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Author's profile photo Chris Dwyer

The Rise of Non-Traditional Classroom Training

There are a number of key trends currently in convergence which are having a dramatic effect on the world of education. In this blog I want to explore these trends and SAP Education’s changing approach to them, and also get some feedback from the community on how SAP Education can better fit your requirements.


I want to start this blog with a video I spotted on YouTube; it’s a few years old now, but I think it brilliantly shows the first of the key trends I want to explore.

Let’s Call Them Millenials


Generation Y, Millenium Generation, Millenials, Technology-natives – whatever you call them, the current generation of students entering the workforce is having a big impact on the way training is delivered. In a recent broadcast, CBS TV in the US described them as “tech savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first.”


Millenials are always ‘on’, actively seeking information at the point it is required. They are a very demanding group, typically impatient to get their hands on whatever information they need, at exactly the time they need it. They typically ask lots of questions, and like to get help and coaching from those around them. They need to be heard, and tend to have a low attention span: attending a fiveday training course is not really going to suit this audience. And given that these Millenials will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, there is a definite need for training providers to change the way learning is provided.


e-Learning or e-Reference?


I attended a conference recently about Learning Technologies, and vividly recall one of the speakers discussing the twinned topics of e-learning and e-reference. He argued that many organisations acquire e-learning solutions when what they really needed was an e-reference solution.  He explained that this is what lies behind so many organisations being dissatisfied with e-learning.


Learning is best done in context, when the lessons being imparted are immediately reinforced in terms of real, practical experience. With e-learning, typically the learning activity is done ahead of time; the student is learning the information in order to use it at some point in future. If you like this is a “just in case” model for learning, where the topics are being covered in case you need it someday. This is of course very important – there are things that you might well need to know one day, and when that day comes you will have benefitted from learning about it in advance. Given the statement I made above about learning in context, how can we make this “just in case” learning more effective? Here we start to see animation, video and other cool stuff appearing within the e-learning, to help us reinforce the key learning objectives.

But what if I only need to the ability to quickly look up a specific piece of information in order to answer a specific question or address an immediate problem? This is a case in point for “just in time” learning, and the only thing which fancy animations and videos in e-learning are going to do is cause a lot of frustration. In this case, what I need is an e-reference solution. An e-reference system is designed to support this “just in time” approach, and typically features a some sort of contextspecific content, or a search engine as the primary route to the information needed. At SAP Education, we offer a solution which we believe performs both functions, called Knowledge Acceleration. It provides both e-learning content, as well as context specific help (e-reference) in the form of cue cards, work instructions, and so on.

Technology: Empowering and Enabling

IT is often referred to as an “enabler of technology”, but if sensitively applied it can also be described as “empowering technology”, as it shifts the emphasis from institutions to the individual. Those of us who have been around for a while will remember e-learning and virtual learning have been launched several times in the previous decadeswithout much success. We are seeing now that the technology has advanced to the stage where things are much more interactive and familiar, and as such the acceptance is growing in the market. Organisations better understand the benefits and also the shortcomings of these technologies (as in the e-learning or e-reference section above), and are really starting to make effective use of them while reducing the costs associated with traditional approaches to learning.

These new technologies will fuel student choice over where, when, and at what rate they study. This insensitivity to place and time has to be accommodated by the flexible modular approach of learning providers; we are seeing a definite shift in emphasis away from teaching and more towards learning.

We are also seeing a sharp rise in collaborative learning due to the increase in the use of online communities and social networking. There has been plenty of research over the years extolling the virtues of socio-cultural learning, whereby people learn through interaction with others. Informal learning, coaching, and learning from peers are common practices in many workplaces. What is new is the ease with which this collaboration can occur in the workplace with colleagues who may be physically located in another office or another country, or even with experts outside the organisation – all thanks to the introduction of social media.

Of course, there are organisations that focus on the “social” aspect of these sites and restrict their use within the corporate network. More enlightened organisations see the collaboration benefits that these sites can bring, potentially making employees more effective. When a new challenge appears, or in the early stages of some brilliant new idea, this ability to simply get online and find expert support in real time is invaluable.


With the rapid adoption of the BlackBerry, iPhone and other smart devices with internet access, new channels for content delivery have emerged. This begs the question: have learning providers been able to keep up with these changes?

Transforming the approach to learning

Being able to access context-specific content on-demand is the motivation behind SAP’s Knowledge Acceleration and eAcademy products. What we see with these offerings is that the student can exercise choice over when and where they access content, and at what rate they complete it.


This change in the way we deliver our learning content is also reflected in our traditional public training courses, which are being re-designed in an increasingly modular way to provide many more options for consumption for each of these smaller learning objects. Options include: delivery as part of a standard, traditional classroom-based course; virtually via Virtual Live Classroom; or as individual e-learning titles, available on-demand. We are currently rolling out on demand scheduling in Europe, allowing you to tell us when you’d like to attend a course – you can find out more here


The combination of factors I’ve described here is transforming the traditional learning environment into something simultaneously more social and personalised. While traditional learning is course-centric and driven by the learning providers, this new approach is learner-centric. Using new technologies SAP can provide the best content, on-demand, over the most appropriate channel, and provide remedial support if required, over any distance. This does not mean that our traditional offerings are being phased out though. We are in an interesting transition period where both traditional and non-traditional learning are in demand.


My hope is that learning providers like SAP Education, who are proactive in embracing these trends with the help of the appropriate technologies, are in a position to best satisfy the learning demands of the latest generation of learners.


Share your experiences, give us your feedback!


There are a number of important themes described above – I’d be keen to hear your views on some of these. For instance, what is your view on the separation of system types: e-Learning or e-Reference:


  • Do you have an e-learning solution that you are trying to use for e-reference?
  • Do you have an e-reference tool that doesn’t give you all you need in terms of e-learning?
  • Have you found something that supports both functions well?
  • Do any of you have first-hand experience with SAP Education’s Knowledge Acceleration tool?

SAP Education is currently working on our mobile learning strategy, so I’d also be interested to hear your views on mobile learning:


  • Do you have a smart phone or tablet?
  • Do you want or need the ability to consume learning via this device?
  • If so, what are some of the key characteristics you want in the mobile learning content (remember the earlier point about e-learning and e-reference as an example)?


I look forward to your feedback, and to engaging further with you all right here in SCN!

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