Since the moment that countries have gone in (semi-)lockdown due to COVID-19, I have seen many articles been published about how this will change the learning industry. People are forced to search for new ways to transfer knowledge. They discover technology which they didn’t know that existed a few week ago.

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Crisis and opportunities go hand in hand and John F. Kennedy summarized it: “When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

One of the biggest opportunities most likely is to rethink the way we educate our children as well as all people in their journey of continuous learning. Too often we don’t take the time to reflect and jump straight into short term solutions.

I spoke with business leaders of many organizations where currently the L&D departments are working over-time as they need to digitalize their learning offerings at high speed. This results, in many cases, to a solution in which classroom trainings get replaced by live webinars. So yes, we use technology to change the way we transfer knowledge. But, we miss a big opportunity. The opportunity to enhance the old learning experience into a new one. One that is much more engaging for the learner and with much better knowledge retention results.

That’s why I want to highlight 4 transitions in learning (covered by Danny Iny in his great book Leveraged Learning) which will truly disrupt the way we learn and teach:

1. From real-time to semi-synchronous

In the past, we experienced only one format in which the trainee knew perfectly up-front where to be at which time to get a class from a teacher or trainer. Due to the fact that we need much more knowledge than ever before and have less and less time to consume learnings, such traditional training methods are not sufficient anymore.

Nowadays we are familiar with blended learning approaches, although many are still struggling to turn 1 + 1 into 3.

2. From just-in-case to just-in-time

Learning used to be something that you did at the start of your career. But that just doesn’t work any longer in today’s world. It’s so much easier to access information and training when we need it, and conditions change so quickly that things you learned “just-in-case” are more likely to be outdated and irrelevant by the time you actually need them. Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, went on record saying: “I think, increasingly, anything you learn is going to become obsolete within a decade, and so the morst important kind of learning is how to learn.”

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So, if not a mass of education at the start of our careers, then what? The answer is education in smaller increments, spread over our entire lives. The Stanford 2025 project of reimagining the future of education predicts that the current four years during the ages from 18 to 22 will be replaced by six years spread over a lifetime.

This transition to lifelong just-in-time education is underway. But in a context of lifelong learning, taking a full-time semester for skill development is impractical, let alone taking one or more years. So courses are shortened and designed to be done on the side, while the rest of our life continues to go on.

Rohit Bhargava calls it “light-speed learning” in his book Non-Obvious. In his words: “The road to mastery on any topic gets faster through the help of bite-sized learning modules that make education more time efficient, engaging, useful and fun.”

3. From information to transformation

Pure knowledge is fairly easy to absorb. All it takes is a good explanation and possibly a bit of repetition, and you’ve got it. Developing a competence or skill can start with a good explanation and repetition. But there is more needed.

You also need the input and experience of real-world application. You need feedback that tells you whether you’re on the right track or need to correct your course. You need the opportunity to make those adjustments and see the results.

For learning to be truly transformative, then, it has to be customized around the unique strengths and opportunities available to the learner in question. Which has the added benefit of being more engaging to the learner, at a time when just holding a person’s attention is getting harder and harder.

4. From mandatory to voluntarily

During nearly every HR conference there is at least one keynote highlighting the importance of empowering employees to make their own choices in their development. The role of the organizations is rather to create a menu of different learnings and let the learners choose. Also in education there is more and more freedom for students to chose which courses they want to take in which semester and as such to create their personalized curriculum. I tend to agree and disagree with the statements above.

In the early days of offering more freedom to the learners, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were often created. But over time it became clear that those didn’t seem to work in a majority of the cases. A fair amount of investigation has shown that the completion rate of MOOCs across the board tends to max out at 15%.Why are MOOC completion rates so incredibly low? Do learners not want to learn? Are people fundamentally incapable of following through on ventures they set out to do?

Maybe the reason is a lot easier: perhaps MOOCs just offer too much freedom and choice. One thing is clear. We need a healthy balance between giving freedom and making some aspects of the journey mandatory.

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Sometimes people explain the low learning engagement rates due to the fact that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The statistic comes from the misreading of a 2015 study conducted by Microsoft. The study showed that it took about 8.5 seconds for the subjects’ attention to wander from whatever was put in front of them. What is really tells us is that it took 8.5 seconds for the participants’ minds to begin wondering if there might be something more interesting or worthy of their attention.

There are two approaches that course creators can take to overcome this challenge:

  1. Take away some choices: bring back start dates, end dates and deadlines that must be met to remain student/learner in good standing.
  2. Develop courses engaging enough for students to choose them over everything else vying for their attention.

The four transitions described above are all at work as we speak and will fundamentally change the way how we consume and deliver education.

I truly hope that all learning professionals as well as business leaders keep those transitions in mind and turn the current situation in an opportunity to get most out of those. Technology will play a vital role in supporting those transitions and enabling more people than ever in their continuous learning journey.

We will zoom in to each of the transitions in the next coming weeks and highlight how technology will play its role.


Guy Van Neck
Founder & CEO MobieTrain