How does UK learning technology use really compare with the US?

by | Feb 10, 2010 | Articles

Everywhere you look whether it is via conferences, online, magazines – much is being made of the potential of new media (such as mobile, social software tools) and their potential role in transforming learning.

But how much of that is realling influencing the way that leanring and development is delivered on the ground?

This is a question that we review biannually via the Towards Maturity UK learning technology benchmarks – what’s actually being used, what are the barriers , what’s delivering results and why? So we were interested to see how our findings in the UK compared with those from the US.

What’s old is new again –  ASTD Jan 2010

The Alison Rossett and James Marshal ( from the American Society of Training and Development) published research conducted last year with  900+ organisations to look at how e-learning is actually being used in L&D. We were pleased to see that their definition of e-Learning was as broad as ours and they investigated the extent to which technology in its widest sense was being used to support the learning process. They identified 26 scenarios in which learning could be e-nabled and then asked the participants the frequency of their adoption – a slightly different approach to our benchmarks (& one that we really liked) but close enough for us to make some interesting comparisons*:

How does our current use of technology compare?

The ASTD study found that ‘e-Learning is mostly about measuring and delivering through familiar instructional strategies such as tutorials and scenarios’  and that the most frequent e-learning activity was the testing of skills and knowledge.

They also found that mobile learning and the opportunity for learners to collaborate ( either via discussion boards or via new social media) was rare.

Most of these findings mirrored ours (gathered from organisations in the UK 8 months earlier – See Driving Business Benefits for details) where we found that 80%+ of all our participants were using electronic based learning content and surveys/assessments and these have become the staple over the last few years. However very few  UK companies were using mobile learning (in fact this had dropped from 21% to 7%).

In the UK, we did see that the use of virtual classroom  as having grown considerably ( in use by 45% of the sample & plans for futher growth)  and over 25% of UK participants were offering e-tutor support. and 40% were offering online collaboration between learners –  however, both of these practices were amongst the least frequently used practices in the US study.

What about our future plans?

Like ours, the US study showed that participants were planning a really wide range of e-enabled learning activities for the future – not one stands out more than the other.

In the UK, we found that mobile learning had the highest growth prediction for  and this was in the top 4 aspriations in the US.  Other shared aspirations included more measurement of learning and an increase in learner collaboration and sharing.

How do our barriers compare?

The UK benchmark was taken at the start of the recession, the US survey in the middle of it – perhaps that might account for the the fact that ‘lack of financial resources’ was the number 1 barrier in the US (at the time it was the 4th barrier for UK practitioners). Staff reluctance was the number 1 constraint in the UK and featured twice in various forms in the US top 5 – we face the same challenges around managing change around the globe!

The ASTD authors were surprised that the lack supporting ICT infrastructure & staff IT skills did not feature more highly as a barrier. Infrastructure was one of the most significant barriers for the UK when we did our benchmark in 2007 and had dropped to 5th by our 2009 study. In the UK the lack of ICT skills had also dropped as a barrier and was only cited by 22% of our sample.

The lack of L&D skills to implement and manage new ways of learning was amongst the UKs top 3 and didn’t appear in the US study – maybe it wasn’t asked or maybe their skills are much higher – we would love to know!

Our conclusions

Josh Bersin reported on some of his recent UK findings looking at the training market at Learning Technologies 2010 this year and commented that the US is twice as likely to deliver learning through online methods (this study was conducted with Training Zone and you can read more here), with an implication that we might be one step behind our US counterparts.

A the time, several of us wondered if this story was a true reflection of what was happening in the UK vs the US.

One of the concerns with the Bersin results was that the question about learning delivery was embedded within a wider survey around training trends and didn’t dig deep into how the technologies were actually being adopted. By necessity, he could only look at what was being used rather than how it was being used.By comparing the ASTD results with our own benchmarks (both of which dig into the how) we can shine a little more light on the matter.

Traditional e-learning content and assessment is much more likely to be the core e-learning offering at present in the US and the UK. We agree (with Bersin) that more US companies probably use these methods than UK counterparts given the geography of the country and the concerns around proving that they have delivered consistent compliance training. (The fact that the ASTD authors commented on the lawyers as a factor in their thinking also highlights the legal importance of proving compliance as a driver over there.)

However on the big discussion topics of the day ( mobile, social learning etc) it doesn’t look as though the US are as far ahead as some might have us believe.  In fact, our application of technology to support collaboration, mentoring and delivery of programmes using virtual classroom may be more embedded over here.

The big ‘trend spotters and gurus’ are right to highlight where technology can support learning and performance next. It is important that we keep our eye on these opportunities and current economic restrictions may even accellerate our innovation.

However on both sides of the atlantic it is clear that neither are necesarily ‘leading the race’ we are all making steady progress with our e-learning journeys  – one step at a time- and the more we can learn from each other the better!

 

For more information on ASTD in the UK and to join the UK network please e-mail [email protected]

* we appreciate that not all of the participants in the ASTD survey are necessarily from the US, in the same way that not all participants in our benchmark are from the UK but given the geographical base of the 2 organisations, we felt is safe to make these comparisons!

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