Now that title should generate a ripple or two on the pond, especially when I have been so vocal about the need for just such a shift. So…is this post a confession that I have changed my mind? Not quite. Not even. If anything, I am more passionate than ever, but over the years, I have gotten smarter about moving around obstacles that stifle momentum rather than fight through immovable walls of opposition or resistance. My new approach requires the application of marshal arts – judo – to be more precise. No, not kicking butts, just taking the momentum of my opponents, and leveraging it to my advantage to wrestle them to the mat. Not to pin them in defeat, just hold them down long enough to hear me out – listen to evidence that this “shift” is not a threat.
Now that you have images of baggy outfits, bare feet and slamming bodies running through your head, I will get to my point. Too many pundits have been pontificating that there is a shift underway – a shift from formal training to informal learning. I beg to differ. It is NOT a shift. Instead, an expanded focus raises our scope beyond what expectations training can reasonably sustain. The slamming body part of that expanded scope only happens when the scope is not allowed to expand. The slamming in that scenario is the sound trainers make when downsized because of training shortfalls and declining training budgets. Now there is a threat worth generating a little angst over.
The expanded focus; therefore, is not a shift. Training (formal learning) will always be with us. What needs to change is the scope of our instructional design resources. They lose nothing in this scope expansion, so there is nothing to protect. The change manifests itself in the form of additional capabilities, and in most cases, those capabilities imply expanded discovery skills (like holistic work context discovery and technology implications). It is very true informal learning is dramatically increasing, and it is true that the increase is taking place outside of classrooms and online learning venues. While that change is external to formal learning, there is a huge opportunity to link these two venues (formal and informal) to improve our chances of achieving sustainable capability in our workforce – in their work context. This linkage implies we create a continuous learning environment that leverages a learning continuum through which our learners pass on their journey to competency.
Training is still part of that continuum, and it always will be. The role and construction of training solutions change when integrated with the additional components that also exist on the continuum (like informal learning assets). This linkage provides a critical thread of continuity necessary to reinforce learning in the post-training work context. Enabling this linkage implies a working knowledge of technology and media options and network connectivity options. Right there is where we step outside most instructional designer’s comfort zone. That is not offered as an indictment; rather, it is what I am whispering in their ear while I have them pinned to the mat.
Creating learning holistically on an environment level means that we design, develop, and deliver learning assets that satisfy our learner’s moments of learning need – always – and any time – from anywhere. In other words, to complicate that deliverable, we should render these assets seamlessly, frictionlessly, and ubiquitously. No problem. We just plug in our shiny, new, broadband-enabled LMSLCMSEPSSKMSDIGIMEISTER and we are off to the races. Were things only that simple. That “technology” is in pieces and parts, scattered across multiple platforms from as many vendors. Worse yet, most of these platforms still do not communicate well with each other. No problem. Throw in a portal to sort it all out and ba-da-bing, problem solved. Were it that simple – and cheap. Technology is not the answer. It may well be part of the answer, but we are not ready to ask THAT question. If we have not adapted our design and development methodologies in alignment with a continuous learning environment, we sure as HECK cannot define a viable, blended technology solution. The ready, fire, aim approach to technology acquisition can be really, really expensive when it comes to buying before being at a state of readiness to implement.
Maybe the “real” impossibility we have to overcome is our addiction to technology. We have to tear ourselves away from the lure of bright, shiny objects. Step away from the technology solution – for now – and integrate a holistic learning environment where design and development methodologies and delivery solutions support continuous learning. Once we have figured out how those components integrate into the holism of the unique work context of our workforce, the job of selecting the bright shiny things makes more sense.
So there you have it – another rant. It is not a shift in my eyes, it is an evolution that we either embrace or risk being slammed by a more terminal reality.