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New Ways To Learn

Giles O’Halloran takes a look at how learning has evolved in the digital era...

We have effectively moved to new ways of learning that reflect very different ways people learn as individuals. Some of these new ways of learning mean we can learn on the go, anywhere there is an internet connection, at any time and some learning resources out there are also free – meaning that there is zero cost to you to learn. So let’s take a high level overview at how learning has changed, what options are out there and things you might need to consider.

Learning Has Evolved

Most of us grew up with the industrialised teaching model. It was standardised across the majority of countries and prepared us for work in an industrial age. We learned from teachers who stood before a class, and much of what we learned relied on memory and repetition. This kind of learning prepared us for working in a factory (or later the office), where work was structured into manageable processes that relied on repetition, standardisation, specialisation and routine.

The school day was also broken down into the same working time you would find in a factory – registration (clock in), lessons (work), morning break (tea break), lessons (work), lunch break (lunch hour) etc. – and even later when work changed from factories to offices, we simply “copied and pasted” the same working methods as these were the most effective that we knew at the time.

However, life and what we do for work has changed a great deal. We are now in the information age and considered knowledge or interaction workers. Much of what we do is driven by technology, what we know and our ability to use that knowledge or capability in order to get work done. Many jobs we used to consider as basic or low level have been upskilled due to the impact of technology. We also appreciate that different people learn in different ways. 

There are lots of models out there, but what it comes down to is the individual – and it is very hard to accommodate the individual in a system built for mass education using the traditional teaching methods mentioned. This is why we have seen learning re-focused on the individual and their needs. Learning has therefore become by necessity more self-directed, customised and reliant on technology to allow this to happen. The individual has become more empowered to learn and technology has democratised the learning experience.

Distance Learning

This is not a new way of learning but one that was often looked down upon in the past. People felt that attending classes was better, but in reality distance learning provided the same content that needed to be learned, and allowed the individual to learn in way that suited them. This means that distance learning has continued to progress and be a popular way of learning.

There are some excellent providers (such as the Home Learning College) who are delivering professional and nationally recognised qualifications. In the same light, organisations like the Open University (OU) opened the eyes and minds of people to distance learning – whether through content in books, via television programmes or via online resources.

These organisations have evolved and survived in world that has changed because they cater to individual learning needs. So never look down on the distance learning option if it suits your learning style, it can be a great way to get what you need.


Whether you opt to use the OU, or pursue courses online via Coursera or even such prestigious global brands such as MIT, the fact is that the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) has become a part of today’s learning. You can download the content of your course and watch webinars at a time that suits you. They are accessible to anyone and everyone partaking, hence why they are massive – wherever you are in the globe, you can log in, download and learn.

You can participate online with other course members, communicate with tutors or experts and earn credits or accreditations that are often the fraction of the cost for some college or university courses. This is something higher education providers are anxious about, as centres of learning excellence (such as MIT, Harvard, Oxbridge etc.) can provide high quality learning globally and at a more reasonable cost to the student via the Internet.

Some content is also free. MIT and organisations like FutureLearn in the UK, publish and share free learning content that is considered university level. This means you can constantly learn and get a taste for courses or subjects that might be of interest to you or that can help you in your work. You can even use YouTube to learn in a bite size manner, as well as in a more structured way. There are free courses on there provided by individuals who want to help you learn, as well as by recognised international providers such as the Khan Academy. 

So take a look online if you want to learn – it’s how I developed my MS Excel knowledge – I didn’t go on a course, I watched YouTube videos! So, consider what online options are out there as they could save you money and be more suited to your individual learning style.

Learning Apps

The more that learning has become online, the more that apps are becoming part of the way we learn. Apps allow us to learn on the go as a mobile option. Lots of educational institutions are using apps in order to manage and push content to students. I recently joked with one university student I was interviewing that they didn’t even need to turn up to lectures – everything was shared online and even the tutors chatted via the apps when and if people needed. The advent of apps and platforms like Black Board Learn mean that content can be shared via mobile devices and at any time.

However, there are also apps like TED that allow you to tap into lectures and seminars on multiple subjects, as well as apps like Wikipedia that can help you keep your knowledge up to date. The point is, there are lots of apps out there, most of which are free or low cost, that allow you to learn on the go. So take a look at your apps catalogue and see whether there is an app that might help you or give you access to greater learning.

Learning Preferences

We have looked at some of the ways technology helps us learn and has changed how we learn. However, what it comes down to is the learning preference that we feel comfortable with. Many people learn from people they trust and work with (called “peer to peer” or P2P learning), and most people learn and develop more once they start doing a job or work (appropriately called” on the job learning” or OTJ).

Learning whilst working is something we do without thinking and we then then tap into others we deem to be better at something than us in order to learn more. This is why up to 90% of our learning is via on the job (70%) and from others we trust (20%). 

It is believed that only about 10% is from courses but it all comes down to how you prefer to digest learning. It is therefore worth you considering what works for you before you start spending money on courses or programmes. It could be that work experience, work shadowing, mentoring/coaching, distance learning or online learning might suit you more (and be easier on the pocket) than spending money on an expensive classroom based course.

Check The Outcomes

Whenever you are considering learning, always work out what you want to get from it and check whether that is possible. A lot of free learning may give you learning credits or hours, but it will take time to build up a full qualification. In the same light, always qualify the courses you sign up to and ensure they provide you with a qualification or level of recognition that you need. Learning has changed so much that even the levels have changed and this can therefore be confusing when checking the true value of qualifications that you are paying for.

It is therefore essential you do some research, check the validity of the learning and ensure the time and money you invest in that learning reaps the appropriate reward. There are so many different courses, levels, examining bodies, etc – you need to check for your own good so that you do not waste valuable time or money.

So I sincerely hope this article has made you think about learning options that suit you and made you consider alternative ways of learning that might be more in tune with your learning style and your budget. Take a look at the options, there are so many out there, and some of it is free. It is down to you to research and consider what works for you.

About The Author

Giles is an experienced HR and Recruitment professional who works as a freelance consultant, strategist, writer and coach. He started his HR career with IBM after first reading Modern Languages at Warwick University and becoming a successful technology recruiter He has since worked in other senior HR roles across Europe, advised at Board level, and implemented both strategic and operational HR business solutions.  He also spent 12 years as a reservist with the UK's Reserve Forces, serving first with the TA and later with the RAuxAF.

Giles is a columnist with a leading, MoD sponsored, international career transition publication, and has also written blogs for a number of websites and organisations on employment and the changing nature of work. He is passionate about technology, the value of networks and the future of work.

Giles focuses on career transition support for individuals (CVs/Resumes, LinkedIn, Interviews, Networking etc.), and effective people solutions for organisations (HR strategy, Talent, HR Technology, Digital HR, HR Mentoring/Business Partnering and Outplacement services) and has worked across a wider variety of diverse sectors.



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