This post is another installment in “Changing the Conversation” line of thinking. I reference the Learner-to-Performer Continuum in an earlier post, and thought a few words around the concept might connect another couple of dots. That said, this post is centered upon the continuum components and their purpose with a quick look at technology implications that help make a continuum continuous…or if you choose…sustainable.
At a high level, the Continuum (See Figure 1) tracks with the journey taken by a Learner through training experiences and their transition into the downstream, post-training work context. Funny thing happens early in this transition; Learners break free of their cocoon of a safe, controlled, structured learning environment to enter the real world of flying free [and without a net] as a Performer. Fighting a simulated fire in the classroom or on-line is not nearly as hot [or risky] as fighting the real deal in the work context. Their role [and their hat] changes, and the work context is where very real business impact hangs in the balance when flawless performance is required.
Not only do roles and hats change during this transition; the environment changes too. Performers are now in their respective workflows, and their moments of need are radically different. These needs are based upon the Performer attempting to overcome three challenges at the point of work including the ability to:
- Remember or apply knowledge gained during training
- React and adapt to change
- Respond in an agile manner when things go wrong, break or fail
Training was never intended to support a Performer in their work context. Training was not designed to be agile enough, or flexible enough to adapt to diverse needs, or accessible enough at the moment of need to support a workforce trying to be resilient and responsive in the pursuit of flawless performance. We find our Performers thrust into an environment where we [Training] have an extended mission to satisfy – the Performer’s needs within a dynamic learning and support ecosystem. Training is but one step in a much longer journey to sustainability, and that implies we do several things differently, and that we do them right. Consider these “right” things:
- Seamlessly, frictionlessly, and ubiquitously connect the right Learner/Performer;
- To the right Learning and/or Performer Support (PS) assets;
- At the right moment of need;
- In the right amount;
- In the right format; and
- To/from the right devices
This “extended mission” is not just the art of injecting additional PS content into a post-training environment and calling it reinforcement. PS is not limited to a post-training application. If we take this path, we are just sticking a Band-Aid on a busted paradigm. Waiting until performance challenges in the work context roll around to develop PS is the Band-Aid approach when preventative medicine is what we need. That implies we start planning our PS assets before the work context chaos breaks out, and…before we build the first storyboard.
Prepare & Deploy
In the first two phases of the Continuum, we accomplish what our traditional training paradigm has done for years. We train. We Deploy Learning. I’m suggesting that that effort can be split into two components – Prepare & Deploy. (See Figure 2)
Deployment of learning is where we train in the classroom, on-line, virtually via distance learning or with interactive video, or an exotic blend of any or all of these venues. Over the years that I’ve been in this business, the time available to Deploy Training has become a premium. Convincing stakeholders to pull their workforce off-task to “go to training” is more difficult than ever. To compensate, training is shrinking in size and duration, and unfortunately, so are training budgets. But there’s hope in this Continuum approach.
If we can avoid doing some of the things we used to do in the “classroom” deployment phase, we can reduce durations. I would argue we could eliminate some of it completely in special cases. By splitting Prepare off from Deploy we have an opportunity to extend the blend upstream in a manner to cover some key elements that produce Learner Readiness and could precede the formal training event that includes:
- Cover facts, definitions, concepts in a self-paced pre-training venue
- Introduce site maps and high-level process flow visuals in advance of training
- Use pre-requisite on-line learning in advance of a classroom event to cover the above
- Assign preparatory activities as pre-work before taking training
- Introduce Performer Support Objects (PSOs), other Tools, and where they are stashed
If we accomplish Prepare well, we no longer have to address these elements when we are ready to Deploy. Training time shrinks. Certainly one could argue that the Learner still has invest time to “do” the Prepare activities, and I would agree, but if they are shorter, objectized, and self-paced, they can be worked into pre-training activities a bit easier. I am aware of one case where a large company sent managers early access to a new electronic performance support system (EPSS) as a Prepare function prior to flying sales reps into HQ for formal Deploy product training events – nobody came to training. The managers called ahead the training date and stated that the PSOs on the EPSS described product and sales essentials sufficiently. They did not want or need additional “training.” That outcome eliminated 70% of the formal training effort for the sales force; not-to-mention whacking off a chunk of travel and housing expense to teach product sales training in a classroom; add to that benefit the time-off task that was eliminated as well.
