Editor’s Note: This presentation is provocative, evocative and disturbing. It needs careful analysis of the research and outcomes from an academic-professional perspective. This paper is analogous to having a well respected shoemaker being taught quite successfully how to craft shoes by someone who is barefoot!
The Key to Success in a Training Company
José Ignacio Aguaded Gómez, Manuel Fandos Igado
Master-D is a training company that was founded in 1994. It was initially comprised of 10 people. Now has more than a thousand employees and has branches in five different countries across three continents. This company owes a great deal of its success to the concept of blended learning, or its unique manner of understanding this educational form which we like to call open training.
In the following pages we will examine some of the principles of a successful business based on this training model.
Keywords: Blended learning, open training, e-learning, distance learning
First of all, it should be made clear that businesses are exactly that, business. Companies and their know how is not about reflecting on concepts, models, theories, or other reflections surrounding the paradigms which support one way or another way of proceeding. Companies, Master-D, at least, wants to be practical and for this reason it follows the Spanish refrain The cobbler for his shoes (Stick to what you know or Leave it to the experts).
With this in mind, we are not going to discuss whether the terms blended learning (Bartolomé, 2004) or flexible learning (Salinas, 1999) or semipresent teaching (Bartolomé, 2001; Leao y Bartolomé 2003) or mixed training (Pascual 2003) or any other such terms are appropriate. Master-D has decided on the term Open training.
In fact we are with Coathen (2003) and Marsh (2003) when they define blended learning as a way of learning which combines presential teaching and non presential technology,
We hold that the essential idea is the one which considers the key to success to be any combination of the available methods which facilitate learning and resolve the specific problems of each learner (or in business; client).
Some Ideas to get Started
For some reason there are issues of mistrust between educational institutions and training companies. This mistrust mainly comes form the educational institutes but let us forget that for a moment.
In certain sectors of the educational community, to suggest that education can be good business is clearly a provocation.
It is obvious that people who think in that way have little idea about business. By this stage, these Manichean concepts should have been banished for life (Puech 2006). In business it is not obligatory that someone wins and someone loses. It is quite possible that both parties win and this is the true vision of a company in education. Isn’t it true that editorials and schools take full advantage of their text books?
Whoever has tried to make a fortune in education has failed miserably. In Spain there were the notorious cases of Opening and Aidea in 2002. For this reason, the reputation given, at least in some cases, is unfair. The opinion of some academics is to link business - also those ones which are involved in training courses - with a kind of cut throat neo-capitalism whose only concern is profit and for this reason the final quality of the product is unsatisfactory.
This suggestion is just as fair as giving credit to the notion that universities are riddled with nepotism, there are some well renowned university professors who ascertain that this situation does exist and they worry that there are public institutions which are more interested in image and public opinion or their own interests rather than teaching or in education as a whole.
Equally, it would be unfair to dismiss the idea that some of the problems which afflict our educational institutions could be resolved using solid business sense. Let’s not be tempted to involve human resources. However, without a doubt, it would do them a world of good to have to declare their successes, or have freedom of management or explain skilful budgets (as long as these are accompanied by impressive results) which, generally speaking, the private sector demands and which the public sector lacks.
However this is not the case.
On the other hand, we might agree that the introduction of technology in the educational field may allow certain financial cut backs in the teaching staff as some authors have predicted (Marsh 2003) but we also believe that there are clear gains such as investment capital, product creation, housing, broadband, servers, etc . . .
Introduction of this technology in training companies requires a huge effort on the part of its staff to learn, to evaluate, and to be constantly up to date with the teaching possibilities, and the other possibilities either motivational or for the production of materials and contents. This investment obviously takes up an important part of a companys’ costs. Pincas (2003) discusses a soft option to introduce TIC into teaching bodies. Companies do not even consider this, if a professional from the company needs training or needs to be brought up to date, the company itself provides this, however it expects favourable results from this training, it is not up for discussion, it forms part of the essence of business; investments should be followed by returns whatever the subject.
It is an absolute fallacy to say that training companies, the real ones, (not those that only look to make easy money), choose e-learning or blended learning because it brings more profits with less costs. No.
