Online learning is becoming more and more prevalent in lifelong learning today, from K12 to post-graduate studies and within the enterprise, in various forms of professional and technical skills development.
For example, in 2015 more than 30,000 Concordia University students chose to follow one of the 70 on-line courses offered as part of eConcordia. In the Quebec province, one university credit represents a minimum of 45 hours of learning activities. This translates to more than 4 million hours of online learning occurring at Concordia each year.
Content “in the mind” VS “in the machine”
Nevertheless as organizations and institutions move towards digital learning, they face an interesting conundrum. In the most traditional sense, the instructor is the subject matter expert (SME) and teaches within a physical setting, such as a classroom or within the workplace. In essence, ‘the content is in the mind’. The body of knowledge, including tacit knowledge resides with the instructor (and sometimes a PowerPoint).
If you lose the instructor, through retirement for example, then there is a direct loss of information with the individual. Far from anecdotal, this has become a true crisis as according to the 2011 NHS, workers aged 55 years and over accounted for 18.7% of total employment in Canada, compared to 15.5% in the 2006 Census. This is the result of the aging of the baby boom generation and the increased participation of older workers in the labour force, and for corporations today a significant wave of skill erosion through retirement.
In reaction to this crisis, organizations are documenting as quickly as possible their critical know-how in the form of online training. The information contained in the mind of the SME is converted into digital learning assets (text, audio, videos, case studies, graphics, animations, etc.). Now ‘the content is in the machine’.
Different format, different challenges
This is where it gets interesting. Organizations are no more efficient at managing their critical know-how in human than machine form. Although their content is now digitally captured, it needs to be curated and maintained for long-term benefits. Otherwise, those digital assets face risks in the form of obsolescence (content wise), degradation (technology wise) and learner digital footprint increase (privacy, confidentiality and intellectual property).
With the help of technology we are extending learning to greater audiences, in a flexible and a more structured manner. However, the broader issue of digital learning governance (including content curation, digital intent, resource efficiency, user experience and privacy footprint) is a definite focus point for training departments and higher education institutions. I hope we can set the bar high on many of these elements and embrace these exciting times in teaching and training.