The industry of commercial learning services makes up an important part of the world economy. For example, among just four countries (the United States, England, Germany, and France), learning services represents more than 200 billion of economic activity, or about 2 percent of the total national GDP of these four nations.
In 2006, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created a technical committee with representation from several countries to develop a standard related to "learning services for nonformal education and training." But during the first meeting, the committee agreed that it could not move forward with the development of an international standard without finding out what learning professionals knew about the characteristics of learning inside and outside their countries and how they defined "quality standards."
That inquiry led to a comprehensive survey that examined learning professionals' attitudes about quality as well as standards. The responses from learning professionals in Australia, Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Korea, Canada, Japan, Poland, and the United States showed that learning services did not have the same parameters in all surveyed countries because of a lack of a commonly agreed-upon definition. This led the technical committee to create the following working definition: "Nonformal education means 16-plus years of education excluding formal (secondary, higher education, and recognized bachelors, masters, and doctoral) degrees."
The survey reveals that this market is developing. And in some countries, such as Korea, this development is clearly related to the creation of new delivery modes (e-learning, m-learning, or u-learning). Learning is now crucial in Canada because the country needs to train more foreign workers, who are crossing borders to find work.
The data also revealed that funding for learning services plays a role in how much learning is happening within a country. There seems to be one constant: where the cost figures are available, individuals contribute to roughly 40 percent of the national reported expense, while the rest is being shared equally by companies and by public entities (for example, state, regional, and other public agencies). The only exception is France, where individuals pay only 3 percent of the learning services expenses because a law passed in 1971 forces companies to invest 1.5 percent of the payroll in training.
Some major trends emerged from focus group meetings with each participating country:
- The bigger the organization, the more training it provides
- Demand for learning outcomes is increasing in all countries.
- The training function is expanding and is becoming more professional and more competency oriented.
- The number of learning functions (instructional design, needs analysis, assessment, and evaluation) is growing worldwide.
- Classroom learning, self-study, distance learning, e-learning, and blended learning are becoming popular modes of delivery for public and in-house courses in all countries surveyed.
The survey also found that where certification for learning exists, it is generally not mandatory. However, certifications are becoming more important in the job market and for receiving government funding in countries such as the United States, Australia, Germany, Ireland, Korea, and Japan. Accreditation processes for quality that were in use in surveyed countries were generally produced at the national level. National standards for learning services, unlike the international standards listed here, are generally not process oriented, and they focus on areas such as staff competencies, the educational or training offering, equipment and resources, or customer satisfaction.
"In the United States, for example, until just recently, many of the standards have been directed toward the learning professional," says Jennifer Naughton, a learning expert who helped draft the standards and directs the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credentialing program for ASTD's Certification Institute.
The survey results also identified three different areas where basic quality requirements for learning professionals were needed:
- learning services organization and quality management
- learning programs and processes, including needs analysis, curriculum planning, and assessments
- competencies and skills.
Applying the findings
The technical committee will use these three areas as a basis for the future international standard for learning. "The standard will provide learning services buyers with the information they need to assess the quality of providers and make informed selection decisions," states Michael Leimbach, vice president of global research and design for Wilson Learning and an expert who helped draft the standard.
"The standard will also allow providers of learning services to better understand the dimensions of quality and ultimately improve the quality of learning services industrywide," Leimbach adds.
The current goal is that by the Summer of 2010, the final standard will be published by ISO and be made available for organizations to adopt. T+D