In the first post in this series, we expressed a vision for learning and development that is aligned, economical, scalable, flexible, engaging and, above all, powerful in terms of the results it achieves. In this post, we look at the argument for l&d to be scalable.
Learning interventions are scalable when they are capable of delivering high quality results to ever larger audiences. There’s little doubt that, when used for the right purpose and well executed, one-to-one learning can be extremely effective but it is hardly scalable; after all, there are only so many hours in a day that any instructor, coach or mentor can dedicate to the task. While there is often a need to include an element of one-to-one or small group learning in a blend, because that’s the only way of making sure the job gets done right, there are many occasions on which far more scalable methods can be applied.
Some fantastic progress has been made recently in realising the concept of massively scalable education. Particularly exciting examples are the Khan Academy, which has contributed to the maths education of millions, and the free online courses being run by faculty at Stanford University. An Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, led by Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun, attracted some 160,000 enquiries, of which 25,000 or more have made it through to its conclusion. If you are not familiar with these projects, you can see Khan, Norvig and Thrun discussing the implications of their work in Reinventing Education – 45 minutes of very watchable YouTube video.
So, yes, you can teach maths and science to millions at practically no cost using videos and quizzes, and this is a fantastic step forward, but can we make similar gains in workplace learning? Currently, skills development is a labour-intensive and very costly business, typically involving a great deal of face-to-face contact with a trainer or coach. Some individuals, some organisations, some countries have been able to afford this and will be able to sustain this investment even in a harsh economic climate. That leaves an awful lot of skills gaps and unemployed people.
The pressure for more scalable learning and development at work is accentuated by the increased pace at which change takes place within organisations. More often than not there simply isn’t the time available to wait for ‘high-touch’ training. L&d needs a plan B; one that much better leverages limited subject expertise and teaching skills.