Will Trainers Be Replaced by On-Demand Technology?

Teaching others seems like the kind of interaction that requires human emotional intelligence. Or does it? Fast Company recently noted the increasing use of Google and YouTube to train employees. The on-demand convenience of typing a question into Google, or looking up a related video on YouTube is hard for some Training departments to compete with, or is an easy way to save money and energy. If employees are stumped, just tell them to Google their question, or look up a video to watch about it.

If public platforms like Google and YouTube aren’t sufficient, then a company might create its own on-demand technological solution, in which employees don’t need to be trained because they can ask any question they like at the exact moment they need to know a piece of information.

But the need to prime employees for the on-demand look-up of information is important to note. It’s true employees can wait until the moment they need to know before learning, but it works better if the information is presented ahead of that moment, so that moment becomes more of a refresher/reminder than a first-time attempt to learn. The time factor comes into play. With a customer waiting in front of an employee, or on the phone, how much time can an employee spend learning? There’s also the risk that in that moment of rushed “learning,” the employee will learn in such a shallow way that misunderstandings are easy, or the solution presented to the customer is only partial.

Fast Company recommends that Training departments refine their programming, so the first round of learning presented is more compelling. The on-demand solutions then become a support rather than primary tool. One of the reasons employees are drawn to in-the-moment support, rather than relying on formal learning programs, is because our brains are attuned to learn at the moment it is most necessary. I’ve heard that some children, like the kind I was, learn best this way. They won’t learn until they understand why they need to know, and then, at that point, they will drive the learning themselves. If the programs you create are effective, they can do something similar, first presenting the urgency for learning the material. The question is how to do that.

One thing that may seem like it will work, but may be counterproductive, is using fear to motivate learning. For instance, showing employees what could happen if they get a work process wrong, so they understand the stakes. If you lay the fear factor on too heavily, employees may be so overwhelmed they tune out your message entirely, or they may find your message melodramatic and silly. What has worked best in your programs to illustrate to employees why they need to learn the material?

Fast Company also points out the importance of connecting the learning material to “personal goals and values.” That makes sense, especially for younger employees, who have a reputation of wanting to understand how the work they do at the office positively impacts their community. The challenge is to hire employees who are aligned with your company’s values and goals. It’s hard to connect work to values if your employees never cared in the first place about what you’re working toward. The question here is how to figure out if the work you do matters to job candidates? Do you have ideas of how to do that?

In my profession, which is writing and editing based, it’s common for prospective employers to give applicants a trial assignment. You’re given a subject to research and a person to interview, and then asked to create an article or offer ideas for new content in a publication. A woman I used to work with once told me she was suspicious that some employers lied about having job openings just to get this free labor.

Nevertheless, such pre-hire assignments allow you to see whether the applicant fully understands what you do, and how excited he or she is about diving into the work. If candidates can’t communicate both competency and a sense of enthusiasm when competing for a job, they probably won’t be able to do it when complacency sets in after they have the job.

There are many ways you can be better than a public on-demand “learning” platform like Google or YouTube, or even a custom-created on-demand program, but it may take careful thought.

How has your company created learning programs that use on-demand learning as a support tool rather than the primary learning tool?


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