Find your portal

How technology can change formal learning

When I was a student thinking of joining the workforce, I jumped right into the vicious circle of inexperienced job seekers. All employers demanded some work experience, even the ones advertising for entry-level positions. It seemed impossible to get a first work experience.

Anyway, I sent my work-experience-less resume to some employers and, to my surprise, a few of them showed interest in me. At my first ever job interview I came prepared with the following line:

“I may not have much [read any] work experience, but I have 14 years [14!] of learning experience. And I did not count the years before school. I’ve been learning since I can remember. I think I did a pretty good job so far, and I know I can learn even more and become a great asset to your company. Learning never stops.”

I got the job.

Since then, I changed quite a few other jobs, I’ve learned a tremendous amount of things, and I still think that learning in general, and workplace learning in particular, never stops. Even the most experienced people can learn something new every day, through any of the three main channels: experiential learning, social learning, or formal learning.

The 70:20:10 model of workplace learning puts a lot of emphasis on on-the-job experiences and social interaction, and it’s easy to assume the 10% of formal learning can be negligible.

Formal learning may count for only approximately 10% of all the learning that happens at work, but it’s nevertheless important. And technology can transform it.

The In-Focus: Transforming Formal Learning Report by Towards Maturity presents some very interesting insights about formal learning in the workplace, and the technological expectations of it.

The opening line of the report is the best:

Formal learning is not dead…


Just like my younger and inexperienced me, new employees today are eager to learn because they want to do their jobs better and faster. Experienced employees are motivated to learn because of the exact same reasons.

Everyone wants to be better at what they do because people always strive to overcome their current condition. The only way to have a flourishing career is to keep learning. And formal learning — classroom courses and face-to-face instruction — is essential or very useful for more than half (55%) of the employees surveyed for the aforementioned Report. More than half!

And now comes the second part of the same opening line:

...But formal learning needs to change

There seems to be a general reluctance to including technology in formal learning:

  • 3 in 10 face-to-face instructors are reluctant to adopt new technologies, and
  • almost half of surveyed employees are reluctant to learn with new technology, mostly because their IT skills are not that great.

This leads to the most shocking finding of the Transforming Formal Learning Report:

Only 26% of formal learning is currently e-enabled.

I find it shocking that only a quarter of formal learning can be done online. The use of technology can bring along a lot of potential for successful learning at work.

So, how could formal learning change, to reap the benefits of technology, and support instructors and learners to reach their full potential?

It’s all in the blend

All instructors need to understand that technology is not meant to replace them. On the contrary, technology is supposed to support them in becoming better at what they do. At the same time, all employees need to understand that they won’t thrive in today’s business world by avoiding the surrounding technology.

Learning never stops. It’s high time both instructors of face-to-face training courses, and employees participating to those sessions, to learn how to use technology in their favor, one step at a time.

Blended learning in the workplace comes with great results to those who use it, because a blended learning approach caters to more individual learning needs.

The human interaction won’t be lost, because face-to-face instruction won’t disappear, and online courses for formal learning bring along three major advantages:

Online courses are diverse

A lot of professional learning materials share information through written text. But online courses can host a lot more than text. I’m referring to images, videos, interactive learning scenarios, gamification, storytelling, and even velfies. There are endless possibilities.

Online courses are self-paced

Peer pressure becomes nonexistent. Each employee can go through the same learning materials faster or slower, can make mistakes and correct them without others knowing, and can set their own rhythm: from 10 minutes every day to three hours each month, and everything in between.

Online courses are measurable

This is probably the most important aspect about them. Instructors can know the real-time progress for each learner, where they struggle, or what type of learning material works best. Therefore, they can adapt their instruction, and better spend the face-to-face time.

What's more, technology like xAPI make it possible to measure all the learning that happens at work, including on-the-job experiences and social interactions, not only formal learning.

Blending face-to-face instruction with online courses — the technology that people are still reluctant to use — is a surefire way to improve formal learning as we know it. Don’t you agree?