As L&D professions, typically we look at a few different modalities in which teaching happens a separate them in two main categories (although actual training solutions often incorporate elements from both options): synchronous instructor-led training and asynchronous student-led training. As of now, the balance of all training is still done face-to-face, but it looks like things are trending toward asynchronous technology-based learning. In the 2015 state of the industry report (Ho, Jones, Bello, & Friel, 2015), the Association for Talent Development (ATD) indicated the following:

  • Instructor-led training (ILT) dropped from being 65% of available learning hours in 2006 to 51% in 2012.
  • Technology-based learning increased from 30% to 41% in the same time period.
  • All online learning increased from 23% to 28%.
  • Mobile learning (by nature online) is still a small percentage of all available learning hours, going from 1.2% in 2013 to 2% in 2014 but almost 30% of top performing organizations have mobile learning programs.

One thing I don’t see accounted for is asynchronous learning that is done using my favorite media — paper. I still love the smell of libraries, enjoy dog-earing my place in a book, often have a pen in hand so I can highlight points I find salient (the main reason I old-books-436498don’t like borrowing books), and seem to focus better with an actual book in my hands. I used to think it was because I was born before we all started consuming so much media from computer, tablet, or phone screens but now I’m not sure that’s true — it could be another assumption I’m making without scientific footings. Anecdotally, both of my daughters refuse to read on their tablets, but my wife, who reads more than anyone I know, only consumes books on her tablet. Go figure.

Perhaps the problem is we’re all so consumed with categorizing learning modality and methodology that we’re not pushing for informed decisions that align with audience needs, content context, and subject types. Many vendor companies choose a modality as their strategy, but I would argue that any learning strategy should be mature enough to account for any methodology — as long as it is the right one.

For example, at one company that I’ve worked at, the L&D team included a video media specialist which ended up meaning that almost all asynchronous learning solutions demanded video. The leaders wanted video solutions. It also meant that a significant amount of synchronous, face-to-face facilitated learning was for some reason recorded and posted for potential consumption. But questions like these were never asked:

  • Is video really the best way for people to learn this material? Is it going to change their behavior in any measurable way?
  • Are people even watching these videos?
  • If there is measurable impact to behavior, does it justify the labor that goes into each video?mistake-1966448
  • What else could we do to better facilitate the transfer of this knowledge and potential behavior change?
  • How do we measure behavior change?

In a world where we need to be more and more nimble, changing our workflow from major project development and implementation to quick prototyping and testing, it makes no sense to burden a learning strategy with any particular default modality.