The autonomous learner – do we still need trainers?

Cegos Team

The variety of digital tools available to learners is growing, and the distinction between corporate and private applications – for example, Google Drive, Dropbox and other personal clouds – is increasingly blurred.

Many individuals train outside their company using distance-learning solutions – for example, MOOCs, blogs, wikis and videos. In addition, the popularity of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), where employees use their own devices and software at work, reflects a similar trend.

As tools, devices and training practices evolve, so does the role of the learner – a concept called ‘learner autonomy’, which is changing the way that trainer and trainee interact at every level.

These changes create some challenging questions for those responsible for the delivery of leadership and development:

  • What role can the trainer play in this change?
  • Does the trainer still serve a useful purpose and, if so, what?

Self-directed learning

According to Philippe Carré, author of “Seven Keys to Self-Directed Learning”, the learner is both the lead player and the author of their training, and is increasingly autonomous.

However, being more autonomous does not mean being more solitary.

Learning remains a social process. Philippe Mérieux, a university professor and specialist in educational science, says: “We always learn on our own but never without others.”

The combination of this social factor and the developments associated with digital technology give rise to the theory of ‘connectivist’ learning.

Connectivist Learning Theory

Georges Siemens and Stephen Downes are the two leading proponents of connectivist theory. The theory’s main principles are as follows:

  • Learning happens through connections in networks: these networks link up ‘nodes’, which are sources of information.
  • The purpose of learning must be to continually obtain up-to-date knowledge.
  • The connections that enable us to learn are more important than the sum of knowledge we have at any given time.
  • Decision-making – which relies on the selection of information – plays an active role in the learning process.
  • Knowledge is transient – it is constantly evolving and its shelf-life has become considerably shorter.
  • Learning happens in an environment that is constantly shifting, and is not always under the individual’s control.

Learners should be able to distinguish really important information from the least important, recognise when new information invalidates the frame of reference used to guide decision-making, and maintain the connections in networks.

This is very different to a behaviourist approach, in which the trainer is the only person to hold knowledge and imposes their expertise and pace of learning on the learners.

Adapt to survive and compete

At Cegos, we believe that trainers are more important than ever. But trainers must adapt and evolve. To do so, they need to accept that they will no longer be the sole source of knowledge.

Trainers should consider the fact that knowledge acquisition will increasingly occur outside the traditional classroom environment. Face-to-face time can be used for applying what has been learnt, interacting with others, and solving concrete problems.

They must also broaden their range of digital technology, just as learners broaden theirs. The learners’ training will no longer be confined to the two days spent with the trainer, but will be a much longer process in which the trainer continues to play a significant role.

Finally, trainers should promote personal knowledge management by making sure their learners act as autonomously as possible.

All change

To fit in with the changes in society and technology, trainers must be more perceptive of the psychological aspects of training. For example, they should provide situational support and adapt their training to each learner, not only in regard to group dynamics.

There is also a need for trainers to be humble. Sometimes, learners will be better informed than their trainer, who must take a critical look at themselves and welcome what the group can contribute.

Successful trainers know how to use digital tools and tap into their potential, updating some of their practices to effectively blend digital technology and classroom training. They are aware of what is going on out in the real world and monitor the latest developments, sharing the results with their learners (e.g. via social media).

Trainers should boost their marketing and develop their personal brand; being not only competent but visible. In today’s competitive marketplace, there is a natural tendency to select star trainers, which is why trainers should be increasingly meticulous about their personal branding.

This post was written by Andy Kennard, Head of Learning Solutions, Cegos UK

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Cegos Team

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