Businesses, unlike some education centres, cannot have captive clients. Businesses have to accommodate the needs of their clients, they have to give a service and a product which satisfies their clients. Training companies cannot do anything but perceive their business as an opportunity to ‘win – win’. Otherwise they are doomed to failure.
Blended Learning: A Solution
Nobody can disagree today that in this society important changes are taking place.
Ideologically, technologies, communication systems, scientific discoveries are bringing about a change in our way of perceiving the world and our reality. Economically speaking, society is leaning towards the service sector and pays more attention to images and information than to products.
As for organization, teamwork is highly valued where the capacity to adapt and continuous learning are fundamental. As for personnel the precariousness of the job market can lead to conflicts in working relationships. (Garrido y Valverde,1999)
Today’s worker finds himself in a world which is changing at an incredible speed. In fact, the changes are occurring so fast that, what was learned in childhood a generation ago is of little use a few years later as an adult. The rhythm of change in society is so fast that the basic training given is not sufficient to respond to all the present and future necessities in society.
For years now people have believed that training should be life long and that continuous training is a key element in a developed modern society. The important changes that technology is introducing into the workplace have made this principle more evident than ever.
Bell (1979) established that knowledge was the strategic principal resource in post-industrial society. Previously, Drucker (1993) appears to have been the first to acknowledge that humanity is entering into a society of knowledge.
However to create that society of knowledge we must try to improve society’s capacity for learning. In order to do this, we must improve the facilities for learning, so that people learn to learn. We already talk about a learning society, supported by information and technology, where the paradigm of teaching becomes learning. (Adell 1997).
Aiello (2004) quoting Castells (2002) proves that the real change in our society consists of a new form of collating knowledge and production through what we call a network society. In this way, (Castells2002) society evolves in an organized way using as a starting point the capitalism which Max Webber (1993) proposed, and relates to the business framework and to the experience which we are discussing. We will come back to this point.
However we are now with Bartolomé (2004) where he considers learning to be an individual activity of the pupil, and that teachers can not do anymore than guide, accompany and facilitate…whatever we agree, yet learning is the responsibility of the learner and as such he must do it.
So given that learning is something that the learner does whenever he wishes or whenever he can, we as training companies have had to look for formulae to offer this accompanying service, tutoring services or orientation in the most flexible way possible; in business we are certain that we have to go or be exactly where the client may need you.
In this way, the time and space (the moment and the place) where learning can take place is flexible since each person’s individual circumstances are his or her own.
Within this framework and from this perspective, blended learning or our particular adaptation of this model within our also very particular version of open training has been one of the reasons for our success. Our belief in this model supports a decision which is perfectly aligned with the vision and the strategy of this company and this has allowed its growth, its consolidation and the high level of satisfaction which our clients enjoy, some 25,000 new students in the last five years.
What Differentiates us from the rest
As we have already stated above, any business is reliant on its clients and these clients want answers, not judicious debates on what constitutes the paradigm, the model or the theory upon which a certain way of behaving depends.
The way a business works does not have to conform to any learning principles which can be discerned by the use of new technologies, (Kemp and Smellie 1989) or invest effort and resources to develop and decipher the theories behind some of the techniques and technologies most frequently used in teaching and learning (Tomei 2003).
Master-D, as a company which offers open training has never considered if the exercises and practice proposed in these teaching tools originate from a particular theory, or whether the way the information is presented is more or less compatible with certain cognitive theories or indeed if the collaborative work which it proposes is more or less humanist. These questions, as we stated above, are for others to ask.
In this sense, companies have an inherently eclectic ethos, any theorist will recognise today that in real terms, all theories work in parts and all have certain limitations; in the end the client needs a service i.e. a solution to his problem, he wants answers tailored to his particular problem and situation.
Therefore, the first difference is that the work done in training companies can never find a place in academic institutions dedicated to discussion and theoretical reflection, and often, for this very reason, its work and results get no recognition apart from the concrete results of each case.
The business world by definition must be grounded in practicality.
First of all there is a noticeable difference between those teachers who work in business and those who work outside the business world. A teacher working in a company such as this one reflects on his work each time a pupil of his/hers sits an exam. This happens to such an extent that part of his salary depends on the results of his pupils. Anyone who drops out of the course or fails a course is also a failure for the teacher since this affects the teacher’s salary.
