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Friday, March 27, 2020

A cultural shift in training delivery is happening

First of all, I hope this post finds you and yours in good health. I hope that you have enough to eat and have enough resources to meet your basic needs. I know that many folks have been sent home to work, some have even lost their jobs (some temporarily, some permanently). With courts closing and pushing trial calendars out, most of the legal support world is on hold. It's rough out there. I get it. I'm living it too.

I've had ample time to get caught up on projects, write papers, and fulfill my continuing education requirements. I switched to on-line learning for my own continuing education a while back, going 100% on-line about two years ago. As a consequence, I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of training and education offerings.

With the current crisis, vendors in the forensic science space are stuck. The learner population has, for generations, operated under the belief that they need to be physically present in the room with the instructor and their fellow students. Providers have reinforced this by only offering in-person training. Some occasionally ventured on-line, but the learners weren't there; it wasn't profitable so it wasn't offered again.

Now, travel is restricted. People have been sent home. Without all the usual economic activities, municipalities are seeing gigantic holes in their budget projections. The state and local agencies are appealing to the federal government for help. As of today, that help is still being debated in Congress. What it will look like, what will be prioritized, is yet to be seen. But, if government agencies' reaction to this crisis mirrors that of the 2007-2010 financial crisis, personnel will face pay cuts and only essential functions will be funded. Last time, training was not deemed essential. I'm guessing that will be the case again.

The vendors understand this too. Most have announced changes in their licensing terms as well as updates to their training schedules, moving training on-line. But, it's not that easy to shift paradigms. Organizing and delivering an in-person training session is entirely different that organizing and delivering an on-line training session. I should know, I've done both.

Some vendors are offering "webinar" based training. With these, you log into a portal like Zoom, and you watch as the instructor leads you through a "broadcast" version of the usual in-person training. You might see a split screen with their talking head and their computer's screen. But, Zoom users are facing throttling issues as so many are now working from home. Zoom, and it's competitors, have offered so many "free" accounts that they're now getting swamped. A few instructors are using these "free" accounts to host these "webinars." It's not going well. Added to this is the dispersed nature of the learner population. A 9-5 class, hosted in New Jersey, means a west coast USA learner must be up and ready to learn at 6am. Not optimal. I faced this issue learning SalvationData's VIP. Given their instructor was in central China, the course ran from 6-10pm, then continued in the early morning after I got a rather brief nap. It was crazy.

The other problem is price. If a vendor is utilizing a free or low cost service to host a webinar, do you expect to pay the same price as an in-person training session where you can not only get hands-on help from the instructor, but you can interact with your fellow learners? I should think not. Yet, many vendors do not discount their on-line offerings, or offer minimal discounts. They're counting on the fact that it's often the case that the learner is not spending their own money, but drawing from training funds at their agency. They're not price conscious because they don't have to be. Now, with the current budget uncertainty, learners must be very price conscious if they're going to get their training requests approved.

I share the aspirational goals of my country's leaders in that I hope to see the country back to work by Easter. It's aspirational - a best case scenario. Given the hit that the economy of the world has taken, I don't think the old training model will ever see the light of day again. Vendors must face the reality of restricted funds and restricted travel.

Back when I was working with Amped Software, Inc., and with Axon, many of us saw this problem coming. We saw the mentality of treating training like an extended vacation as unsustainable. Training staff can not be everywhere at once. Staffing costs are quite expensive, as is travel to the training location. In an economic crisis, the first thing to get eliminated was training. It happened before. It would happen again - and it has. I spent about a year researching the best options for moving on-line, eventually arriving at LearnUpon as our LMS provider about time the deal between Amped and Axon collapsed. When Apex was born from this, we were ready to move our offerings on-line. First out of the gate was Statistics for Forensic Analysts, a fully validated course delivered on-line as micro learning. Along the way to that, I earned a Masters in Education - Instructional Design.

All of my in-person courses have been totally revamped and assembled as micro learning offerings. The design and delivery isn't negatively affected by bandwidth problems. Our more popular introductory courses are currently available and have an active learner populations. They're steeply discounted versus in-person offerings. We don't use "free" webinar services, we have invested in a state of the art LMS, which does cost us a bit of money each year. Our more advanced courses will be available soon, now that I have more time to focus on the deliverables. Deliverables? Yes, our Photogrammetry class, for example, includes a complete set of instructions for going to your local building supply store in order to get the materials you'll need to build a reference rig for creating reverse projection recordings. It also includes the printer's template for creating your own resolution / height charts. With the current travel restrictions, as well as business' focus on the current crisis, it's not responsible to require learners to venture out to do these things. Thus, we'll wait until the world recovers.

Yes, we're obviously not offering "official" "vendor approved" courses. But, in fairness, how many vendors have instructional designers on staff? How many have formally validated their on-line courses as fulfilling their stated learning goals? How many have years of experience in the on-line space and utilize the best tools to deliver their training? To that end, how many actually understand how to create learning goals and outcomes for on-line learning events, then deliver upon those goals? Given the amount of grief I'm witnessing - head over to LinkedIn to see the stories - I'm guessing that learners are experiencing pretty terrible courses. Just because one is a subject matter expert, or a good in-person instructor, does not mean that one will be successful delivering upon learning goals in the asynchronous e-learning space.

Once you get settled and are looking for something to distract you from the fact that you've run through the entirety of the Netflix catalog, we're here for you with some amazing learning opportunities. You can sign up and start learning any time, no need to wait or coordinate schedules in order to attend a "webinar" hosted in some distant location. Our learning opportunities fit your schedule, that's the beauty of micro learning.

Have hope, my friends. Make aspirational goals. We'll get through this. Let's utilize the downtime to create good habits of self-care and self-improvement. Let's not waste our most precious resource, time. Have a great day.

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