For some years now, vocational training has benefited from the availability of a new generation of digital tools – Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), serious games, virtual classes, and similar approaches. Human Resources managers, who are constantly on the lookout for an ideal formula for training company personnel in a flexible way, anytime and anywhere, have become attracted to these new forms of remote learning. The idea is to reduce the cost of teacher-based training, which swallows up a lot of resources and logistics. Meanwhile, ‘digital natives’ –  those young people who are used to having fast access to information anywhere they happen to be – have arrived on the job market and they are obviously no strangers to innovative training tools of this kind.

Surge in the online video format

MOOCS HAVE REVIVED THE CONCEPT OF REMOTE SELF-LEARNING

The rapid popularisation of the online video format is now playing a key role in making training widely available. The popularity of YouTube tutorials and TED talks, which billions of views, was hardly likely to leave the in-company training world untouched and nowadays training courses are using video to a far greater extent. Learners are encouraged to study the videos on their own. Massive Open Online Courses – which have been in fashion for a number of years now – typify this trend. According to a 2016 survey by French in-company training group Cegos, a third of all employees they polled had followed a MOOC or similar sort of training programme during the previous three years. These online training courses have re-ignited interest in remote learning, partly by introducing a dose of collaborative effort, with student-to-student interaction, community managers running sessions, and therefore giving priority to video. “MOOCs have revived the concept of remote self-learning,” points out Philippe Gil, co-founder of the International Learning and Development Institute (IL&DI), a consulting firm specialising in innovative approaches to training, including Digital Learning.

Regard d'expert

Philippe Gil 

Co-founder of IL&DI

On a MOOC, the learner is part of a group. S/he can interact with his/her peers and with the tutor. They aren’t all on their own, staring at a computer screen.
 

The rapid popularisation of the online video format is now playing a key role in making training widely available. The popularity of YouTube tutorials and TED talks, which billions of views, was hardly likely to leave the in-company training world untouched and nowadays training courses are using video to a far greater extent. Learners are encouraged to study the videos on their own. Massive Open Online Courses – which have been in fashion for a number of years now – typify this trend. According to a 2016 survey by French in-company training group Cegos, a third of all employees they polled had followed a MOOC or similar sort of training programme during the previous three years. These online training courses have re-ignited interest in remote learning, partly by introducing a dose of collaborative effort, with student-to-student interaction, community managers running sessions, and therefore giving priority to video. “MOOCs have revived the concept of remote self-learning,” points out Philippe Gil, co-founder of the International Learning and Development Institute (IL&DI), a consulting firm specialising in innovative approaches to training, including Digital Learning.



from MOOCs (students) to COOCs (companiES)

coursera.org/enterprise

MOOCs were originally the preserve of college students, but recently they have steadily been gaining ground in companies. With some adaptations, COOCs (Corporate Open Online Courses) are the corporate version of this type of online education. COOCs use the same ingredients as their general public counterparts but their contents are specifically designed for the workforce of a particular firm. Companies can of course go to training organisations, or to specialised platforms and ask to have a programme specially tailored to their environment. In 2016, the Californian MOOC giant Coursera decided not to limit itself to the academic world and began offering employee lifelong learning programmes. Coursera has been building a series of partnerships to provide online courses for the staff of corporate clients such as the French firms L'Oréal, Air France and ad retargeting specialist Criteo.

Not all staff are able to learn on their own

The real challenge for MOOCs, ever since they were first launched, has been the high dropout rate

Not everyone is able to learn on his/her own through remote channels, even if you are a digital native accustomed to YouTube tutorials. A learner needs a strong dose of perseverance and motivation in order to succeed in working through the training programme to completion on his/her own in front of the computer and meanwhile juggling this effort with the demands of his/her job. Consequently, “the real challenge for MOOCs, ever since they were first launched, has been the high dropout rate,” underlines Patrick Galiano.


‘PROMISE’ A SERIOUS GAME FOR THE OIL & GAS INDUSTRY

Rather older than MOOCs are what are known as ‘serious games’, whose purpose was to inject some fun into distance learning. They use all the standard codes that those who are familiar with video games know so well: earning rewards and bonus points, ‘levelling up’, use of avatars and so on. Fifteen years ago, the US army was one of the first organisations to use a serious game, called America's Army. This army simulation game is designed to motivate younger people to find out about military operations and to burnish the Army’s image. In France, auto manufacturer Renault pioneered the use of video games as a learning tool when the firm launched the Renault Academy, a serious game whose purpose is to improve the selling techniques of the sales force worldwide. 

