In this article, ADP's Chief Talent Officer Bob Lockett explores the role of technology in training and development.
Humans have valued learning since the dawn of time. So why do we suddenly need technology to help us learn within organizations?
Well, first of all, the role of technology in training and development isn't new. It's had an increasingly important role to play in corporate learning and development since the first learning management system, PLATO, was invented in 1960 and popularized through the turn of the century.
And while learning can happen with just a piece of paper and pencil, it's more complex today than ever before. Trying to identify and coordinate the unique learning needs of thousands of employees at once is just easier with software.
In this brief look at the role of technology in training and development, I want to break down the four most critical elements of the learning process, the ones that can make or break your employee training. I also want to pull back the curtain on how technology can help you make the most of your employee learning experience.
Learning Stage #1: Assessment
Before you can confirm that learning has taken place, you need to have a sense of what an individual already knows. That's why the first step in exploring the role of technology in training and development is to take an assessment, or a baseline pulse, of an individual's knowledge and skills.
When instructors conduct assessments in a classroom, the process can be informal and unrecorded. However, when you want to do this at scale within an enterprise organization and then apply those results to the development of individual employees, you have to get technology involved.
Technology allows you to understand how effective your training and development is by tracking employee knowledge before and after the process. It also lets you see how well-crafted your training is. For example, you may track trends along demographics to ensure you haven't built in inherent biases, or you might realize that training needs to be redesigned because everyone who takes it performs poorly in the evaluation.
When your learning and development technology becomes more complex, your assessment can become more complex, too. For example, you can expand this baseline beyond check-the-box knowledge so you can capture an accurate picture of an individual's priorities and opportunities for growth. You'll get a sense of what leadership goals they have, how inclined they are to act like an owner and even how they think about certain business problems.
Learning Stage #2: Simulation
Real-world practice is the gold standard of how to learn something because you have to apply new knowledge before it can really become your own. (I'm living proof of this. I can still remember how to calculate the coefficient of drag for an aircraft, thanks to my thermofluid dynamics course … but don't ask me to build a rocket ship!)
But at a certain point in an organization's growth trajectory, it's impractical to bring that kind of experience to everyone at scale. However, technology makes it much easier to simulate real-life learning.
For example, when you conduct training for customer service skills, simulations provide excellent practice for values-based decision-making and support. Instead of practicing new concepts on real customers, employees can simulate thinking through their thinking, so to speak, and practice making those trade-offs in a safe environment.
Learning Stage #3: Reinforcement
It's one thing to disseminate high-quality training content to a staff of 10,000, and it's another entirely to be able to provide opportunities to reinforce that material. It's crucial to have a scalable and cost-effective way to cut through distraction and bolster the training your employees receive.
At the reinforcement stage, you can use technology to create custom support for a particular employee, course or subject. It makes it easier to integrate that learning into the employee's experience right after they've undertaken a training.
Within an enterprise organization like ADP, there's a lot of flexibility for customizing reinforcement for a given training. One course might offer weekly reminders, while another offers tips and pointers triggered by someone's learning profile. Yet another might leverage gamification or leaderboard learning to encourage friendly competition among employees who've taken the same training.
Learning Stage #4: Feedback
Live, personal feedback makes the application of knowledge come alive, but you can imagine the organizational challenge that would come with providing that kind of detailed critique for every one of your employees in person. Even with a fully staffed learning and development team, it would be very nearly impossible.
However, advanced technologies like video conferencing or virtual avatar programs make it possible to review and provide feedback on employee performance at a scale that would otherwise be inconceivable.
Elevating — and Embracing — Technology in Corporate Learning
Technology can facilitate the kind of development and learning we've always needed and that we'll continue to need as we encounter and overcome new challenges in the world of business.
At ADP, we're not perfect by any means. But by always applying our best effort, we've found ways to support these four steps for critical learning and development. We've found it's these kinds of efforts that transform people, missions and companies and propel them to achieve more than they expect. Technology is critical to success today and can positively impact the way we work — but only if we let it.
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