High Velocity Learning

The phrase living in learning has relevance for each of us since we are engaged in the process of learning nearly every waking minute of our lives.  Sometimes we encounter learning moments with premeditated intent – need to take an e-learning course on “X” to renew a certification.  Other times we learn despite having no conscious desire to acquire learning at all – never again will I pee on an electric fence.  I must confess that I’ve even encountered learning moments in the depths of a dream – discovered an effective transition in a presentation I’d been wrestling with in my wakeful state.  Truly, we’re under bombardment with opportunities to learn regardless of our state of intent, and in some cases…our state of wakefulness.

Some of us spend a bulk of our wakeful state engaged in learning from the role of our work – where we design, develop or deliver learning to or for someone else.  This is the world where living in learning becomes much more than a personal endeavor; it becomes a state of being – a state of purpose.  This is the world where I live…have lived…for the last 30 years.  Industry affiliations have come and gone, some markedly different in their mission, yet there is one key aspect in those businesses that represented a constant – every worker, regardless of industry,  had a need to learn.  Living in this world of learning for thity years has given me the advantage of seeing attributes of that world change.  If I had to pick a single attribute or influencer of the changes we have all experienced, I would choose a single word – velocity.

ve-loc-i-ty [vuh-los-i-tee]   1. rapidity of motion or operation; swiftness; speed    2.  the rate of speed with which something happens; rapidity of action or reaction

Rapidty of operation – the rate of speed with which things happen – yes, velocity would be my choice.  Velocity of work, at the speed of business, those were or could be taglines for high-tech companies.  Truth is, high-tech is a significant catalyst for the increases in velocity we’ve endured as workers.  Has the pace of your job,  current or previous, ever diminished?  Mine have not.  Do more, do it faster, do it better, and do it cheaper.  And then – “What do you mean you need time off task to take a training class?”  And there’s our dilemma.  Has the velocity of work overrun our ability to keep pace with the learning necessary to sustain our performance?

The answer to this question represents learning’s Holy Grail.  What has happened to increase the velocity of our learning opportunities?  Certainly.  Technology to the rescue.  Stuff learning into a learning management system (LMS) and force everyone to go on-line to learn.  Better to pee on an electric fence…now that delivers a shocking learning moment with solid retention value.  And that’s what moving learning on-line cannot provide – not the shocking learning moment – but the value of retention.  For that matter, neither did/does learning in the classroom.

I worked as a consultant with a large pharmaceutical firm, and they had a standing policy – no training during business hours.  Business hours were reserved for selling pharmaceuticals.  Period.  Seems extreme when training on new drugs and competitive tactics were changing constantly.  I see it even now at the hospital, but with a different spin.  Nurses cannot be away from giving patient care to sit in the classroom for a day.  And I have no doubts other industries have a similar dilemma though different circumstances.

If we cannot move the learner away from their work to learn, then we have to move the learning closer – if not into the work itself – to the point of attack.  Dr. Jonathon Levy, Harvard Business Schools Publications, predicted in 2001 that within five to seven years up to 85% of our learning would take place in the context of our jobs.  The context of our jobs ain’t the classroom!  Virtual classrooms, synchronous and asychronous learning methods, and learning management systems are all cool systems and exotic methods and bright shiny alternatives that lure us into deeper distraction…and dissatisfaction with training results.

Granted not all learning has to be high velocity in nature.  Take on-boarding or new hire orientation training programs as an example; many are still classroom-based and/or blended with on-line components.  And that’s okay, because the stakes are lower in that stage of an employees contribution to the business.  But the longer they are in their work roles, the more critical they become to business continuity, the greater the risks/costs of down-time, and the negative productivity impacts of diverting time away for training.  So…there is a time and a place for learning without velocity.  But when you are in a different time and place and the burner is on high, you have a different work context…a greater velocity…and that’s where Dr. Levy predicted we would begin to find our opportunities to learn…in the context of our jobs.

Sounds to me like there is a learning continuum we have to embrace with our design and development efforts. It also sounds to me like that continuum may be different for me than than it would be for someone else who has more or less capability. Who a learner is and where they may be along their continuum from novice to mastery just might flavor what degree of learning is going to be effective, don’t you think? Could it be one-size-fits-all linear learning is no longer the solution?  Actually, that’s not a fair question.  Linear learning may work just fine on orientation day, but at year 1.5 the stakes are higher, and learning must be more immediate and personalized.

Immediate implies that the learning moment is tied to a work task, and as such, is smaller in size…an object…one might be inclined to call it.  This object is a consumable learning asset – a.k.a. job aid – that is tailored to a specific work function that occurs…in the context of our jobs…and satisfies a moment of learning need at the point of attack.  The beauty of this object is that it can be invoked – if and when it’s needed – by the learner…on a personalized basis.  Now learning is happening on a continuum that is discrete to the learner and their needs.  We are supporting the performer in the context of their job.  Funny thing is – they’re still on the job – on task – and they’re getting what they need to perform. I heard this approach called Performer Support by the CLO of Sprint University when we served on a panel of experts together – but that’s the subject of a future post.

And that, my friends, is where we have our biggest opportunity as learning professionals to create a continuous learning environment that can match up with the velocity of work and the learners tasked to be at their post to turn the crank – To provide seamless, frictionless and ubiquitous access to the right learning – by the right learner – at the right moment in time – in the right amount – in the right format – to/from the right devices.

I welcome your thoughts…

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise