The expansion of online learning was booming before COVID-19 emerged. Now, with the rise of work from home and homeschooling, the switch to online study has been massively accelerated.
However, before enrolling in some uninspired port of traditional course content to an online platform, let's see what else is out there. What are the emerging trends and good practices? What can we look forward to seeing in the world of online learning for project managers?
Increased Focus on the Learner Experience
Work-from-home orders aside, organizations typically struggle to get staff motivated to learn, whether for new skills acquisition or compliance training (safety, HR policies, etc.). At the same time, training platforms are competing to win market share by creating the most engaging frameworks and enjoyable learning experiences.
The period from 2005 to 2010 brought YouTube, Twitter and iPhones. Searching for content and consuming videos would never be the same again. LMS (learning management systems) evolved to become LXP (learning experience platforms). These new platforms focus on content discovery, content recommendations, career paths, skills mapping and, in some cases, self-published content with automatic content indexing.
We will look at some project management-based examples shortly, but first, let's examine how these systems differ from old training platforms. What do people want from a modern learning experience?
- Mobile-first: Content must be formatted to work on mobile devices such as phones and tablets, as well as larger computer screens. Research from over 700 organizations indicates that employees typically only have 24 minutes a week for “formal learning.” Using a mobile device enables more learning opportunities.
- Streamlined, reduced time to find content: Searching skills catalogs and competency frameworks is a drag. People want curated playlists, channels, and “top-rated”/“others enjoyed” smart content suggestions that we see on YouTube, Netflix and Amazon.
- Personalized recommendations: Extending the easy-to-find concept, people want tailored recommendations based on their learning goals, career paths and current progress. These can be extended by AI-based suggestions and people's history of consumption.
- Video-centric content: Organizations used to be worried about video-based content. Would people learn anything? Is just watching active enough? The popularity of YouTube how-to videos is living proof of the format. From wiring a socket to rebuilding an engine, videos provide a rich, high-bandwidth learning experience.
- Micro-learning: Just enough, just in time. Our brains do not learn over long continuous periods; instead, we learn incrementally. Often, the best motivation for learning is having an immediate problem to solve. Microlearning uses short-form modules of four minutes or less, often with a video component, to answer an “I need help now” problem. It also drops a lot of the preamble and “why” background to focus on the “how.”
- Micro-credentialing: Online assessment allows for awarding micro-credentials. These are smaller achievements, such as electronic badges that recognize achieving minor learning goals. Frequent small rewards closely linked to recent performance is more motivating than less-frequent large rewards. Computerized tests and credentials are cheaper to administer and reward than physical ones so that they can occur more frequently. Many people are motivated by collecting badges and can display them on portals like ProjectManagement.com and LinkedIn.
- Gamification: Micro-credentials tap into gamification, which is the neuroscience of rewards, motivation and psychology to encourage learning by making it more enjoyable. Other strategies include “keep the streak going” reminders, points, leaderboards and community features.
- Interactive: Watching videos, listening to audio and reading text is a one-way flow of information with a decreasing information-retention rate over time. Productive learning environments punctuate this flow with interactive exercises to reset our focus and hit the “save” button on content. The best platforms mix in visual and text-based activities to break up content delivery, test understanding beyond regurgitation, and reset our focus.
- Repetition and reinforcement: Unfortunately, our memory is weak, and retention fades over time. Studies on spaced learning and skills acquisition show we need to review content multiple times and apply it in various settings to retain it. Language learning platforms such as DuoLingo does this well, requiring repetition and reinforcement in different contexts to ensure we master content.
- VR/AR: Some platforms use virtual reality and augmented reality to make training more relevant. For instance, oil rig workers can practice evacuation drills wearing headsets to show what they would see when navigating an emergency. Likewise, engineers can use augmented reality to identify aircraft parts and show torque settings and service recommendations using AR-equipped glasses.
Project Management Examples
Today, we can see instances of these new learning trends in products such as PMI's Snippets and the training elements of StandardsPlus. These tools offer short-format, video-first, micro-learning options on project management topics. They are focused on explaining how-to content and incorporate some of the gamification and content curation features described.
Learning Cycles and Choices
Micro-learning modules can seem fragmented to people used to full-length textbooks and traditional multi-day training courses. Like perpetually snacking instead of having proper meals, it may feel unorganized, trivial and too random. However, we need to remember that before COVID-19, employees often only experienced minimal periods for their on-the-job training.
Micro-learning fits the time-pressured need, but there is still the market for longer macro-learning. Traditionally, this was at the beginning of careers or new roles and then supplemented by micro-learning while on the job (as pictured below):
Now, with a work-from-home reset for many of us, maybe it’s an excellent time to insert some new opportunistic macro-learning as well as micro-learning (perhaps to learn about program management, Kanban or leadership—whatever you have hoped to achieve).
Macro-learning is the longer format, more focused training that often comes to mind when we think about learning a new skill. It includes multi-day courses and in-depth study with practice.
However, this does not mean giving up on the learner experience trends discussed earlier. Options such as LinkedIn Learning uses many of these learning experience concepts and bundles micro-learning modules into more extensive courses and more substantial credentials.
Other offerings in the macro-learning space include EdX, Coursera, Udemy, Udacity and NovoEd. Like most platforms, they contain some great content taught by experts—and some not-so-great content. However, with the option to read reviews, sort by top-rated courses and try free samples, much of the risk of choosing a poor curriculum can be avoided.
So, if you have some time to gain new skills, do not settle for old LMS platforms with tired and uninspiring learning experiences. Lifelong learning should be fun and rewarding. Explore some of the latest offerings. Maybe the new formats, gamification or social aspects will be just what you need to stay focused and get more out of the process.
- Learning in the Flow of Work by Josh Bersin