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Flexibility is key: adaptive approaches for training heterogeneous target groups

8. July 2015

It is no longer enough for HR professionals and training officers to just tell employees what to learn and when. Effective learning happens when the adopted training methods are flexible enough to suit different learning types, rather than 'one-size-fits-all' programs at odds with the habits and needs of the learners.  Before making a decision about which learning concept to use, it is essential that trainers and HR professionals know what learning types they are dealing with and get a sense of the needs and learning preferences of those learners. When planning a training strategy, therefore, the question of "who am I training?" should be asked alongside "what information do I want to communicate?" Only then it is possible to inspire employees' enthusiasm for a certain topic as well as present rather dry subjects such as compliance or compulsory training in a way that ensures real learning progress.

The following checklist will help you to establish a learner profile, which can then be used as a guide for choosing the correct training concept:

  • What do I know about the age structure of my target group?
  • What high school or academic qualifications do the learners have? What prior education level can I take for granted?
  • What level of digital competence does my target group have?
  • Do the learners generally carry out physical or intellectual tasks?
  • What do the learners usual tasks look like?
  • What degree of responsibility do they have in their day-to-day work?
  • What prior experience does my target group have with e-learning?
  • When do the members of my target group usually learn and what environment would they learn best in?
  • Where and on which mobile devices do the participants learn? Do they have the option to self-study at home?
  • Can the company provide space for in-house training if required?
  • What do I know about the learning rhythm of my target group and how much time do my learners usually have to complete one learning unit?

The answers to these key questions will help you to take initial steps towards determining the right learning concept. For instance, a computer-savvy target group, composed largely of highly qualified participants who are used to working autonomously, is definitely capable of working through the majority of the content independently via web-based training. On the other hand, learners with a lower degree of digital competence and who are not so familiar with e-leaning should be introduced to it slowly. Training professionals should be aware that e-learning competency cannot simply be assumed and in fact that this competency might need to be taught separately. Participants new to e-learning would require an environment where they are supported by a course leader who can offer assistance and answer questions face-to-face when problems arise.

How to deal with different learning types?

Deciding on the right learning concept can be tricky when an extremely diverse target group has to learn about the same topic. For example: The entire workforce at a medium-sized tool manufacturer is required to improve their English. This requirement applies to warehouse staff and administrators in the shipping department, as well as to department managers. This is a major challenge for the HR staff at the 500-strong company, but one that cannot be avoided due to the companys international customer base and transnational collaborations with partners and suppliers from all over Europe. To try and identify the right training concept to use, the Human Resources Department asks all staff at the factory about their learning preferences and from their answers, determines that they have very different requirements when it comes to training. These tastes extend from traditional classroom teaching in the companys training rooms to self-registered courses at an adult education centre and web-based training courses with game-elements or video instruction. Different learning preferences are not the only factors that need to be taken into account. HR must also consider how the training will be integrated into the work life of the course participant: for example, it is particularly difficult for staff who are out of the office a lot to find the time to go to a training room at a set time, regardless of how much they would prefer a traditional classroom setting. For these varied issues there is only one possible solution: rather than insisting on one set training concept for all staff, several different course formats should be offered in parallel, leaving staff to decide which one they use. This kind of strategy can be used in any company with a flexible training budget to target the needs of individual learners, without overwhelming them.
It is important with this type of adaptive approach, however, that the results of each of these different learning options is carefully documented in one central system so that progress can be compared and analysed, regardless of how the content has been presented to employees. When considering an adaptive learning environment, companies might also be faced with accepting education options which no longer exclusively take place within their own organisation. A variety of different formats are on offer to employees who might be looking for a specific qualification which is outside of the company's normal curriculum ? and these could range from external classroom courses to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or MVC (Minimal Viable Content) modules.
The increasing requirement for specific qualifications and skills in modern workplaces is encouraging more and more companies to take advantage of e-learning courses and other education tools at their disposal. It is no longer acceptable to simply demand that staff have the required basic knowledge ? companies must ensure their staff possess the required level of competency and help to create that knowledge base themselves. Several of IMC's consulting projects have focused on how your company can best benefit from e-learning formats. We would be glad to support you in implementing your own e-learning strategy.

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