Saturday, August 15, 2015

ODL for Corporate Training (Abridged version)

Abridged version of a Chapter titled “ODL for Corporate Training” that I wrote in 2010 for the collaborative book “Education for a Digital World 2.0” initiated by Sandy Hirtz and Kevin Kelly and later published in two volumes in April 2011 by Open School BC, Ministry of Education, Province Of British Columbia, Canada. Considering the continued relevance of the topic, I am sharing it here also. 

All of us in the 21st century are witnessing rigorous reform initiatives in all sectors of industry with diverse objectives like qualitative and quantitative improvements, cost reduction, exploration of the possibilities of new technologies, better protection of the interests of both institutions and customers/stakeholders etc. When we look into the success and failure stories of such initiatives, it is vividly identifiable that all success stories are heavily indebted to effective training and development programmes and all failures have their absence as a prominent cause.

Yet another area, perhaps the largest and the most important area, which is going to generate unimaginable magnitude of training and development requirements in the forthcoming decades, is environment protection. As our precious PLANET EARTH has begun showing visible symptoms of possible sickness in the immediate future, whether it is in the form of global warming or acid rain or climate imbalances, it is now widely recognized that time has arrived wherein concerted efforts to save our planet is most required. Quite naturally industrial houses have to develop and implement alternative technologies. It will substantially increase the T&D requirements. The last sentence of the 3rd paragraph of Copenhagen accord reads: “We agree that developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries”.

Establishment of systems for regular training and development programmes most often pose strong challenges to the HR Departments. Reasons are many like, constraint of funds, demand-supply gap in HR, business contracts that require 24x7 service availability, non-availability of required training programmes/skilled trainers at the time of necessity, absence of the mechanisms to review the effectiveness of training and development programmes etc.

Considering the above facts, there is a solid business rationale behind using Open Distance Learning (ODL) methods for corporate training including in governments. The conventional face-to-face training and development systems alone cannot meet the increasing and diverse requirements of training. Moreover organizations cannot keep their employees away from their mainstream activities frequently and for long durations. Whereas modern web based ODL systems, that offer courses through Internet, can effectively help business houses to conduct regular and effective training programmes for their employees without disturbing the day to day work flow with the added advantage of substantial cost savings. Employees can pursue their learning activities during the free time/time set apart for training at work places or at home or any other place of their choice.

In traditional training setups, business houses have to keep highly paid expert trainers in each training location. It is one of the major cost items in the training budget. But in ODL, we would require only a core team of experts for the entire organization, even if the personnel to be trained are spread over many continents. When there is a growing pressure on reducing costs in the hard times of economic meltdown, as presently being experienced by many, corporate training budgets would be slashed. This in turn will adversely affect the performance of employees. But the organizations that use ODL systems for staff training need not worry about training budgets to the same degree and hence there shall be no down time for training in such institutions.

Training and Development cost is always a headache for individuals and HR department alike. For instance let us look into the findings of The Adult Education Survey (AES) conducted as part of the EU Statistics on lifelong learning, which is available in the website of European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (url is given at the end). The surveys have been carried out by 29 countries in  the EU, EFTA and candidate countries between 2005 and 2008 (The reference year is set at 2007.) This indicator shows that at European level, cost is the main obstacle to participation in training - “training too expensive or difficult to afford”) is the third most frequent answer, reported by 15% of adults in Europe. But its importance varies across countries ranging from 43% (Bulgaria) to 5% (Cyprus). Except in the Czech Republic, cost-related obstacles tend to be more important in Eastern European countries, particularly in Bulgaria, Poland, the Baltic States and Slovenia. Furthermore, in these countries, cost is the most frequent main obstacle for not participating in education and training.

Open Distance Learning mode training and development programmes, implemented with the aid of suitable LMS, is easily measurable. This is possible chiefly because ODL systems use standardized scheduling, content and delivery systems. In ODL, the participants normally feel free to cooperate with the evaluation process and furnish their feedback truthfully. Most often evaluations are done regularly through interesting online methods that attract every participant. Moreover, since the employee would be available at the workplace during the training period, superiors can monitor the attitudinal changes and improvement in performance as the training progresses.
In traditional face-to-face training methods, HR departments generally spend more money on transporting and housing trainees than on actual training programs. Time spent away from the work for travelling and sitting in a classroom reduces per-employee productivity. It will also disturb the business process of the whole organization. In multinational companies, employees may be working in different continents and arranging logistics for traditional training/development programmes for them would become a real nightmare. In the case of study materials, printed study materials for conventional training programmes are generally very expensive and often represent around 20-30% of the training cost. Arrangements for periodic revision of materials, ensuring sufficient stock, and its timely distribution are additional burdens. Therefore in the traditional training setups the training managers prefer to maintain the same curriculum for longer periods and this in turn degrades the quality of training/professional development. 

Whereas as in ODL based T&D, the curriculum and content can be kept up-to-date always through the intelligent use of technology, open educational recourses and free courses being offered by national and international agencies. Even in the case of new production, it can be done online using the expertise of persons from different geographical locations for minimal cost.
Traditional setups can only address a minute portion of the huge training and development demands as given above. In this context, Open Distance Learning, with its flexibility of time, place and adoption is being accepted as a top priority inclusive mainstream learning system. Open Distance Learning supported by a suitable Course/Learning Management System (C/LMS) is the fastest, most cost effective, accurate and easily accessible mode of learning available today. It can meet the learning needs of all categories of learners. The learning environment can be customized to the needs of policy makers, technicians, educators, professionals, support staff, volunteers etc etc with amazing speed and accuracy.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Overcoming the stigma associated with TVET; comments given to a query in UNESCO's UNEVOC e-Forum

I wrote it in UNESCO's UNEVOC e-Forum today. Since it is a topic having general interest, I thought I should share it here as well.

Success stories would continue to be limited as long as TVET continues to be a watertight compartment. Stigmas take shape and grow strong when majority in a society holds anxiety towards something deep inside and which comes out as distaste, dislike or at least neutrality. If the grounds for such stigma is false, it will fade off. However, if it continues strong, it is an indication towards the existence of some concrete reasons.

In the case of TVET, compartmentalization is one of the basic reasons that triggers all other issues. If we have a clear academic vertical or horizontal mobility (with other systems) plan to offer to the students, the stigma will begin to wither.

Of course, in most places, TVET came into existence as a solution to provide a sufficient workforce for industrial development or as a solution for unemployment after higher education. It does not mean that the young chap who happens to be a part of the TVET system does not have the right to move out of the system. It also does not mean that those who are there in the regular academic system does not have the opportunity to enter TVET. It points towards the need for a system that facilitates vertical mobility within the TVET and horizontal and vertical mobility between the TVET and
other streams of education.

Side by side, the TVET should serve its purpose. As other friends pointed out, it should cater to the HR needs of the industry. For this to happen, TVET should have strong industry linkages. Industry should be an integral part of the entire life cycle of TVET courses, starting from course identification, development of content and transaction method, course transaction, practical, internship, assessment, certification, placement to feedback on the placed candidates and the changes in the industry as an input into the system for further refinement or development.