With their learning-plus-fun formula, serious games were for a while thought to be the ideal tool for remote self-learning. However, after an encouraging start, the initial prospects for growth in the lifelong learning world were not borne out in reality. Nevertheless, the emergence of virtual reality (VR) technology might serve to re-ignite interest in serious games. They are often costly to develop, and therefore not affordable for everyone, even though they have become more widespread in recent years. Software publishers now provide tools that enable developers to build this kind of game at a lower cost. “Today software designed to help create content based on avatar libraries and pre-established scenarios and backgrounds makes it possible to develop a serious game for a few thousand euro,” explains Philippe Gil.

Virtual classrooms have made a spectacular breakthrough

Pulse
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Nevertheless, serious games are suitable for only a limited range of subjects. Their usefulness in terms of teaching is first and foremost on the experimental side, helping participants to put knowledge into practice rather than acquire new knowledge. “Serious games are particularly well-suited to training where you need to recreate a technical environment in the manufacturing or health sectors,” explains Patrick Galiano. One example is Pulse, one of the first serious games developed to train healthcare staff through simulated scenarios in a very realistic 3D hospital scenario. Recruitment and maintenance of employer brands is another area where serious games excel. Hygiene and beauty product maker L’Oréal has made serious games for recruitment a speciality, for example Reveal, which initiates young graduates into the range of careers available at the L’Oréal Group.

Patrick Galiano reckons that in recent years the most spectacular breakthrough has been made by virtual classrooms. The Cegos Survey found that in 2016, 33% of all employees polled had already tried them out, fully 17 percentage points up on the previous year. The advantage of this type of training is that it allows participants to reproduce traditional classroom-based learning by using advanced web-conference software. Within a few moments, users are plunged into an interactive situation that is as lively as taking part in face-to-face learning, with simulated real-life props – whiteboard, pointer, screen and documents, instant messaging, and so on.

Unlike a webinar, a virtual classroom is not a one-way training session where the students receive information passively. During a virtual classroom session, they can exchange comments and ideas not only with the teacher but also with each other via chat functionality and video camera feeds. In this way the virtual classroom maintains the vital social dimension of learning. Hence its popularity. The virtual classroom is mainly used when companies need to train a large number of people in a short space of time. Nevertheless, e-learning tools have not disappeared. They still score highly with their ultra-educational scenarios and highly graphic and interactive content. The teaching scenarios may actually draw on real storytelling techniques, using interesting characters and backgrounds and relaying the educational content as the story unfolds.

Mixed-mode training now the norm

KLAXOON

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Useful though these remote learning tools might be, they have in no way supplanted traditional teaching methods, i.e. working face-to-face with a teacher who imparts knowledge to a small group of learners. Unsurprisingly, the classroom approach is still regarded as a special, irreplaceable experience. However, the demands on the teacher are increasing. “Nowadays it’s all about making classroom sessions more dynamic, with periods of interaction and student-participation and greater willingness to listen to the students,” argues Philippe Gi. The trainer needs to build a collaborative approach and encourage experience-sharing between the staff being trained.  They usually like to share their impressions with fellow-learners. In this area, digital solutions such as KlaxoonKahoot and Socrative enable the teacher to encourage interaction with the participants through quizzes, surveys, challenges, brainstorming, instant messaging, etc. Training departments are also encouraged to assess the benefits of each learning method – face-to-face classroom, scenario-based e-learning, serious games, virtual classroom, MOOCs, etc – when a training programme is being set up. “The concept of educational engineering, i.e. the ability to create a relevant programme to meet specific training needs, is now gaining ground,” reveals Gil.

In actual fact, we are now witnessing an increase in training programmes which alternate remote learning sessions with face-time in a real classroom. For instance, an employee might be studying a MOOC one minute and then find him/herself with other participants absorbing the course content through games, quizzes, etc. According to a paper entitled Digital learning: 2017 figures published by French digital/blended learning academy ISTF. Over half of all training plans drawn up by companies are now based on a mix of face-to-face teaching and remote study. This approach has the advantage of retaining the vital human aspect of classroom teaching while making the individual employee-trainee central to the programme and giving participants a pro-active role in their own learning. With these multi-modal systems, participants can learn the theory at their own pace on their computer or smartphone, through online sessions, and then move on to face-to-face practical application. This should please the new generation, who are known both for their appetite for digital technology and their desire for autonomy.
By Olivier Discazeaux