Education and Training; Same Difference in Digital Learning?

There’s one distinct difference between education and training when it comes to learning technologies. Well, technically there’s lots of differences, but the one that strikes me the most after spending years in both areas is where the digital literacy lies. In education, the students (generally) are younger than the teachers. In this modern world that gives them the advantage. We’re rapidly approaching the age of digital natives as adults – if we’re not already there that is. Digital natives are those that have grown up with digital since they started in education, think of it as being similar to being brought up being bi-lingual. If you were brought up speaking both Spanish and English, then you would always be able to switch and speak either with complete fluency. If you were brought up speaking English and digital, then likewise you’d always be able to get the base language. If you learned your digital later in life, like in Spanish, you may get it, but you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage to those raised with it.

Thanks Pixabay

Rewind to my first point on education and you have the guts of our first issue. In education the educators are not digital natives and the vast majority of students are (and increasingly so). The digital natives not only understand digital they expect it to augment the real world, because for them it is the real world. In education the limitation of the use of technology in learning is without doubt the limited ability of these Spanish immigrants. Some of whom are at the extremes of no habla and some are simply visitors in a strange and foreign land. Don’t think it rest purely on age either, I’m allegedly 45 years of age, but grew up in a world of computers thanks to a very early interest and parents who thought it might be something important in the future. I had my first computer before 10. Yet even that puts me at a disadvantage when you consider the capabilities of my 9 year old boy, his numerous digital devices (not to mention his obligatory YouTube channel). The point is even very young teachers (was one of those too once) may not have been fully digitally immersed from their earliest memories, but the students largely will be. It’s a disadvantage and it takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the educators – and consequently on the institutions that support them. It should be the biggest focus area for education to upskill, it often isn’t unfortunately as other real-world pressures focus institutions in unhelpful directions.

So I said there was an almost polar difference between training and education? The digital literacy of staff in organisations is another matter entirely. In some industries you can assume this may not be an issue, particularly where the work force is very young or highly digital by nature – I can’t imagine Google worries too much about the digital literacy of its employees in general. In some industries the digital literacy is extremely low, older workforce with non-office based manual work for example. But in the vast majority of industries there’s an enormous breadth of capability in the workforce from those that are constantly on their smartphones checking their Facebook and connecting socially online, to those that have post-it notes stuck to their computer screens to enable them to turn the damn thing on to those that cringe at the very mention of ‘digital’. That represents half the challenge for training, the other half is the trainers themselves. Unlike education we can’t simply assume the students are digitally literate. But there’s definitely a synergy when we start talking about the digital literacy of the trainers. I’ll extend this further to learning and development (L&D) too. Some L&D people, some trainers are right there with a level of digital expertise that enables them to embrace the true blended model to deliver training that leverages technology to the advantage of the learners. Some are still stuck in an era when the ‘sage on the stage’ was king. Unfortunately the median average doesn’t currently sit at the digital end of the scale, we need to move it that way.

Sage on Stage get ready! Thanks Wikimedia Commons

Different problems, but one thing remains the same in both cases. If we’re going to leverage technology in education or training, if we’re going to make our learning represent the real world, it needs to become increasingly digital. If we’re going to embrace digital learning (and if it’s not already clear from above, we absolutely need to) then we’re going to need better digital educators and digital trainers. Different issues for the educators and trainers as far as your learners, but if you’re skills aren’t there in the digital space then this needs to serve as a wake-up call; it’s time to learn Spanish (hopefully you’re still running with my metaphor at this point), it’s time to not only learn those digital learning skills, but to immerse yourself in them and get ready to work with the next generation.

If you’re an L&D pro or a trainer the only difference for you is the learners. From your perspective you still have to upskill and fast. If your current workforce isn’t that digitally aware, then the ones coming in and replacing them will be. In a few years time what use will and L&D person be who doesn’t have digital learning capabilities? In fact, that time is here now; if it’s still a foreign language to you I implore you to start learning as soon as possible.

If you’re an educator and digital is not part of your skill set then the urgency is even more apparent on you. When I was teaching there was a magic word bandied around by the experienced and successful teachers and that word was rapport. How do you have rapport with the students if you don’t speak their language? If you’re in education, digital learning should no longer be an option, it’s an absolute necessity. And if you’re in higher or further education… for once you don’t have the luxury of being decades behind the learning curve, you have to move now or students will go elsewhere.

Lastly if you’re a Chief Executive, General Manager or Principal you need to invest in digital training and education on a scale larger than you have before. It’s not a luxury, it’s not a nice-to-have or lower on the priority scale than other economic matters; it is the going to be the single largest economic driver moving forwards. If the modern world represents one major challenge we hear of it’s that jobs are going to become automated; how can we possibly prepare for that without embracing the digital learning that it so obviously calls for.

If there’s not enough call for action in my blog today, then all I can hope is that you’re already there. If not, if you don’t want to learn, you’re either in the wrong business or you need to very quickly surround yourself with people that can take this forward so you can start planning that retirement that’s coming very soon.

Agree, disagree? I’d love to hear from you. If you need some help getting there by all means give me a shout; Let’s do this.