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Moving from Factory-Style Course Production to Facilitating Learning

In order to deliver better corporate training to employees, institutions must change their instructional models to better facilitate learning, which will require a major shift in the way learning is typically delivered.

Higher education has previously seen to be very traditional in Finland. This meant “one-sided knowledge transfer” where lectures were executed mainly without dialogue (one speaks and others listen) to large groups of disengaged students, etc.

Of course there have always been some faculty members in universities who are active in developing the teaching side of the teaching and learning equation. This practice should not be just a teacher’s responsibility, but part of the strategic mission of universities. I am happy to say that this has changed during the past few years. Finnish universities have launched more student-centered approaches to teaching and learning as well as established teaching development methods related to cooperation and active participation.

More and more, corporate customers are studying in continuing and executive education programs in Aalto University. The latest survey we did for our corporate customers showed somewhat surprising results. Instead of just the competence development, the corporations value highly the degrees their employees get when they study in our programs.

For us as corporate training provider this means that we have to constantly evaluate our strategy and the development work we carry out, since there is more need for longer programs and not just short courses. Previously we have been putting more emphasis on the course production processes and technology than on the learning process.

A lot has been done to develop our corporate training programming over the past twenty years. There are some self-evident features; for example we don’t expect our customers to study in a group bigger than 20 participants, there is always a development project included in the programs—“a real project” from the participants’ work—and so on. But there is still a lot we can do to maximize the impact of teaching in our programs instead of just improving the course production processes.

More effort can be put on facilitating the learning for example by having dialogues with the participants after each module. If the participants can systematically reflect things they learn to their work, it will improve the effectiveness of the teaching and learning experience. This is, of course, time-consuming; it cannot be totally “on top of the lectures” and would have to replace some of the time otherwise dedicated to instruction. In order to do this we need to have new kind of roles in our organization, and this also challenges our own organizational, personnel and instructor development.

If we really take the responsibility of maximizing the learning of our customers, we have to be ready to introduce some policies which might make the participants dissatisfied at first. Transforming from being a participant to being a learner requires some drastic actions. It will require new kinds of contracts between the instructor and the learners about some practicalities, such as restricting the use of computers, emails and mobile phones during instruction time. This takes us away from our comfort-zone where we think that the customer is always right. However, the results have been very promising, after the first shock.

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