In other educational contexts the teacher is both examiner and examinee. Here he/she is clearly the examinee.
From this example we could obviously derive many consequences and differences which would largely discredit the opinion –a widespread one– that in these models of mixed teaching, the saturation or lack of preparation of the tutors means that many students abandon the courses and therefore the results are quite poor.
Obviously, there are students who give up but they do so because learning is an individual matter for the learner, and whether we like it or not the onus of learning falls on the learner. In our point of view there are opinions which are more demagogic than realistic which blame failures on inadequate design of the I.T. tools or on a lack of follow-up or little motivation on the part of the teacher or on the channel through which the information is provided etc. Without denying that these problems exist, neither can we deny that it is much easier to see other people’s faults than our own and therefore, blame others for our own failings.
Defending and declaring this idea that learning is an individual’s decision and one which requires a personal effort (even among our clients) is one of the reasons for our company’s success. Can you imagine a public sector worker being obliged to pay for a training course after matriculating because he is not taking full advantage of it?
In this company, Master-D, it happens. If someone needs some specific training we provide it, and the company pays the costs. If the employee is seen to be neglecting this opportunity then he is obliged to pay the costs himself.
This norm taken to an extreme, as it is in this case, commits to refund the money invested by the client if his objective is not reached provided that he himself has kept his side of the deal.
Training, Market and Trade
A certain Puritanism (or even hypocrisy) often prevents us from uttering the words training and education together with ‘dirty money’ business, market, money, client…
Let’s not create a polemic, no matter how many have done business by negotiating with social matters, disguised as charity work and supposedly free. (Fandos,2004)
At this point we should be aware that nothing is free, everything comes at a price, but a different matter altogether is who pays that price. It may be that one does not have to ‘pay’ for something (nothing at all or a perhaps a small part) but that ‘something’ almost always comes at a cost to someone.
From this perspective, and put simply, what’s wrong with considering the student or the pupil (also the teachers and other staff) for what they really are; clients (both internal and external)?
Let us go back to a previous point, real businesses and certainly ones which deal with training, are not the ones which are looking to make their fortune, or easy money. No. Real businesses are built on the win-win principle. Both sides (company and client / client and company) win. We work together to achieve our goal. Real companies go to such great lengths to realise this vision that it is essential that their objectives are closely linked to their client’s.
If we can accept this premise then training and business can be clearly linked.
Let us consider something which is obvious: business is linked to competition, therefore, by deduction, there is a certain element of competitively that training must bear in mind.
Let us continue with this series of syllogisms. It seems to be that this business spirit in the teaching field must be based on the principle of win-win in a competitive way and in the broadest sense of the word. (Deming 1989)
There are many ways to procure this element of competitively, one of them is to look for the difference, distinguish yourself from what the others do and how they do it, in order to open up a market, to offer a different service, and therefore to have more chances of success.
Concentrating on the client (pupil) to create a good relationship which is efficient and effective which delivers a ‘profit’ in the user and provides what each individual pupil really needs are aspects which differentiate us. This type of elements can be perfectly co-ordinated with blended learning or with open training and are intrinsic to the potential of web 2.0.
This situation, these possibilities for diversification, personalization, and differentiation of the various services, which individual clients demand, is the aura which surrounds the work of this company.
Because it is useful, because it allows us to tailor to the needs of each and every client, because it generates principles like those of ‘win-win’, because economy plus technology is viable and because it is flexible; these are just a few of our most outstanding characteristics, blended learning and open learning are becoming an essential part of this training company because apart from all those already mentioned, it allows, strengthens and facilitates business opportunities.
Offering a Different Approach
At the same time as society was changing its organisation, didactic organisation in education began to be questioned (Aiello, 2004), currently the debate is not about virtual versus live presentation. The general trend (Harvey, 1996) is to shift the focus from the teacher onto the learner, a focus which Master-D has had clear from its creation.
This is something which training companies have always understood: The most important thing is the person who is learning and their needs and that attention must be paid to them first and foremost, not on the contents of what he/she must learn or on the channel through which this information arrives.
Our principle is to offer solutions, not to pontificate about which is the best product or which has the best contents.
