning contexts should aim for the same level of engagement.
Learning in general would be less disruptive. Corporate training often involves having learners take a break from the work day to hear one or more speakers. Indeed, offsite training might require participants to spend several days at training. Not only does this make training less likely to stick, it eliminates the opportunity to immediately apply what one has learned. Training that is highly accessible, short, digestible, and varied can be accessed right when needed and then immediately applied on the job.
If modern training were more like social media in these ways, people would take to it much more easily, and the results would be much more dramatic.
To see what we mean, try a free trial of Thinkzoom and see how short, engaging videos can be accessed on any device for on-the-job training as needed.