It’s practically passé now to begin an article by saying, “Digital technologies are changing business and changing training.” But it’s still true, and new research confirms that work and training are changing, especially for IT and other technical employees. Blended learning, for instance, is emerging as key for effectively upskilling the technical workforce.
A forthcoming research report by Training Industry, Inc., for example, finds that technical learners have a variety of preferences when it comes to how they learn at work. Many prefer instructor-led training (ILT) or virtual instructor-led training (VILT), for example, but over half said that modalities including coaching, on-the-job training, e-learning, books, job aids and simulations were useful when it came to the impact on their learning.
The most effective modality for IT training is actually an “evolving blend” of modalities, says Todd Johnstone, CEO of Global Knowledge. The IT training company recently released its 2018 “IT Skills and Salary Report,” which found that tech professionals use a blend of formal and informal learning to keep up their skills. While there will always be a need for ILT, Zane Schweer, senior marketing manager at Global Knowledge, says that while the upskilling needs for one project might be met with a self-paced, on-demand course, the quickly changing market means that other projects might require a bootcamp style, multi-day ILT training.
“It’s critical that we’re not just shoehorning people into one modality or one delivery format,” Schweer says. What’s more, a preference for e-learning isn’t necessarily based on generation. While the stereotype is often that baby boomers and Generation X employees prefer ILT, and millennials prefer on-demand e-learning, that’s not always the case. Instead, the need for flexibility may determine a preference for e-learning. “IT decisionmakers and people who are more established in their career,” he says, “prefer the on-demand training, because they don’t have to travel. They have the flexibility to learn about that technology or acquire those skills on their own time.”
Sunny Shah, associate vice president of Cognixia, echoes Training Industry’s and Global Knowledge’s research findings. “Most of the organizations that we work with … demand more flexibility,” he says. Blended learning provides that flexibility, along with other benefits, like higher engagement and motivation; improved effectiveness; simplified training logistics; and easier measurement. Shah recommends a blend of classroom training, VILT, self-paced e-learning and gamification.
Finding the right blend of training modalities for IT training is more important than ever, thanks to the IT skills gap. According to Global Knowledge’s report, 70 percent of IT decision-makers globally and 75 percent in North America say their teams currently face “a shortage of necessary skills.” Furthermore, 70 percent of those challenged by a skills gap believe it will continue over the next two years, and 25 percent of those not experiencing a gap currently believe they will in the next one to two years.
While almost half of these leaders believe the skills gap is due to difficulties attracting skills talent, it’s also true that training current employees can help. Shah says that “there has to be an upskill strategy for the existing workforce.” Gather data to understand how the employees at your organization learn best, develop training programs accordingly, and then use metrics like productivity, the speed of adopting and implementing new technology, and IT employee retention to make sure the programs are having an impact.
“The best learning,” says Johnstone, “comes through multi-modality …customized to the specific needs” of the people you’re working with. By considering the technologies currently (and soon-to-be) in use, the needs of the workforce, and the business goals they’re supporting, L&D professionals can help close the IT skills gap at their organizations.