Since its outset, the mission of this company has been to help the greatest number of pupils reach their goals in the shortest time using an adequate product and excellent service.
If you pay attention to ‘the correct product’ and ‘excellent service’, it is very clear where the focus lies. Given that, as we stated above, learning is an individual and personal thing, the task of the training companies is not to influence learning, in fact we cannot do that. Its objective is to influence the accompaniment, the assessments as far as providing resources is concerned (both material and immaterial) which allows every single pupil to internalise and learn whatever they need.
The model, however, is based on each person; what he/she needs when they need it. Tutorials, certainly, but not at a pre-arranged time set at the beginning of the course (provided that this time coincides with the teaching staff’s timetable- and doesn’t clash with very important conferences!) The client calls the shots.
In our different approach, we are also convinced that the client does not have carte blanche to do whatever he likes simply because he is the client. We propose an itinerary for him to achieve his objective. From the beginning, it is clear that as he progresses with his studies and reaches milestones, the client/pupil gains access to new services, support and materials.
However, the work and the process of learning is up to the individual, but periodically, the pupil has to demonstrate that he is completing his part of the work and to ascertain that he/she has passed through certain points. The introduction of these check points transformed a company of distance learning into a company of open training and coaching.
In order to offer this excellent service which forms an essential part of the company’s mission, we decided to implement an investment plan which has allowed us to create 50 delegations/branches throughout Spain with teaching, information systems and communications departments which make up more than three quarters of the total workforce. As we can see this is far removed from the notion that blended learning or e-learning is popular in training companies because they can keep the costs down.
So, to stay with this subject, in order to offer a service and provide the appropriate work which personal learning requires, this company has made important investment of effort in technology.
The very concept of technology offers a plethora of options, definitions and shades (which I do not wish to enter into today). For training companies that have made a clear choice for technology the concept of these elements covers tools as well as channels and different means of communication and we are referring both to tools which exist and future developments in I.T. even things which we cannot imagine today. (Fandos 2007).
Today the use of technology in education is unavoidable (Aguaded, 1996) now. In this society geared towards information no one talks about betting on technology. Any company which does not have technology (or which does not use it) either does not exist or has its days numbered. That is nothing new.
However which technologies are we talking about? All of them. Those which exist and those which will exist in the future, because for training companies these technologies are no more than a medium through which they can offer a faster and better service.
From this perspective, Master-D uses its own virtual campus (www.masterd.es) television via IP(www.mastervision.es) MP3, platforms (http://masterd.netlanguages.com/platform), (www.hispanoaula.com) DVDs, CDRoms, chats, forums, multi-videoconferences, and ways of making the most of ipods, ephones, etc Why? Because these media are channels which allow, not financial savings, but a better and faster customer service.
Taking all of this into account, the successful results that this model offers are not only due to the use of technology or the design of the contents or to the innovations in communications through MMS or SMS or e-mails or any other innovation. No again. The successful results are due to the sum of the elements, the personnel, support material, technical resources and technology.
This balance is what we have named in Master-D open learning a model of work which we can gladly share with anyone who wishes to find out more about it. For their own gain, let us not forget that all these elements come together to benefit the client/pupil.
A Look to the Near Future
How will these educational processes which are contained within blended learning be developed is something that we cannot guess. The role of the company is to be vigilant about what is available and how to take advantage of new opportunities. Today it seems that the web applications 2.0 (Blogs, Wikis, Podcast, Youtube, Flickr, Del.icio.us…) are excellent instruments for the collaborative, autonomous learner and these are really have a place in the market. We have not discovered anything new. (Marques 2008)
However once again from a business point of view, in themselves these possibilities are considerable. An idea, an innovative proposal, a possibility is relevant when it becomes soomething commercially acceptable. Escorsa (1997) defines innovation as the process in which starting from an idea, an invention or recognition of a necessity, a product, a technique or a service is developed until it is commercially acceptable.
The web 2.0 has a lot of possibilities which the market is gradually accepting and which training companies are incorporating. However this presents companies with other problems: What contents? Who creates the material? How should I organize it? How can I distribute these in accordance with the client’s profile and needs?
These are just some of the questions which training companies must answer in order to be different and competitive as we said before.
