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A Ryerson University student uses her mobile phone in tangent with her laptop to complete online assignments for her class.Brian B. Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

On-the-job training? Forget the classroom and the clunky learning modules – there's an app for that.

It's no secret that legions of tech-happy, smartphone-wielding millennials are entering the job market every day, quickly supplanting baby boomers as the dominant demographic in the office. According to an Intuit report, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the Canadian work force by 2028.

And the younger generation isn't particularly receptive to how businesses are developing talent.

"Companies in Canada need to adjust their learning systems to accommodate the technologically savvy background of the generation," said Stephanie Chow, a 25-year-old employee at a financial services company in the Greater Toronto Area.

"The days of click-heavy modules with recorded, monotonous voices are gone. There should be videos, mobile apps, online Q&A sessions, online department spotlights and LinkedIn connections," she added.

A recent Accenture PLC report reached the same conclusion – if Canadian companies want to invest in their work forces and continue to compete, they need to scrap the chalkboards and join the digital age.

"The appetite for traditional, classroom-based training is declining as we have more and more innovative media formats," said Danielle Francis, the human capital lead for Accenture Canada's Financial Services.

Similarly, Learning Management Systems, online or intranet-based repositories where companies make training content available, which dominated the corporate training environment as recently as five years ago, are going out of style in a hurry.

"It becomes very difficult for people who are used to a digital type of environment … to now have to start to navigate through a big Learning Management System organized by codes and try to find what's right for them," Ms. Francis said. "It's not a very personalized experience."

It's no surprise that for millennials, who are accustomed to near-endless amounts of information at their fingertips, static corporate training modules leave much to be desired.

"The modules are elementary and the learning topics are too simple," Ms. Chow said. "The same information can be obtained from watching a two-minute YouTube video."

It's with these factors in mind that companies are rethinking how to train the next generation of workers, and turning to "smart learning systems," which Accenture says provide better access to knowledge, any time, anywhere and at a lower cost.

One example of a smart system is a Massive Open Online Course, which makes curriculum and course materials available online to an unlimited number of participants. In many cases, such as with the online university course-ware amalgam edX and popular online learning hub Khan Academy, courses are entirely free and designed to foster worldwide learning. MOOCs use a progress-based, multiplatform teaching style that incorporates videos, quizzes, standard text and other forms of digital storytelling, which research shows significantly raises retention rates.

Capitalizing on the successful platform, many companies are now incorporating similar training methods into their own systems. Telus Corp. is one example. The telecom giant has created the "Telus Collaboration House," where employees create an online presence, or avatar, and are able to go to different virtual rooms for training. While there, employees can interact with one another, discuss the training programs and ask questions.

Similarly, CGI Group Inc. houses an interactive intranet platform called CynerGI.

"It is member-centric and helps us communicate more transparently, supports open sharing and creates new knowledge by combining experience and intelligence, making our members' potential available on a global scale," said Bernard Labelle, senior vice-president of global human resources.

In addition to making its intranet more interactive, Mr. Labelle noted that CGI is moving toward a more virtual, "learn everywhere" strategy.

As employees are now more connected than ever through mobile devices, this concept of learning everywhere is an integral part of any smart learning system, and one that Ms. Francis feels has created a "huge opportunity."

"If you imagine someone taking the GO train, or the local train home from work, that's downtime when the employee could be productive and learning," she said. "It's a really tactical area that [companies] could really zero in and invest in."

Companies with extensive field forces or a large retail presence in particular, such as BCE Inc. or Loblaw Cos. Ltd., stand to benefit significantly from mobile learning, Accenture said. Both companies are already implementing new training methods. (BCE owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail.)

Bell has begun phasing out PC-based learning in favour of mobile, while Loblaw has started to implement mobile learning as a way of reaching its large in-store employee population. Though today only about 25 per cent of Loblaw's employees have access to online training, the majority of staff are expected to gain access to the training they need via mobile in the near future.

And as discovering talent is also an integral part of corporate success, businesses are also beginning to use social media to recruit employees. Sun Life Financial Inc., for example, uses a variety of social media channels to find both passive and active job seekers. Likewise, Royal Bank of Canada uses social media tools and youth job boards, such as TalentEgg Inc., to pursue and recruit potential employees.

Though millennials have already forced the workplace to adopt a multitude of changes as they've disrupted traditional ways of doing things in offices across the country, creating training methods with smaller price tags and better knowledge-retention rates is a change companies will likely be more than willing to embrace. In fact, businesses adopting smart learning systems today will likely be paid dividends by a better-educated work force tomorrow.

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