Okay…so bagging classroom training might not be in your future, but…that kind of training method can take on a whole new look. Refer to Figure 2 again and notice the presence of PS integration into the classroom event. This could also be accomplished with on-line courses. The application of PS during the learning process is best accomplished when actual PSOs are applied in the context of experiential activities through job emulations, simulations, or some other hands-on opportunity to practice and demonstrate proficiency.
By integrating PS into the Deploy phase of the Continuum, we accomplish several things:
- We reduce the Performer’s need to remember everything
- We introduce and integrate a PSO/Tool into a real work-based scenario
- We align role-specific, task-centric PSO assets with the “Right Performers”
- We teach WHEN to use the PSO…and…WHERE to go to access it
And then we can validate at a different level. Sure, it’s still a level two evaluation, but what we are validating is stickier. I can’t remember my wife’s cell phone number, but I know how to use my phone to retrieve it, so remembering is not a source of performance deficit. The approach…and the technology… off-load much of what would otherwise be forgotten in the work context where less than flawless performance negatively impact tangible business outcomes.
Training is complete. We’ve reached graduation. Smile sheets are complete. Tests are passed. Participants have been tattooed as certified, and given the boot. They begin the free-fall, along with their knowledge retention, into the post-training work context where their potential to screw up represents a business liability; or a tangible loss; or creation of material waste; or [insert whatever-work-context-nasty-is-relevant-for-your-world here]. They are in a hostile and volatile environment fraught with all manner of unstructured chaos, constant change, and urgency to perform flawlessly. Coming from a previous life in a Children’s Hospital, the words flawless performance denote that there are things much more precious than dollars at risk. It’s time to Reinforce the learning we transferred in Prepare and Deploy. (See Figure 3)
In the Reinforce phase of the Continuum, we see clear indications that deployment does not equal implementation. If you recall the last three moments of need I shared earlier, you can see that short, targeted, role-specific, task-centric performer support objects are a perfect fit. When your hair is on fire, that is not the time to log into the LMS and take a Fire Safety course. You need a downloadable PSO that reminds you to Stop-Drop-Roll. Of course that implies there is some place to go to download the PSO – and there is some sort of mobile technology in your possession – and the PSO is in the right amount and comprehensive enough – and the PSO is formatted to interface with your device…am I painting a challenging enough picture?
My point is this. The Reinforce phase of the Continuum is not where we [Training] excel. Design, development and delivery decisions are pressured with contextual implications of a more holistic learning and work environment in this evolved paradigm. Notice I said “evolved”. We will always do training in one fashion or flavor, but our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity are waiting for us in the Reinforce phase of the Continuum where Learners become Performers.
If you refer back to Figure 3 you will see a phrase – “Just-enough-just-in-time-just-for-me”. I first heard these words uttered in a Tin Can API break-out session at Learning 3.0 in Chicago last October. The speaker was Aaron Silvers of ADL, project lead on the Tin Can API project. More about Tin Can in a second… That “just-enough…” phrase he introduced screams with implications that we, as creators of learning and support assets have a need to “individualize” what we create. Go back to those three moments of need that surface in the Reinforce phase of the Continuum; they are as “individual” and as diverse as the individuals who are confronted by them. Kiss one-size-fits-all linear learning assets good-bye.
I’ve already stressed the shrinking size of task-centric objects, but I have not addressed another important aspect of PS that is growing rapidly in the Reinforce phase – Social PS. My knee-jerk reaction when I hear the phrase “performance support” is to immediately envision content-based job aids, PDFs, cheat-sheets, or something I can download as a quick reference. That knee-jerk imagery would be spot on, but it is too limited. The social aspects of collaborative support are hanging on our belts or stuffed in our purses, and addressing a moment of need is only a ring-tone or a Tweet away. PS may well be in the form of a live conversation; an interactive text; chat with a SME; visit to an on-line threaded discussion forum; receiving a pushed blog article, etc. Don’t fall into the trap of limiting your thinking that PS = Job Aid.
Okay, back to Tin Can…which will actually be referred to as “Experience API or xAPI” when it becomes generally available in the April/May 2013 time frame. So what? “So what?” is the best question to ask when considering xAPI. Best because the answer is going to vary depending on what parts of your downstream, post-training work context you are supporting. (See Figure 4)
xAPI is NOT the new SCORM, and it is not simply lipstick on the SCORM pig. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. SCORM is a content-based protocol, and it lurks within and complicates the LMS/course content relationship. We know that learning is not always content-based; hence, SCORM has its limits. If you use Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter you’ve seen those pesky Activity Streams, where reams of useless and mostly irrelevant posts “stream” down your screen and make you wonder who has the time to sit and watch for nuggets that matter? xAPI will do that for us too. Did I hear a “Woohoo!”? Sounded more like, “Holy crap!” to me; just what we need; more nonsensical information spewed at us at the hands of more efficient technology solutions. Great!
