The Classroom Is Alive and Well

I was a bit surprised to read Shona Fletcher’s piece arguing that the classroom is dead and the future is in “e-learning and mobile learning”. She even argues that “The overall result is that rates of completion in mobile learning are higher.”

I’m sorry but I seriously question that. The rates of completion in our classroom courses exceed 99%. The only mobile courses that come close are those where completion is compulsory to access a system or continue in employment.

Over the last few years at Happy we have launched many different approaches: two minute productivity videos, live online learning, and virtual communities of practice. But the single most successful product has been our Happy Workplace leadership course. This does include online elements but the core of it is four days in the classroom, spread over six months. Yes, with real people interacting with each other in person.

Now, in our Happy Computers division, few people book classroom courses any more in Word, Access or even PowerPoint. But our classroom Excel courses are more popular than at any time in the last twenty years.

There are many ways to learn nowadays but classroom is still up there with the best. And, according to surveys, generally more popular than other approaches.
I was recently talking to somebody from Apple about feedback (“fearless feedback” as they call it). It is seen as so important, I was told, that every Apple employee gets training in it. “It is a five day classroom course.”

Hang on, this is Apple. If anybody is at the forefront of technology, and understanding what is cool, then it is surely Apple. But, they explained, “this is seen as so important that we cover it in the classroom.”

The same is true of training for the Genius Bars in the Apple stores. If you ask people who provides the best customer service in the UK, I find it splits between John Lewis and Apple stores. That is not achieved easily, and certainly not through doing a bit of mobile learning in between serving customers or logging onto a portal in your spare time.

Apart from taking great care in selecting staff, the key element is that every “Genius” attends a 14 day classroom programme before they are let near a customer.

I’m not suggesting that the only way to learn is in the classroom. If I’m a manager heading into a difficult conversation, then I might want a simple A4 sheet of tips, quickly downloaded from a learning portal. If I want to learn how to group my pivot table by month, or how to fix the gears on my bike, I’ll head to YouTube.
But if I’m trying to create cultural change in my organisation, or transform people’s leadership, or get a thorough grounding in Excel best practice, then I’d be looking to something with classroom, and engagement and interaction, at the core.

Think about your best and most enjoyable learning experiences. And, yes, it should be about designing great experiences, that are memorable and enjoyable. For a lot of us that has been in classrooms. And if that’s not the case for you, I’d invite you over to Happy to discover truly great learning – with real people.

About the author – Henry Stewart:

In early 1987, Henry Stewart was finance officer for The News on Sunday, a left-wing tabloid newspaper that successfully raised £6.5m from trade unions and Labour local authority pension funds. Six weeks after launch, the publication was bankrupt.

“The problem was not the talent or dedication of the people,” Henry says. “It was the working environment. We weren’t trusted, there was a strong ‘blame’ culture and we weren’t given the freedom to do our jobs. As a result, is was nearly impossible to get anything done”.

Determined to learn from this, he set up Happy Computers in his back room a year later. From a combination of experience, revaluation counselling and a few helpful tips from Richard Semler’s ‘Maverick’ book, he drew together the key principles of training and work that continue to form the backbone of Happy today.

In 2009, Henry was listed as one of the top 50 most influential business thinkers in the world by the Guru Radar of thinkers.

You can follow Henry on Twitter @happyhenry.

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