How has workplace training evolved over the decades?

Do you remember your first workplace training session? Perhaps it took place in your company’s conference room. Maybe you were sent to an external training center. Perhaps you received the training digitally through webinars or an online course.

The kind of training we are familiar with today is relatively new. It has evolved in line with changes in the economy, society and technology.

Let’s look at how workplace training has evolved over time – and what the future might look like.

Workplace training over time

Today’s enterprise training is still rooted in fairly traditional methods of training that have been dominant for the last century or more. But we have started to see a gradual shift to more comprehensive, ‘help’ based training in recent years.

The following timeline summarizes some of the key developments over the centuries:

  • The old world

Before the modern era of factories and automation, much training was highly manual and interpersonal. A master craftsman would work with an apprentice for years, teaching them exactly how to complete tasks. The master craftsman was always on hand to provide additional training and help.

  • The industrial age

In the industrial age, factory workers were required to perform a relatively limited number of repetitive tasks. They just had to learn how to produce a widget one time, then they knew how to do it for months or years to come. Factories needed a way to train factory workers easily and cheaply and so classroom learning became the training method of choice in that setting.

  • The modern age

Since the 1950’s, workers in advanced economies are increasingly employed in service-based jobs. They must complete complex, process-based tasks and these require ever more adaptation and creativity. Tasks are also highly specific to each role. At this time, employers started to realize that traditional training wasn't as efficient as it might appear, so they began providing employees with self-study materials. This was an improvement, but they still couldn't afford to completely remove the teacher from the equation. Someone was required to prepare the materials and transmit knowledge about how to do tasks.

  • Today

Over the past two decades we have been undergoing a transition, especially with the emergence of advanced IT. It is becoming increasingly clear that the industrial age approach to training is just not appropriate, especially because staff are using ever more complex tools to do a wider variety of tasks. In response, we are seeing the emergence of ‘always on’ help provided throughout IT systems. Whenever staff have a problem or need to learn to do something, they can watch a video, read a walk-thru or listen to an audio-guide that tells them how to complete a task.

Full circle?

In some ways, the evolution in training has almost gone full circle. With contextual microlearning, employees are continually engaged with training and it is always available when they need it – not unlike having a master craftsman available for an apprentice to ask any questions!

The difference, of course, is one of scale. The old-world model of training was highly manual and time-intensive; only one person could be trained at a time in this way. However, contextual microlearning systems suddenly make it possible for large numbers of people to receive personalized, relevant training, whenever they want or need it.

Contextual microlearning eliminates the gap between theoretical training and practical use. It helps to create instant feedback and smart guidance using a combination of video, walkthroughs, and quick reference notes. Essentially, it brings the best of the old world, personalized training and combines it with the scale of the modern workforce.

Learn more about exactly how microlearning works in our blog.

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