Fear not, Amigos! Yup, xAPI can do that, but we would never go there on purpose. Rethink the activity stream concept and overlay the activity as filtered “learning experiences” that a learner/performer may engage in that are not SCORM-based. The xAPI tracking protocol is based on “I – DID – THIS”…meaning…John Doe – went to – DevLearn…or…Jane Doe – researched – a performance support blog. This kind of activity is based upon learning experiences that we would never see when held hostage within the limits of a SCORM-based system.
I grant you that that kind of tracking could be important, but there was something else I saw during the breakout session that immediately got me all fired up – Tracking PSO usage. I mean seriously, think about the implications to Training management by having access to data captured/filtered that identifies WHO downloaded WHAT PSO. I would love to have access to data like “Susan Smith – downloaded – PSO #63…and, oh by the way…so did 200 other folks!” Wow! Really? If that was the only thing I could get out of xAPI, I’d be a happy camper. There is much more, but man, having that kind of data captured and filtered puts a whole new spin on harvesting user feedback. You don’t even have to ask anybody for their feedback because it comes to you. Imagine what you could do if you knew that something was broken enough in the work context to cause a run on PSO #63. True, it does not tell you WHY, but it DOES tell you what rock to look under. That data point may reveal something that informs me that I need to do something differently in Prepare and/or Deploy back upstream. No LMS is ever going to give up that kind of data. The Learning Record Store (LRS) of the xAPI is designed to provide that kind of non-LMS data visibility into usage in the performance support system or any other system in the ecosystem linked to the xAPI cloud.
Note the cloud connecting the Continuum between Deploy and Reinforce. There are four key technology infrastructures illustrated here:
- LMS – the learning management system [SCORM-dependent technology we love to hate]
- EPS – Embedded Performer Support [is a discipline, not a technology...EPSS is the technology...or SharePoint...or your intranet portal...or WordPress]
- LRS – Learning Record Store [point of data capture for learner/performer experiences]
- xAPI – the potential name of Tin Can at general availability [though Tin Can is way cooler]
So what does this all imply regarding technology? Quite honestly, you may not need a new LMS…or a shiny new EPSS…or even get all panicked over integrating xAPI…at least not yet. Some of these items just might make sense at some future point, and if so, the benefits will be extraordinary. Step away from the technology for a moment take the chance we’ve been given to look at our learning AND work environments in a more holistic way. When you consider the scope of what that includes, we should be able to see that we are called to action to support something more dynamic than just learning. We have a dynamic learning and support ecosystem laid out before us. The Continuum, as a design methodology, is structured to span the learning and support ecosystem from edge-to-edge. Like it or not, the ecosystem is going to require support sooner than later. The urgency to address the Reinforce phase is being driven by real business impact and hard-dollars that are at risk in the work context. Integrating the Continuum in a holistic learning and performance strategy includes several steps:
- Define the edges of your ecosystem – WHERE does Reinforce extend to, and WHO is in it? WHAT do they do? What happens if they don’t DO it well?
- Define your technology footprint – What does your technology inventory include right now? [From core systems to end-user devices]
- Map your requirements – What work areas should your footprint include? Where do you start? Who needs to be included in it? [Based on the answers to #1 & 2]
- Sell your leadership – Build the business case that communicates WHY your leadership should give a rip? [Compelling of you have solid, quantifiable answers to #1 thru 3]
- Get help – A learning and performance strategy is a new frontier. The reward is sustained human performance. The evidence is in the form of tangible business outcomes and competitive advantage.
I’ve just given you a lot to chew on. Some of it has been covered in previous posts; some of it with a new spin that may make things more clear. More than likely, I’ve pulled the trigger on generating a host of new questions you now have to answer, and that’s a good thing; good thing because the questions are coming your way even if you are not the one asking them. Answering how and why to pursue this strategy when your leadership starts asking means you are not leading the evolution that’s upon us…you in a position of catching up. Odds are that your leadership is not asking because they are living within the shadow of an existing paradigm. In other words, some of them may not know what they do not know, and as a result never ask a different question. I’ll point you back to the first post on Changing the Conversation for some of that perspective. Start there. The intent here was to expand on the concept of the Continuum because without integrating my P-D-R version or something like it, we’re just trainin’.