Learning Think 2.0

Think back to the emergence of e-learning. Pick any date that is conjured in your memory. My first exposure appeared on the scene as computer-based training (CBT) back in the 1980s. Regardless of when you first experienced it or how it was delivered, the shift was on, and a huge transition of traditional classroom training underwent a retrofit to any of several electronic formats.

What changed?

The linear training paradigm certainly did not. It simply morphed as the pendulum swing went in favor of electronic delivery. Did human performance change? Not noticeably. So what happened next? The pendulum swung back the other way; an evolution of blended training and exotic delivery technologies appeared preserving the best of both worlds while continuing to cling to a linear training paradigm with a death grip.

But there exists a deeper addiction – building knowledge and skills – a noble quest that will forever be in fashion. Therein lives our greatest challenge – ensuring knowledge and skills retention long enough to apply it in the work context. In other words, our mission, should we choose to gain and maintain a competitive advantage, requires creating sustained capability within our respective pools of talent.

It follows then that sustained human performance must be focused on not just acquisition – but on application of knowledge and skills within the work context. This requirement is not exactly new. As training professionals, we’ve just been slow to adopt. Predictions began to surface as far back as 2001, when Jonathon Levy, then at Harvard Business School Publications suggested that “within five to seven years up to 85% of learning would take place within the context of the job.” And he was correct. The actual percentage may vary depending upon your industry, but he was spot on with accurately predicting a trend.

Regardless of industry, moments of learning need are increasingly found closer to, if not within, the “work context” – at the point of attack – embedded in the workflow – just-in-time – pick the phrase that feels best. Do the math; “five to seven years” was yesterday. We have arrived at a point in the evolution of learning practice where traditional approaches to training design, development and delivery are consistently falling short and not because any of those efforts are of inferior quality or rendered with anything less than the best of intentions. We have simply not kept pace with the velocity of work.

We are faced with a mandate to shift our paradigm to move learning into the work context – into our knowledge worker’s moment of learning need. A shift of this magnitude implies a new strategic imperative within the domain of talent development and management. This imperative is characterized by seamless, frictionless and ubiquitous access to learning coincident with a knowledge worker’s moment of learning need. A more tangible definition can be articulated as a deliverable where accessing the right learning – by the right learning stakeholder(s) – at the right moment of learning need – in the right amount – in the right format – and to/from the right device – happens within the scope of their work context. For the sake of giving this deliverable a name, I refer to it as a Continuous Learning Environment (CLE).

There should be little doubt that this shift requires the introduction, and more importantly, the implementation of learning technology. The latest tech-rage involves dramatic interest in learning content management systems (LCMS) and electronic performance support systems (EPSS). My recommendation, therefore, has to be an immediate statement of caution – “Step away from the bright, shiny technology solution!” I say this not because integration of technology is inappropriate, I say this out of an issue of timing. Being “ready” to go down this road with funding and consensus momentum are very different from reaching critical mass characterized as being in a state of “readiness”. This “timing” mistake is evidenced by over half of today’s owners of learning management systems (LMS) being dissatisfied with the technology. The LMS was not the wrong technology; it was simply deployed into the learning environment before the organization had reached a state of readiness to implement effectively.

The journey to a sustainable CLE has several critical success factors that must be addressed in the context of readiness. Key factors include:
• A cultural commitment to continuous learning as a competitive differentiator
• Application of voracious change leadership
• A strong and diverse presence of governance
• New performance and outcome thinking within legacy training organizations
• Expanded competencies in design, development & delivery staff
• Transparent integration of new Web & Learning 2.0 technologies
• Momentum to measure relevant, actionable outcomes that evidence business impact and value creation

This blog is dedicated to evoking a dialogue relevant to this journey, and it will be different for every organization, and yet, there will be a thread of consistency. I welcome participation and perspective to a dialogue that will reflect our collective diversity of opinion and approach to this critical mandate for sustaining an environment where learning is consumed continuously.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise