Autonomous learner: is there any point in still having trainer?

The array of digital tools accessible to learners is growing. The distinction between corporate and private applications (Google Drive, Dropbox and other personal clouds) is increasingly hazy. The development of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), where employees use their own devices and software at work, refl ects a similar trend.TALKING POINT What role can the trainer play in this change? Does the trainer still serve a useful purpose?And if so, what?WHAT WE KNOWSelf-directed learning is a factAccording to Philippe Carré, author of «Sept piliers de l’auto formation» (Seven Keys to Self-Directed Learning), the learner is both the lead player and the author of his training, and is increasingly autonomous.However more autonomous does not mean more solitaryLearning remains an eminently social process. Philippe Mérieux, a university professor and specialist in educational science, believes that «We always learn on our own but never without others.» The combination of this social factor and the developments associated with digital technology gave rise to the theory of connectivist learning.Connectivism, a learning theory for the digital age Georges Siemens and Stephen Downes are the two leading proponents of connectivist theory. The theory’s main principles are as follows:Learning happens through connections in networks: these networks link up «nodes», which are sources of information.The purpose of learning must be to continually obtain up-to-date knowledge.The connections that enable us to learn more are more important than the sum of knowledge we have at any given moment in time.Decision-making – which relies on the selection of information - plays an active role in the learning process.It rests on transient foundations – knowledge is constantly evolving and its useful lifetime has become considerably shorter.Learning happens in a nebulous environment whose elements are constantly shifting - it is not always under the individual’s control.Learning may reside not in humans but in a database.The most important abilities are:
  • to be able to distinguish the really important information from what is less important;
  • to recognise when new information invalidates the frame of reference that used to guide decision-making;
  • to look after and maintain the connections in networks.
This is very different to a behaviourist approach, in which the trainer is the only person to hold knowledge and imposes his expertise and his learning pace on the learners.WHAT WE THINK ABOUT IT Trainers are more important than ever in learning programmes, but they must:Accept that they will no longer be the sole source of knowledge.Take into account the fact that knowledge acquisition will increasingly occur outside synchronous/classroom times, in a «flipped classroom» arrangement, so that synchronous times can be used for applying what has been learnt, interacting, and solving concrete problems.Broaden their range of digital technology in order to address learners who have broadened theirs.Change his temporal paradigm: the learners’ training will no longer be confi ned to the two days spent with the trainer, but will be a much longer process, in which the trainer can continue to play a role.Promote and sustain personal knowledge management by trying to make their learners as autonomous as possible so that they can manage on their own.New skills to developTo fit in with these changes in society and technology, trainers today must be:More perceptive of psychological aspects: they must be able to provide situational support and adapt to each learner (not only in the group dynamics).Humbler: sometimes the learners will be better informed than their trainer. Trainers must be able to take a critical look at themselves and welcome what the group can contribute.More digitally aware: trainers must know how to use digital tools and tap into their potential to up-date some of their practices and successfully blend digital technology and classroom training.More aware of what is going on out there: trainers should monitor and curate the latest developments. They need to be very organised and thorough in their monitoring, then share the results with their learners (blogs,, etc.).More concerned about marketing: trainers should make the effort to develop their personal brand. Be not only competent but «visible». There is a natural tendency to select «star» trainers. Which is why trainers should be increasingly meticulous about their «personal branding».from Innovation Handbook, Cegos, 2016