On-the-job learning called most effective

August has become the new back-to-school month, usurping the title from September for kids in grade school and high school. Most universities and colleges still open their fall semesters in September.

That probably means that many of us are wondering whether we should be signing up for a college course, or some other type of class.

Textbooks and classroom learning have their place. They give people an overview of their work and why it’s important. Some technical courses actually teach skills that can be used on the job, or at least on some job if not your own.

Without detracting from the importance of education, training consultant Ram Charan says action is the real key to learning. He recommends building learning into the work. People learn more, says Charan, from active on-the-job training than from classroom instruction.

The Center for Workforce Development estimates that U.S. companies spend up to $50 billion a year on formal training, but that 70 percent of all workplace learning is actually informal, costs less, and is more effective.

In the real world of work, you often don’t know what you need to know until you need to know it. That’s where informal training comes into its own. It’s just-in-time learning, and that’s valuable. The return on investment is immediate for the company and the individual. It boosts morale, because people like to grow.

Charan also says a workplace full of people seeking and giving help to each other becomes a wellspring of ideas for continuous improvement.

Not taking any courses this year? That doesn’t mean you won’t be learning. In our organization, learning and building skills are a continuing process.

Facts about ‘distance learning’

More people are taking college courses online while retaining their full-time jobs. Research shows:

* There is no significant difference between classroom instruction and distance learning.

* Most online instruction has a high level of interaction with teams, and professors.

* Most employers see online learning as equal to or better than classrooms.

* Distance learners read more, write more, and do more research than students attending class in person.

* The costs of distance learning are comparable to classroom instruction.