“We have also instituted elements into our courses that mirror some of the traditional teaching tools which help bridge the gap between traditional teaching and learning and current technologies. There are several discrete components to our learning system and I will be elaborating on them when I speak on March 7/8 at the Chief Learning Officer Forum in New York.”
I work with learners of all ages and all demographics so it is critical for me to design learning events and interventions that cross generational gaps. It was critical for me to create a user-friendly infrastructure that would work in all types of environments. The employees in our organization range in age from their early twenties to people in their sixties and sometimes seventies. And given that demographic, you can imagine that there is also a tremendous range in experience level; from the college intern just starting his or her career to the person with decades of experience. Adding to this demographic mix is that our learners are literally located geographically all over the U.S., and actually all over the world. For example, we have employees in the UK, Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Poland, Germany, and India and other locations as well. For me, it’s not just about overcoming a generational gap. It is critical to have a strategy that crosses over and through the various demographics. Let me share a little background with you, so you can see how this is done.
“It was critical for me to create a user-friendly infrastructure that would work in all types of environments. The employees in our organization range in age from their early twenties to people in their sixties and sometimes seventies.”
The first demographic that I addressed when we first developed the Academy of Engineering Excellence strategy is actually not age or experience, but geographic location. When I was first asked to start the AEE, I benchmarked several internal organizations and some external companies as well. What I found out was that there was still very much a traditional paradigm in place where people were thought of education and learning as “coming to class”. There were frequent references to geographic location and costs associated with getting people to class or updating physical training classrooms with the latest technology. The challenge that faced me was that Hamilton Sundstrand had just merged with Goodrich Corporation and we had two challenges that were pretty substantial. We now had learners literally all over the world. We had budget concerns that would not allow us to send people all over the world for multiple days of training. So the first thing I did was to benchmark what we could do virtually. It was critical to my success that I figure out some way to transcend the barriers of location, and adjust to the barriers of time. I came up with the idea of offering courses in four delivery modes: virtual instructor led courses (synchronous events that transcend the barrier of location), recordings of the virtual instructor led courses (asynchronous events that transcend both location and time and are available 24×7), online self-study modules (asynchronous events that transcend both time and location and are available 24×7), and when we absolutely have to, we can offer on-ground, traditional, classroom based instructor led learning (synchronous events with a specific location and specific time).
“I came up with the idea of offering courses in four delivery modes: virtual instructor led courses…, recordings of the virtual instructor led courses…, online self-study modules …, and when we absolutely have to, we can offer on-ground, traditional, classroom based instructor led learning.”
The next thing I had to consider was how could I capitalize on the age and experience differences? We had a group of tremendously experienced experts who are literally the best experts we have. Often however, the experts weren’t known to each other and weren’t known to the students. We realized that we should be engaging the experts to teach the others and just as importantly, we needed to find a way to create a community where the experts could collaborate with each other and be more available to our general engineering population. In terms of experts teaching, sometimes this meant the older more experienced people teaching the younger people, but sometimes it meant younger people (who are familiar with new technologies and processes) teaching some of the older people. The key was to engage the pool of experts to teach, and focus on the content of what is being taught, to people who have a need to learn it. When I looked at it that way, the generational gap became less important. There are still generational gaps in terms of presentation and technology, but the infrastructure of the AEE has been designed to eliminate many of the hurdles. We have also instituted elements into our courses that mirror some of the traditional teaching tools (i.e. replacing a blackboard with a smart board) which helps bridge the gap between traditional teaching and learning and current technologies. There are several discrete components to our learning system and I will be elaborating on them when I speak on March 7/8 at the Chief Learning Officer Forum in New York.
“We realized that we should be engaging the experts to teach the others and just as importantly, we needed to find a way to create a community where the experts could collaborate with each other and be more available to our general engineering population.”
Technology, both emerging and stable technology is foundational to what we do. We use some common technology (such as webinars) and combine it with some innovative, instructional techniques to make the AEE a success. Without technology, the AEE would simply be a bricks and mortar internal university. And it would not be successful at all. I can share some of those tools in the masterclass in will deliver in New York.
I would have to say that the thing I am most proud of in my work is that the AEE is part of our Learning EcoSystem. We work with the functional disciplines and the community of experts to help learning occur, both at the organizational and individual level. We are set up to share and incorporate lessons learned and best practices organizationally. It is the goal that, the learning that happens through the AEE will translate into efficient use of time and information, reduced costs and rework and ultimately in delighted customers. The AEE is only a few years old, but I am thrilled that we are on a great trajectory to make a difference to our employees and our customers.
By Dr. Mary Bollash:
Dr. Mary Bollash, Adult Learning Professional, UTAS Academy of Engineering Excellence, is an instructional design for online learning expert with more than 20 years of experience focused primarily on application of adult learning theory in an organizational setting. In her current role she is responsible for the management, development, and growth of the internal university for over 8,000 engineering employees. Additionally, she is interfaces directly with senior management to identify learning needs, based on the needs of the business and works with UTAS Fellows to design and develop courses to meet those learning needs.