• Author Valerie Paas

Forget e-learning, e-doing is the new learning.

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Why looking at text doesn't improve our soft skills.

E-learning tools seem to be spring up everywhere nowadays. Not surprising, it's an easy solution to do 'something with personal development' within your organization, without spending loads of money. Your team members read a text about becoming more assertive, look at a video, et voila: an assertive employee is born. Or not quite?

Can't keep up with the world

Let's start at the beginning. Why did your organization decide to do 'something' with personal development? Was it out of fear, to stay ahead of the competition? Loss of revenue? Losing all your greatest talents? Where in the past, a company could stay the old course for decades without experiencing any serious problems, today this has become a true mission impossible. Not surprising, in this fast and ever-changing world. In fact, it's almost impossible to keep up with the world. This phenomenon we call the VUCA-world.

There is a good chance you've heard this term before. VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambigious. Volatile is about the dynamics of change, and the speed in which change takes place. Uncertain refers to a decrease in predictability; the increase of surprises and the need for insight into how things originate. Complex is about multiple force fields, chaotic cohesion and confusion. Ambiguous points to the ambiguity of reality; the possibility of drawing the wrong conclusions and the inability to separate cause from effect. The VUCA-world forces us to embrace uncertainty, or at least, to see it as something unavoidable.

Breaking speed records

There is no going around it: the days put together ten-year plans for our organizations are far behind us. We snooze, we lose. There is no time to stand still anymore, to sit back and decide to stay the course for years to come. Just take a look at the S&P-500 index: the average lifespan of a large company decreased from many decades to less than 20 years. If this trend continues, the lifespan of an average company, by 2033, will only be five years. The world is changing at high speed and we are seeing ourselves forced to keep up with all the developments.

Soft skills are indispensable

For us to continue to make a difference, we have to distinguish ourselves and our companies. Unfortunately, your talents for writing html-script, driving a bus or pushing through an amazing mountain of numbers just isn't enough anymore. No, how you make yourself indispensable is through your creative ideas, your pep talks and your ability to turn a group of people into a team. In other words: your social skills.

Recent study through LinkedIn (2016) shows that 67% of the HR-managers in the Netherlands has difficulty finding talent with the right soft skills. Three fourths (74%) says that the lack of such skills limits the productivity of their organizations. Result: a company that does not optimize its performance. And, as an inspired HR-Manager, isn't that precise what you are trying to achieve?

One solution for hundreds of members of the team

So, you're going to start looking for development possibilities. A bigger challenge than you would expect. Tight training budgets force you to make choices: intensive offline training programs for the lucky few? or an online training program for hundreds of members of the team? For a long time, e-learning was viewed as the goose with the golden eggs. It was available to everyone, when and wherever you want and the prices were usually right within the budgets for personal training. And so, everybody got a log-in for an e-learning platform. But, is an online training really going to see to it that your team members get the best out of themselves?    

Looking at a talking head

The simple answer is No. No matter how badly we want it to be otherwise, reading a text or looking at a talking head just isn't going to help us change our behavior. Have a look at yourself; fixing the crack in the bathroom wall or learning some amazing techniques for braiding your hair from an instructional video really is a piece of cake. In fact, for 'hard skills', copy-catting is one of the best ways to learn. But a foreign language; you don't learn that from a little book alone; you begin to really learn it only once you're in front of a waiter in a foreign country trying to order breakfast. Or when you're trying to explain to person at the reception desk at the hotel that your room is infested with cockroaches.

Surely, when it comes to social skills, the instructional text or story from an experienced guru can lead to new insights. But in the end it's you who is going to have to do it; away from your computer screen and having the guts to just do it. Because really sharpening your skills only happens with practice.

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The development of e-doing

How do we combine the best of two worlds? Learning by practicing and keeping the costs low? Well, the answer can be found online after all, though in a completely new form. Websites and online platforms offer more and more possibilities. And this is precisely what Jan Schouten and Jorn van Wijk, the founders of New Heroes, also saw.

At the core, New Heroes is all about online behavioral transformation. And, yes, this happens online. While putting together their learning platform, together with occupational psychologists and educational experts, they looked at the best learning methods for transforming your skills set. These techniques were then implemented into online training programs - also known as Learning Journeys. All the more than 70 training programs are filled to the nook with learning procedures, all the way from video response modules to quizzes and questionnaires. Additionally, with practical assignments, the participant is encouraged to practice the newly acquired skills offline. A supporter chosen by the participant personally, provides continuous feedback regarding the progress and the exercises. All this goes far beyond e-learning and becomes e-doing.

In this way, choosing for an online solution is no longer a compromise, but really the best possible way to train large groups of co-workers. And those assertives-to-be? They will soon be able to tell you exactly how it is.

This article previously appeared in Tijdschrift voor Ontwikkeling van Organisaties, juni 2017 edition.

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