Elliot Gowans, senior VP International, D2L

As automation technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) continue to take on some of the more demanding tasks carried out by humans, traditional jobs are being redefined and the demand for certain skills is shifting.

According to a recent EU report, there are 61 million under-skilled adults who require support in professional development.

In light of this, it is predicted that significant reskilling will be required by a large share of the staff and employee learning programmes will have to keep up with the evolving technology and social landscape.

Continuously re-thinking and adapting adult education is vital if it is to become more accessible to every individual.

Efficient learning programmes could enable workers to remain valuable and future proof their skillset as job functions change.

Barriers to continuous professional development

With technology shortening the lifespan of skills, and employees often working longer into their lives, continuous professional development (CPD) has become critical to ensure workforces are flexible enough to adapt to rapidly changing market needs.

Although organisations may understand the need for CPD, the opportunities currently provided are often ‘one-size-fits-all’ and ill-suited to adequately address the ongoing shifts which require a more tailored, agile approach.

When adult learners seek to develop their skills outside of the courses supplied by their employers, they can come up against a number of potential barriers.

One of the most challenging aspects of extending professional development education is the cost – many adult students who consider participating in such courses face some prohibitive expenses.

Even if they choose a more affordable learning programme, it can often entail hidden costs such as administrative fees, books and transportation.

Putting aside the economic barriers, conventional professional development options also present other issues such as the required time commitment, which is often the key factor when selecting a suitable programme.

For many adult students looking to develop new professional skills, especially for those living in remote communities, it can be a challenge to attend a programme in person.

Having to study, attend classes and conduct research at a physical campus might deter a great number of adults from further honing their skills due to the commute alone.

These are just a couple of the reasons behind the need to develop and popularise new approaches to CPD – and this must become a priority.

The good news is that a new way of imparting valuable skills to adults can be achieved through education technology, alleviating many of the issues associated with current learning systems.

Making career development more flexible and engaging

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are one such solution to quickly and effectively expand learning opportunities for individuals and provide a truly future-proof means of course delivery.

A primary selling point here is flexibility. Utilising a VLE means that assignments or even face-to-face sessions can be completed at any time, reducing the chance of scheduling issues.

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Institutions can adopt a mobile-first, on-demand strategy that gives learners an opportunity to view course materials, resources, and provide or receive feedback from any location, at any time and across a range of devices.

As a society, we are accustomed to being ‘always on’ and thanks to the popularity of on-demand services like Netflix and similar offerings, this has become the new normal.

Having useful course content gathered and stored on a tablet or a smartphone is a clear incentive for today’s learners.  These features make it easy to align studies to individual daily routines particularly for those who already must balance work and family responsibilities.

When compared to traditional approaches to learning, the use of a VLE can offer a more engaging experience overall. While traditional training might rely on in-person assignments and presentations, online learning can enrich the programme with a variety of content.

Features including online forums, gamified tasks as well as face-to-face discussions to make studying more diverse and immersive can help create a more appealing overall experience.

VLEs can also provide a more unique learning experience when compared to the traditional approach. Course leaders have access to a treasure trove of learner data, which can offer previously unattainable levels of insight.

Through the use of data analytics, learner strengths and weaknesses over time can be identified, and more personalised skills-development programmes can be implemented to create adaptive and engaging training pathways.

Lastly, an efficient VLE also addresses financial barriers. Developing skills online rather than attending lectures on campus can greatly reduce the associated fees and facility costs that institutions require.

The future of CPD

With ongoing shifts within the workplace, there is no doubt that maintaining traditional, on-site approaches to CPD will not be sufficient in the future.

Doing so creates unnecessary constraints and challenges for learners, which can cause them to miss out on great learning opportunities and meaningful personal development.

However, by incorporating the flexibility and resource-efficiency that online courses and virtual learning offer, organisations can ensure that the learning experience is as convenient as it is engaging.

Elliot Gowans, Senior VP International, D2L

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