​Autonomous Learner: Is There Any Point In Still Having A Trainer?

20th May 2016

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Autonomous Learner: Is There Any Point In Still Having A Trainer?

Autonomous LearnerAs we know, the array of digital tools accessible to learners is growing. The distinction between corporate and private applications (Google Drive, Dropbox and other personal clouds) is increasingly hazy.

The development of BYOD (BringYour Own Device), where employees use their own devices and software at work, reflects a similar trend.

The latest Cegos Training & Development Barometer Survey shows that individuals also train outside the company, using distance-learning solutions (MOOCs, blogs, wikis, videos, etc.).

As tools, devices and training practices evolve so does the role of the learner. This concept is called learner autonomy and it is changing the way that the trainer and trainee interact at every level. These changes create some challenging questions for those responsible for the delivery of leadership and development:

  • What role can the trainer play in this change?
  • Does the trainer still serve a useful purpose?
  • And if so, what?

Self-Directed Learning Is A Fact

According to Philippe Carré, author of “Seven Keys to Self-Directed Learning”, the learner is both the lead player and the author of his training, and is increasingly autonomous.

However more autonomous does not mean more solitary.

Learning remains a social process. Philippe Mérieux, a university professor and specialist in educational science, was recently quoted as saying:

“We always learn on our own but never without others.”

The combination of this social factor and the developments associated with digital technology give rise to the theory of connectivist learning.

The Connectivist Learning Theory

Georges Siemens and Stephen Downes are the two leading proponents of connectivist theory. The theory’s main principles are as follows:

  • Learning happens through connections in networks: these networks link up «nodes», which are sources of information.
  • The purpose of learning must be to continually obtain up-to-date knowledge.
  • The connections that enable us to learn more are more important than the sum of knowledge we have at any given moment in time.
  • Decision-making – which relies on the selection of information – plays an active role in the learning process.
  • It rests on transient foundations – knowledge is constantly evolving and its useful lifetime has become considerably shorter.
  • Learning happens in an environment that is constantly shifting – it is not always under the individual’s control.
  • Learning may reside not in humans but in a database.
  • The most important abilities are:
    • the ability to distinguish the really important information from what is less important;
    • to recognise when new information invalidates the frame of reference that is used to guide decision-making;
    • to look after and maintain the connections in networks.

This is very different to a behaviourist approach, in which the trainer is the only person to hold knowledge and imposes his expertise and his learning pace on to the learners.

Trainers need to adapt and evolve

At Cegos, we believe that trainers are more important than ever in learning programmes. But trainers must also adapt and evolve. To do so, they need to:

  • Accept that they will no longer be the sole source of knowledge.
  • Take into account the fact that knowledge acquisition will increasingly occur outside synchronous/classroom times, in a flipped classroom arrangement, so that synchronous times can be used for applying what has been learnt, interacting, and solving concrete problems.
  • Broaden their range of digital technology in order to address learners who have broadened theirs.
  • Change this temporal paradigm: the learners’ training will no longer be confined to the two days spent with the trainer, but will be a much longer process, in which the trainer can continue to play a role.
  • Promote and sustain personal knowledge management by trying to make their learners as autonomous as possible so that they can manage on their own.

Changes in society and technology

To fit in with these changes in society and technology, trainers today must also be:

  • More perceptive of psychological aspects: they must be able to provide situational support and adapt to each learner (not only in the group dynamics).
  • Humbler: sometimes the learners will be better informed than their trainer. Trainers must be able to take a critical look at themselves and welcome what the group can contribute.
  • More digitally aware: trainers must know how to use digital tools and tap into their potential to up-date some of their practices and successfully blend digital technology and classroom training.
  • More aware of what is going on out there: trainers should monitor and curate the latest developments. They must be very organised and thorough in their monitoring, then share the results with their learners – via social media for example.
  • More concerned about marketing: trainers should make the effort to develop their personal brand. Be not only competent but visible. There is a natural tendency to select star trainers. Which is why trainers should be increasingly meticulous about their personal branding.