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The curious case of the “pick & mix”

This week saw the opening up of the bricks and mortar retail sector. The nation’s pent-up obsession with shopping was clear to see; queues around the block, shoppers poised and ready to fill baskets with items only recently deemed non-essential. After all, for the last three months we’ve been forced to shop differently. By necessity the pandemic has amplified the trend towards online retail: according to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, online retail sales grew 32.7% year on year in May.

We’ve also sought out and supported our local producers and retailers – both in person and online. The authenticity of the experience is one we’re keen to continue, and that’s not just in the Brown household judging by reports from food and drink organisation “Savour the Flavours”.

So why am I talking about retail when I work in the learning sector? Throughout my career, I’ve looked up and out, reflecting a naturally curious and inquisitive personality. I’m keen to learn from other sectors beyond the one within which I operate on a daily basis. Not only is it important for me, it benefits my customers.

The learning market is evolving. Just like retail, the learning industry was already well down the path of embracing digital solutions before the pandemic hit, yet it also recognised that face-to-face training needed to continue to play an important role (although admittedly, not so much right now!)

What then can WE learn from retail and consumer behaviour as we move forward?

  • Authenticity and realism are key to the process of learning. There is no substitute for the ultra-realistic training environment, where realism ensures that complacency does not impact the effectiveness of learning. The environment and scenario feel authentic, reflecting the role and the workplace. Ultra-realistic training is particularly important for sectors and roles which are complex, technical and/or safety critical. Realism provides that environment and opportunity for instant feedback which is fundamental to the learning process.
  • Technology amplifies the face-to-face experience. Where technology can add significant value is in separating knowledge acquisition from skills acquisition – learning versus practising. Deploying and using the right technology, at the right time, can provide significant advantages as face-to-face time is maximised. Research shows that technology can be an effective tool in learning, when used for the right purpose. Being clear on this purpose before moving to implementation should ensure that technology does genuinely deliver value.
  • Not all online is equal. In the early days of the pandemic, it was easy to turn to the behemoths of the online world to fill the gap left by shuttered retailers. As local businesses pivoted towards online, our options increased and the offer became more appropriate to our needs. As training rooms were mothballed, organisations jumped to ‘miracle’ of eLearning. Many have now realised that eLearning provides some of the answers but that it is not the solution to all training needs. There’s a risk that learning is designed to fit the technology, rather than being driven by learner and organisational needs. We have a responsibility to our learners and our employees to use solutions which are right for the task at hand.

The shift towards a blended model was already underway – both in retail and in learning. The pandemic has both accelerated and amplified the change. A little like the childhood favourite, pick & mix, you have a choice, and what you select depends on your needs (or how much pocket money you have to spend).

As the learning sector we have a responsibility to learners and employees to choose what’s appropriate to the task at hand – to ensure quality of delivery and effectiveness of learning, each and every time.

Ray Brown – follow me on LinkedIn

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