Training dished up cold
The world of learning & development has changed dramatically since the 70s when a handful of corporate executives and managers were sent on five day rural retreats to a luxurious country house and attended formal didactic classroom based learning sessions. Often, lectured to by the trainer standing at the front brandishing a steely, serious expression on his face.
How many of you have attended training sessions where your eyelids have become heavy, a struggle to keep your eyes open as the monotonous voice drones on while you try to fight lethargy? Or been in a training session where you’ve been given the obligatory exercises and tests to carry out that bear no resemblance to the challenges you face in your daily work life?
The learning is great in theory but then the next day, it’s all forgotten about as you desperately try to catch up on the mountain of emails that have poured into your inbox, or are called away to attend crisis meetings to resolve team or employee issues. Maybe you have an all-important deadline to meet. In this day and age, time has become a precious commodity. Who now wants to be talked at for endless hours at a time and crammed with information overload?
In recent times of austerity, training budgets have been hit hard, and the budget holders of learning & development are issuing KPIs to measure return on investment and want to see tangible results.
Video training & breaking down barriers
John Cleese, with his uncanny satirical take on characters and famously known for his role as disastrous hotel owner Basil in Fawlty Towers, co-founded Video Arts with Sir Antony Jay back in 1972. Cleese saw the need for a learning recipe that would shake up the formal classroom experience and instead use entertainment to capture the imagination of participants. Combining his acting humour with his love of people psychology, he created training in the form of film content. While Jay was interested and passionate about how people learnt as well as how you could use creativity in training management to facilitate interpersonal conversations.
They used British comedy actors and Cleese also appeared in many of the iconic short films. The most popular one continues to be ‘Meetings, bloody meetings’ (see video intro below) released in 1976 and a recently updated version played by Cleese, was launched at the beginning of this year. In the early days, you could expect to see the likes of Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker to role play spoofs of various challenges that employees faced.
“Suddenly there was a real shift from corporate classroom learning,” comments Martin Addison, CEO of Video Arts. “It changed the paradigm in the classroom by using drama based training and humour as a way of breaking down emotional barriers. Video gets the message and story across in an engaging and memorable way and enables an organisation or talent management function to improve performance. It’s a way of helping people to develop their interpersonal skills, learn to be more assertive or how to manage aggression.”
Video Arts uses a fusion of TV drama, humour and education. He adds: “The simple truths of it are that if you entertain people, you engage them. The concept of Video Arts is to watch a real life office or work based scenario, learn from it and role play it out.” He explains that the video content is based on stories and anecdotes.
“People like nothing better than sharing stories. The structured training includes a two to three minute scenario acted out on film that shows the wrong way of doing things, and then the right way. “The trick behind these training videos is to get the participants to identify with the characters, see the humour and then learn the technique. The ethos of Video Arts has always been to deliver short training videos that creates immediate impact,” explains Addison.
“We also provide the trainer and the learners support material and hand-outs to complement face-to-face interaction - it’s a different touch.”
In the past forty years, other actors have included Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, Dawn French, Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Saunders, Martin Clunes, Prince Charles and Ricky Gervais.
Addison says: “How do we communicate and work better together as a team? Without external stimulus, it’s harder to break the tension in the classroom. In the video clips, people can recognise themselves or can identify a colleague that they work with. You can get under peoples’ skin. Individuals are more open to the learning experience when humour is used to address serious workplace issues or pick up on sensitive issues involving conflict management.”
The rise of blended learning
When recession hit in the early 90s. Trainers were looking at technology to reduce cost and in came the concept of e-learning and blended learning, now widely adopted by many organisations as a training process that enables employees to decide when, where and how they chose to learn in bite sized learning modules, plus combine face-to-face facilitation to embed the online learning.
Video Arts was able to take the training video on film to desktop and digital, and build libraries of training videos broken down into 1000s of learning chapters which meant trainers had access to online learning resource centres. Cleese then sold Video Arts in the late 90’s and in 2007, it was bought by Tinopolis.
“In 2000, the rise of DVD and CD Rom took training to a whole new level, shortly followed by the arrival of the internet with video streaming via YouTube, Love Film, Netflix,” says Addison. “In the mid 2000’s, trainers were able to start thinking in a different, holistic way and customise their own training programme. He says: “It was like trainers had access to a box of video learning lego which fed into their specific training needs.”
Future of mobile learning
Some of the most popular training videos are around communication skills and how to manage difficult people. He says: “In a tough economic climate, there’s a growing demand for employees to have a portfolio of differing skillsets. Now with the explosion of tablet and smartphone devices, coupled with the increasing challenges for HR, to develop their people to deliver more with fewer staff, in less time with less money, Video Arts has now gone into the realm of mobile learning.”
“Technology is always a driver in the global economy,” says Addison. “Staff feel stuck in their job and it affects their attitude and motivation. Mobile learning is not going to replace training but supplement it.” Managers and trainers can push out a message or bite sized piece of learning globally ahead of a team meeting, a conference call or drop a link into a community. People can view a piece of learning on demand or fit it in with their travelling commitments. It also offers managers just in time support if they need to resolve performance issues.
Trainers and managers can drop courses into individual employee accounts. They can track whether employees have signed up to it and carried out the video training exercises. Dubbed or subtitled versions of Video Arts resources are available in 26 languages.
Addison concludes: “The key is not to get seduced by technology but to mix training and learning in a way that allows employees to feel supported by the company having a vested interest in their own career development.”
Story based learning Will Chadwick
Will Chadwick, vice president – UK at Tata Interactive Systems
Flexible, mobile and immersive training solutions are on employers’ radar screens, according to Will Chadwick, vice president – UK at Tata Interactive Systems.
The hottest trends right now are mobile learning and story based learning in the form of gaming and 3D simulations or animations.
“People naturally tell stories and individuals remember stories rather than a set of facts,” Chadwick argues. “As the learning is fun, on average, employees will play a game four times a day, around 30 minutes a session and voluntarily learn for two hours as opposed to feeling forced to follow a linear, modular-based structure.”
For a mobile workforce, learning on the move saves time and is just-in-time to make an impact. Chadwick mirrors Addison’s view that learning nuggets – 100 to 300 second learning exercises – are trending on small devices such as iPad and smart phones. Such short learning modules, delivered as broadcasts on smart devices, are ideal for consumption when on the move.
Through gaming simulations, Chadwick explains, employees are given challenges to overcome and they can accumulate scores that can be displayed on a global leader board. As it is interactive learning, the system also gives employees feedback on their performance. For example Philips wanted to create a portal where employees could improve their product knowledge. To serve the purpose, a treasure hunt game was created where employees had to gather information from stakeholders and present back a recommendation mapped to identified needs to assess questioning skills and product knowledge.
Another training programme developed by Tata called ‘TOPSIM’, uses a blended simulation to test managers on their competencies, managerial skills and behaviours. Over the course of two days, managers can be split into teams of four and act out the role of CEO of the business to forecast what they would do in a yearly cycle. The system then collates all the results and produces a series of reports which are then fed back by executive coaches and trainers. Teams are then able to view each other’s results, as well as share and compare their learning behaviours.
“The opportunities are endless,” states Chadwick. “Various multinational companies are using these interactive learning portals and mobile learning to connect remote teams or up-skill managers.”
So what’s the future of learning?
“Adults shouldn’t be seen as any different from kids – both groups like to play. People are inspired to learn if they don’t see it as a task. Also, mobile learning will address emerging training needs as the turnaround time shrinks”, declares Chadwick.