What is business agility? It’s almost Darwinian in concept: the ability to adapt to change and to exploit it in the best interests of the organisation. Agile organisations are quick on their feet, sense opportunities and threats, and respond accordingly.
Appropriate learning and development (L&D) provision will help ensure they stay agile as conditions change.
What is agile learning? Basically, it is a process that enables workforces operating globally to acquire knowledge and skills quickly. It means learners must be able to grasp processes and knowledge and apply them as and when required.
For L&D, agile learning means having the means and ability to provide content and knowledge that is relevant, engaging, easily accessible and timely in terms of application.
Technology is a key enabler, as is speedy content development. Agile learning content requires close cooperation between subject specialists and the L&D function.
For compliance training, where the focus is on completing a fixed list of learning objectives to achieve certification, the ADDIE model is most appropriate. This is a five-phase process comprising Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation that is well-known in L&D circles.
Content creation can be a lengthy process – not something that sits easily with agile learning. But that process can be compressed. For example, Raytheon Professional Services (RPS) has tools that enable subject specialists to create content with minimal help from training experts. They enable prototypes to be developed rapidly. They also feature template oriented development functions that are supported by powerful content management systems.
Together, these features enable subject specialists to create learning materials directly and implement them via learning management systems. In short, the tools enable the first four ADDIE steps – Analysis, Design, Development and Implementation – to be done in one go, providing the shortest path from content expert to the learner.
The 2011 Towards Maturity L&D research underscored the importance of technology to agile learning and business agility. It asked 600 organisations about their use of learning technology in the workplace. Some 72% said they thought agile learning technologies will help them improve business agility by enabling them to respond faster to changing business conditions.
Key learning technology components that enable learning processes and content to be created and delivered to the workplace quickly are:
- Streamlined e-learning development processes
- Rapid content development authoring tools
- Template oriented development
- Powerful content management systems
- Virtual classrooms
- Mobile devices
- Web 2.0 technologies
- Learning management systems
By using these components, L&D will be able to offer a range of blended learning options that bring a fast response to changing business conditions. They also make just-in-time learning available to employees worldwide.
Such components also bring additional benefits including: high quality learning; total interactivity; and cost effectiveness.
For instance, RPS provides one of its customers with quarterly updates via virtual classroom training (VCT). During the course of a quarter, technical issues and hot topics are analysed, collected and included in learning modules, which are then sent electronically to learners. On average, this process takes six weeks. In comparison, the average learning cycle (from conception to implementation) for a technical course across Europe is 12 to 18 weeks.
Social media will also play a major role in agile learning. They enable collaborative learning and, as they become ever smarter, they will provide a suitable way to disseminate some subject matter, such as task oriented knowledge and organisational messages, to employees.
This should give L&D professionals food for thought.
They must consider what their function offers and if it really does help their organisation respond quickly to changing conditions. They should realise that experienced training providers enable organisations to get immediate access to expertise and technology, allowing them to scale their learning function rapidly, and accelerate the learning process markedly.
It is clear that organisations that want to stay competitive must be agile. That means L&D needs to ensure its learning models and processes do indeed make learning fast, efficient and effective.