It may be that whoever is reading these thoughts finds some incongruity with what we were discussing earlier. If the learner is collaborative one may think that the question we asked above ‘What contents?’ should not apply. The contents can be developed by networking, a working group that supports the web 2.0 And no, there is no incongruity because training companies know that the client and the network of pupils, effectively can create conditions and collaborative learning, but the client who pays, because he has the necessity, pays principally because he wants to be offered a solution. Of course, the solution cannot be that he resolves the problem himself. If that were so, why would he want the mediation of a company?
The problem however is clear.
The environment which surrounds web 2.0 is very interesting; however we must continue working on the creation of contents which develop all the potential of this setting.
There are more problems, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let us look at one more.
One of the most relevant potentials of the web 2.0, as we commented before, is the collaborative work which it allows. On the other hand, knowledge and technical expertise are elements or differentiating factors which some people do better than others, for example, a job interview, an official exam, a public exam. Some training companies find themselves in a dilemma, on the one hand learning can be better and make a more significant difference when it is done collaboratively; and on the other hand, showing all you know and sharing your expertise can be counterproductive when both have the same aspirations and are adversaries in a struggle to get the same place, the same job. How can the company reconcile the necessities of both clients?
There is no doubt that compared with traditional training the new field of telematics virtual training seem very complex because among other things they are made up of a complicated organization of teachers, trainers (in Master-D’s case) pupils, technicians and technology which all too often make communication difficult and for this reason, it is absolutely essential that in any organization that the internal philosophy and culture and the principles and values which sustain that culture and the commitment and mission of the business be fluid which fuels all the work of the collective.
Finally, after the explanation of this example is it feasible to ask, “What is the route that allows companies to live up to the expectations of its clients and at the same time maintain their competitively?” The answer is innovation.
To conclude, the phenomenon of blended learning, e-learning, and web 2.0 is encouraging , in our opinion, a movement towards analyses, reflection. It is generating a lot of proposals and investments and the impact of this is not yet being noticed out with the training companies. However the movement does exist.
Innovation is the key element when explaining competitively. Training companies which are currently in the market (and want to stay there) are working intensely in all different kinds of innovation to provide answers to the questions which we have posed. Nowadays there is a lot of investment in research and there are all types of activities in the sphere of technical innovation, social innovation and innovation in managerial methods. And innovation is clearly orientated towards development of a financial potential starting from social requirements (Rodriguez2003).
In order to achieve real innovation, to create channels which really answer these social requirements, and if we are able to develop an interesting economic potential at the same time (Why give this up?). what we need is serious interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work. Here there is a broad field of work to be done and we believe that business and universities, companies and administrations can work together. Society is asking this of us.
In the end, one matter remains clear, in our opinion, the raison d’être of institutions and companies who are dedicated to teaching is the learner; the most important thing is to offer a product and a service which guides the learner towards reaching his goals in such a way that allows him the greatest level of satisfaction, happiness and critical skills appropriate for his chosen field.
This is our objective and it is at your disposal.
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About the Authors
José Ignacio Aguaded Gómez.
Vicerrector de Tecnologías, Innovación y Calidad de la Universidad de Huelva, profesor en esta Universidad. Doctor en Psicopedagogía, maestro y licenciado en Ciencias de la Educación y en Filología Hispánica. Presidente fundador del Grupo Comunica. Es también director de la revista científica iberoamericana de comunicación y educación ‘Comunicar’, que se distribuye en Europa y América; y asesor científico de distintas revistas nacionales e internacionales.
José Ignacio Aguaded Gómez
Universidad de Huelva
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.uhu.es
Manuel Fandos Igado.
Relaciones Externas de Master-D S.A., multinacional de formación a distancia (50 centros en España, 3 en Portugal y presencia en Grecia, Brasil, China y Centroamérica).
Exasesor de formación permanente de TIC en distintos CPRs (Centros de Profesores y de Recursos) de la provincia de Zaragoza. Consultor de Kaleidos (servicios de orientación educativa y psicopedagógica). Doctor en Psicopedagogía. Licenciado en Estudios Eclesiásticos y Maestro.
Manuel Fandos Igado
e-mail: email@example.com http://www.masterd.es