Communication Skills Training For A 21st Century Workforce

Shivangi Gupta, Assistant Director - English, British Council India The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations & educational opportunities which promotes a wider knowledge of the UK and the English language. Also encouraging cultural, scientific, technological and educational co-operation with the UK, and changing people’s lives through access to education, skills, qualifications, culture and society.

India is expected to become the world’s youngest country by 2021, with 64 percent of its population in the working age group of 20-35. Each year 15 million people enter the workforce in India, yet according to the World Economic Forum, more than 75 percent are not considered job-ready.

What are these skills that can make our workforce job-ready and productive? According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, ‘Talent Developers, Executives and People Managers agree that training for soft skills is the top priority for talent development teams in not just India, but across the world. In several other employ ability studies, lack of communication skills and what are called 21st century or core skills are cited as the reason why a significant section of Indian graduates are found unemployable. Skills now have a short shelf-life and what employers want is employees who can unlearn & relearn in order to adapt to the pace of change.

In this context, the role of Learning & Development in an organisation becomes more critical and challenging. But here is where things get interesting. With digital technology, L&D managers have many new and innovative L&D tools, which they can use to provide personalised, measurable and outcome-based to their staff. So, what is stopping us? Why aren’t L&D managers using the full potential of online learning? Online learning has a number of myths associated with it. Here are the top three that I encounter:

Myth 1: Trainees will not stay motivated through the online program and drop-out. Learner motivation is important to ensure positive learning outcomes in any training program. However, this isn’t something that exclusively impacts online learning. Any experienced trainer would tell you that irrespective of the mode of training, they
spend a lot of effort in building learning motivation and learner training. Online learning allows L&D managers to track learners as they progress through the course and intervene as needed to improve the learning experience.

" In today's world where work is increasingly decentralised, where teams are mobile & global, online learning enables flexibility and scalability like never before"

Myth 2: Online learning has no interaction. Ask any student of the British Council’s myEnglish course and they’ll tell you how interactive the live online classes are. A live class format is just like being in a real class, with your teacher and classmates. With technology, such as breakout rooms, teachers can enable group and pair work in the class and use features such as annotations & polls to make the class really engaging. Even in a MOOC, where most of the interaction is asynchronous via forums, there is ample opportunity for interaction with people around the world, something which is unique to online learning. Moreover, communication in the 21st century is as online as it is face-to-face, and online learning helps foster these skills.

Myth 3: Online learning is not as effective as a face-to-face training program. A 2009 U.S. Department of Education study on blended states, “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on an average, that those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction”. Students who mix online learning with traditional course work (i.e., blended learning) do ever better. Other studies on the flipped-classroom approach indicate that this approach allows for successful implementation of differentiation and independent study. What it means in simple terms is that blended learning, through greater personalisation to learner needs, enables similar, if not better, learning outcomes than traditional face-to-face instruction. It also builds independent study skills in students, which are transferable and valuable to have in a 21st century workforce.

L&D managers have access to a variety of online learning options. British Council,inpartnership with Future Learn, offers some of the most popular MOOCs on English communication skills that are a great way of acquiring new skills and learning with people around the world. Mobile learning apps are great for learning on the move and making learning more engaging. Blended learning courses, such as the British Council’s myEnglish, offer a very potent mix of taught and self access learning through the flipped classroom approach. The latest virtual classroom tech used in blended learning provides great convenience and flexibility for a dispersed and mobile workforce. Additionally, L&D managers mustn’t underestimate the value of an online library, which provides employees with books, magazines, journals, and others. Such a resource can be a treasure trove of information and open-up people to new ideas & information.

As the nature of jobs, communication, and collaboration changes, the way we train our workforce on soft skills also need to evolve. Online learning can provide greater choice and allow for co-curation of learning by employees and their employer. The aspects of independent learning and self-development that online learning instils in learners are exactly what the workforce need today in order to be able to reinvent themselves for new jobs of tomorrow. It has the ability to provide greater data and insight on learners and learning to trainers and L&D managers. As technology such as speech recognition becomes more sophisticated, online learning can be a great tool for communication skills trainers to make learning more precise and differentiated. In today’s world where work is increasingly decentralised, where teams are mobile & global, online learning enables flexibility and scalability like never before.