Our world demands constant learning at a very fast pace. Learning on demand is now an essential lifestyle to gain the knowledge we need, at work, at home and in school. Today, anything we want to know or need to know is readily accessible. We can get the knowledge we are looking for, right now!
As we become more familiar with the available methods for learning on demand, we will create more opportunities. We will begin utilizing learning on demand to our advantage, integrating it into our lives on a daily basis. Learning on demand is deliverable in any learning modality or VARK (Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinesthetic). When learning on demand is available for immediate access and use, any person can acquire knowledge on an as needed basis within a reasonably short-term frame of time.
Learning on demand includes virtual (online) training, classes, webinars and in-house training at work. For example, let’s say a manager realizes several people in his department are having a difficult time catching onto a newly introduced task. The manager notices things aren’t flowing smoothly even though everyone received a quick brief on how to perform the new task. He then opts to check on the company’s available modules for learning on demand. He schedules a half-day training session for the following day. Facilitated interaction assures application to the associated task. The manager is confident this approach will resolve the issue. The demand for learning was there and the cost was low. Resources were available to train people now, for an immediate benefit. Learning on demand methods and signing people up for a lengthy expensive course, making vague promises, sometime in the distant future, cannot even compete. Likely, the course would teach many additional concepts not immediately necessary to complete the task.
Fortunately, our modern Internet world supports learning on demand. Unfortunately, our legacy education methods are stuck in a “factory-style” learning environment, all relics from a bygone era. The Internet opens up nearly unlimited options for learning a welcome advantage over the slim pickings previously available.
By “traditional learning,” we are referring to: K-12 education, self-study from a book, classroom learning and degree path learning. For many people, these methods are now too slow, too irrelevant or too expensive. For a stiff price and a major commitment, we get too little information, or even worse, the wrong information. The transaction cost is too high and the benefits often do not justify the required investment. Too many students are not learning what they really need to know to do their jobs and to navigate life. What role does traditional education serve in an Internet age, where everything is instant and nearly free? To justify the cost, K-12 schools and universities are now under great pressure to answer this question.
Many people who do not want to invest themselves in learning. Some don’t like to read. Others just cannot sit still in a classroom that long. Many do not want to do the homework. Others have testing anxiety and don’t test well, even though they know the information. While these are all obstacles to learning and performance in a traditional classroom setting, they need not be impediments to success. Learning on demand can be a viable alternative in these situations.
Learning requires only humility, curiosity, a work ethic, perseverance and willingness to reach out to others and ask questions. Anyone with these qualities can learn anything they want to learn, anytime they need to learn it. Fortunately, we can reach out on the Internet and learn just about anything at near-zero cost. If you are willing to invest the time, you can learn what you need to know.
Education is Changing
Traditional post-secondary education is changing and we are in a great transition. The higher education bubble is about to burst, primarily because many higher education curriculums are a poor value. By sharp contrast, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are establishing themselves in the market. One MOOC course can support up to 100,000 students attending the same class from around the world. MOOCs are truly an information age marvel. Taught by some of the finest professors, instructors and lecturers, MOOCs make the best teachers accessible to every person, making this learning on demand option appealing to so many. Coursera  and Udacity  are recent innovators bringing MOOCS to the world.
Why learn? We need to get a job done and we’re missing information or the problem-solving skills necessary to complete the work on a satisfactory level. In the ideal scenario, we would go to a class Monday night then go back to work Tuesday morning and implement what we learned. Most learning is not like this. Huge ponderous textbooks, 1,300 pages long, weighing 9 pounds and costing hundreds of dollars burden the lives of students! I ask, “Is all that really necessary?” I say, “No!” In the course of a lifetime, I have learned that the most useful knowledge and the most useful skills are really a matter of understanding a handful of first principles. Once acquired, applying these principles can solve any problem. However, most courses do not teach this way. A great many courses teach students what to think and what to know, but not how to think and how to figure out. For instance, a teacher might show students all the different species of fish and teach them their names but never actually teach them about the common fish features, which distinguish all fish from other species. Other useful information, such as facts about the various lures or bait used to catch different species of fish or where these fish live in the world are never taught. We yearn to learn more because conventional methods fall short in filling these gaps.
I am a big fan of learning on demand. For training professionals at work, my personal favorite delivery style is a half-day session consisting of a one-hour learning module, combined with 3 to 3.5 hours of facilitated interaction. During the session, we immediately apply the learning by working on a real problem. In class, we apply the new knowledge and make practical progress toward solving a problem or mitigating an issue. Immediate application makes learning real. Time pressures and real-life cost pressures constrain the information delivery to the most essential concepts. There can’t be any fluff. The content must be “all killer and no filler.” Immediately applying the learning makes the learning relevant and meaningful. Applying the newly learned information in a real-life scenario is more impactful and thus more likely retained for future application. This is in sharp contrast to traditional education methods, which inundate us with too much classroom, too much lecture, too much book, with zero application. Traditional methods do not really promote learning and impart knowledge nearly as well as practical hands-on activities, where the students actually learn firsthand by doing or by practicing. Teaching by working real-life problems is more difficult and requires more creativity, but is so much more effective. Fortunately, we don’t have to dream up all the content ourselves. Thought leaders in education are paving the way.
Most adult learners are self-motivated. However, as adults, they need to know or want to justify why they are taking the time out of their busy day to learn something their boss is asking them to learn. Context is critical. The Principles of Adult Learning  infographic below shows adult learning needs and modalities.
Learning at Night, Q&A by Day
Some educators are challenging all our pre-conceived notions about teaching and learning. Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, is a thought leader in education. His online short courses are 10 to 20 minutes per lecture. In a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, “Turning the Classroom Upside Down,” , Mr. Khan proposes to “flip” the traditional education model, by asking the question: “Why not have lectures at home and ‘homework’ at school—and let students learn at their own pace?” Students would learn at home at night, at their own pace, using the interactive online video tools. In class during the day, the students do homework while the teacher answers questions and helps resolve any difficulties in understanding. The Internet brings the lesson to the student, when the student is ready to learn. This is learning on demand or learning just in time!
Andy Pattantyus, CPIM is president of Strategic Modularity, Inc., a systems engineering consulting firm that works with clients on process oriented Lean Transformation projects, including initiatives to improve administrative workflows. Andy is also an active member of APICS-SFV and The ACA Group. If you would like to get in touch with Strategic Modularity, Inc., contact Andy here.
 Khan, S. (2011, April 9). Turning the Classroom Upside Down. The Wall Street Journal, us ed. Retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704101604576248713420747884.html?mod=googlenews_wsj