On-Demand is the Future of Online Learning

TIVO and DVRs completely changed the way we watch television. People no longer have to watch a program at the exact time it’s aired, since it’s so easy to record it and watch whenever you have the time. So what can workplace learning professionals learn from the TIVO generation about the future of learning?

To understand the implications for how we should design learning experiences at work, let’s look at how TIVO — and the later generations of digital recorders — changed our television habits. Two things happened:

1. People stopped watching TV programs at the scheduled time. In the old days, you planned your evenings around your favorite TV shows —  you’d have to be home by 8 p.m. to watch Friends or Mash or Dallas or The Love Boat. Today, we can record it and watch on Sunday morning after sleeping in.

2. Commercials? People just fast-forward through commercials. So how do advertisers survive? How do the programmers, who rely on advertising to make a profit, survive? It seems so simple now, but advertisers just place ads in the show’s script. Watch an episode of White Collar on USA, and you’ll see Agent Burke or Neil Caffrey playing with the features of the new Ford Taurus. I learned more about that car by watching the characters program the GPS or fiddle with the bumper’s sensors than I could by watching a traditional commercial or even test-driving it.

The point is, advertisers adapted and actually came out ahead. The advertising is better when it’s in the context of the show than it is during a commercial, to which no one pays any attention.

There are two key lessons for learning professionals:

1. Adapt to the on-demand world.

2. Embed learning into the context of people’s work.

The On-Demand World

The future of learning will not contain very many classes at scheduled dates and times. They will be on demand. No one rushes home to turn on the television to watch a favorite program — we don’t even do that for live sports anymore. Just record it, show up late and start from the beginning. Not only do I get to attend my son’s track meet AND watch the game, but I get to fast-forward through the commercials. Imagine if your trainees could attend your training session, but could fast-forward through the breaks and the dead time between discussions. They could finish a three-hour class in 90 minutes.

Record your training sessions and make them available to people whenever they want them. Create shorter, self-paced versions of your training for people who cannot attend live. Or take it even further and find out whether your training has any value at all. Make it completely voluntary and see if anyone shows up. Track to see if anyone is watching the recorded version. Trainers: It’s an on-demand world now.

Embedded Learning

Like embedded advertising in a television show, learning must be embedded in people’s work. We cannot take people away from their work to teach them something that may or may not be relevant to them. We must provide employees with learning opportunities — in the context of their work — as they use work tools. Link to a short video, or a podcast, or access to an ongoing peer discussion about how to improve the way your organization serves customers. We must create podcasts, job aids, discussions, videos, or online demonstrations and place them all over the workplace where people can use them — on intranets, in CRMs, in e-mail, etc.

Of course there will always be a need for scheduled formal training sessions, but they cannot be all, or even most, of what we do. We can’t continue to require that people attend a training class to get what they need from us, on our schedule. Someday they won’t show up. The learner is now in control.

Why are you still scheduling training classes at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning?

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user D.Reichardt.