Magazine article Talent Development

Disappearing Act: The Vanishing Corporate Classroom: Research Has Consistently Indicated That the Corporate Classroom Is Fading from the Foreground. but This Is No Parlor Trick. It Signals the New Attitudes and Behaviors Meant to Engage a Changing Workforce

Magazine article Talent Development

Disappearing Act: The Vanishing Corporate Classroom: Research Has Consistently Indicated That the Corporate Classroom Is Fading from the Foreground. but This Is No Parlor Trick. It Signals the New Attitudes and Behaviors Meant to Engage a Changing Workforce

Article excerpt

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For most of the seven years that ASTD has been collecting data on the state of the training industry, the use of classrooms for delivery of training has been dropping steadily. Displacing brick and mortar classrooms are myriad web- and computer-based delivery vehicles, from simple CDs to elaborate corporate portals, and simulations rivaling the hottest Gothic multiplayer war games. The rapid growth of Web 2.0 tools for networking, microsharing, simulations, and other kinds of collaboration is likely to take learning even farther from the traditional classroom.

In 2001--the year that ASTD first asked people how their companies delivered training--the split was 76 percent via classroom and 11.5 percent via technology. Since then--except for 2008--the percentage of formal classroom hours has dropped steadily. The recession may account for the slight uptick--2.6 percent--in classroom use in 2008 because if you didn't have learning technology infrastructure in place before the recession hit, you probably postponed the upfront costs once it did hit. Or, companies may have pushed hard to fill live classes to break even on their costs for instructors and facilities. But overall, if the average annual decrease of 2.48 percent continues after the recession has passed, classroom use could drop to 50 percent within the next five years. What's going on?

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Fuqua School of Management professor Tony O'Driscoll believes that there are at least four issues that are marginalizing the classroom as training's primary channel to market. "The physical course package is becoming increasingly untenable as the true costs of travel and attendance are made more visible. Also, the new emphasis on corporate social responsibility is putting pressure on the justification for travel," says O'Driscoll.

He notes that searching for information within the context of work activity is a lot easier than it used to be. "Folks who are busy are opting for real-time information via Google rather than information packaged in courses on the LMS," he says. Employees are also leveraging the power of Web 2.0 technologies to tap into subject matter networks. "Got a problem? Post it on Facebook or Twitter, and wait for the cavalry to provide [the answer]," says O'Driscoll.

The fourth factor impinging on the classroom is relevance. "In a time where the real expertise resides at the edge of the network, and training sits in the middle, it is often the case that the traditional training factory model of seconding SMEs and producing learning modules are teaching old habits as opposed to contemporary best practices.

"Put these four together, and it becomes obvious why our customers are voting with their mice and not coming to the physical classroom as much as they were in the past," says O'Driscoll. "People need the most current and relevant information to solve the task at hand. Signing up for a class sometime in the future does not solve that immediate need. The motivation to learn is most palpable when a teachable moment is encountered: 'I don't know how to do this but I have to have it done by tomorrow.' In that kind of context, the traditional classroom has nothing to offer. It is not timely, it is not task-based, and it is not packaged appropriately."

Consultant and author Marc Rosenberg is not sure that the corporate classroom is fading but believes that it is certainly changing in purpose and physical structure. Pressing economic realities, an inability to scale classroom training, an increasingly mobile workforce, and progressively easier-to-use technologies have come together to simultaneously push more learning online. "It's a perfect storm of change for corporate classrooms," he says.

But more than anything else driving these trends, it is the realization that learning takes place 24-7--in the workplace, at home, and on the road--that is changing the balance between classrooms and technology. …

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