The PDR Learning Continuum – Using a New Design Framework

Many of us cut our professional learning design teeth using the long-held tradition of the Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate (ADDIE) instructional design (ISD) model. Trolling many of the learning oriented groups in our blogosphere, I have heard numerous times how “old school”, and in some cases, how obsolete this foundational design model from the 1960s has become. If age denotes obsolescence, then yours truly is in trouble for sure. On the other hand, obsolescence can be averted when there is a willingness to change, a willingness to re-think and re-apply proven methodologies that are baked into the model of our choice. With that open-minded mentality, I confess to listening to the debates and witnessing the momentum to pile on, and it causes me to wonder, “Is the ADDIE model really falling short?” Methinks that it may very well be our application of the model that is falling short and worthy of re-examination.

Somewhere in my past, I recall a nameless face saying, “If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we always got.” – or something along those lines. Insightful words to be sure, and certainly not an overt indictment of the ADDIE design model, tenured as it may be. I must qualify my willingness to defend ADDIE by recognizing her validity…and this is key…as long as the environment where applied has morphed beyond the scope of traditional use. The “environment” I reference is manifest in a larger scope of where we learn, a holistic – learning environment…and have even heard it called a learning ecosystem from the likes of Bob Mosher [LearningGuide] and Dr. Conrad Gottfredson [BYU]. I really like “ecosystem” because it implies interdependancies, and can easily imply learning takes place over a continuum of sorts. Hold that “continuum” thought…

I recently had the honor to participate as a panelist in the July 27, 2009 online discussion sponsored by Learning Trends, ISA, and Training Magazine Network. The half-day event, hosted by Tony Karrer, Jay Cross, Harold Jarche, and Ray Jimenez, examined “The Future of the Business of Learning”. In the first hour-long segment, an Industry Perspectives panelist, Josh Bersin made an observation that validated one significant trend in particular – the rapid increase in the use of informal learning. Countless definitions of informal learning exist, and from what I can see, they are all consistent in application – learning that takes place outside of formal learning venues like training in the classroom or online (e-learning). Popular phrases like “just-in-time” learning, or as I like to call it, Performer Support, fall under the category of learning informally. It is important to include many venues beyond “job aids” and object-oriented solutions as informal. Other informal venues include things like leveraging the role of subject matter experts (SMEs), knowledge bases, coaching/mentoring, and the collaborative benefits of social media like communities of practice, social networks, blogs, wikis, etc.

Probably the most significant observation Josh made seemed to me to represent a “call-to-action” more so than validation of a trend. He described a dire need for us, as learning professionals, to embrace the concept of learning environments which are inclusive of both formal and informal learning venues. As training departments go, most are not equipped to sustain a learning environment. Not to sound contradictory, but we all have a learning environment. The problem we face is composition. How dependant is our “environment” on the application of traditional training? The more important question is, “How dependant are we in our current training paradigm?” Josh shared a factoid that an employee spends roughly 100 hours annually [+/- 5%] of their time in “formal learning”– a.k.a. training. My math tells me that alternately, employees spend 95% of their time working…and playing on Facebook(See Figure 1.0)

Learning Opportunity Imbalance
Figure 1.0

This is extremely significant because our workers are confronted by moments of learning need more often in their work context than they are in the classroom or online. Work context is where informal learning opportunities surface as best of breed learning solutions. These informal solutions better serve individualized needs flavored by varying degrees of immediacy [urgency to perform] and business risk when flawless performance is required.

I would take Josh’s learning environment suggestion one-step further and recommend that it should be a Continuous Learning Environment (CLE). If 95% of a worker’s time is continuously engaged in their work context. Work is continuous. Change is continuous. The demand for flawless performance in the work context ios continuous. Why would we settle for less with the opportunity to learn? To accomplish this CLE, we must sustain a holistic view of the work context as the source for learning moments of need. The challenge is that my moment of need may not match yours. Compound that single variance across multiple job roles and work functions, and you can see why there is a need for holistic discovery around the work context prior to design of learning solutions. So what do we do? Traditionally, we whip out ADDIE and complete a knowledge and skills-oriented, training needs assessment and storyboard a solution on a pre-determined authoring platform to publish to the LMS. Bingo, another training event is unleashed, targeted to the 5% slice of the pie that has little to do with the 95% that matters most – where sustained capability is evidenced by tangible business outcomes, the only real relevant measure of success.

Presence of the “95%” slice of the pie does not mean that ADDIE is obsolete, nor should it be viewed as the wrong design tool. It simply means ADDIE is not enough, at least not when its application is limited in the original intent of creating linear training solutions. Training, in any delivery venue you choose to use (F2F, on-line, synchronous, asynchronous, etc), represents only one item from column A of the “Chinese menu” of learning. The learning meal must satisfy the hunger of our knowledge workers, and they need the ability (the individualized freedom) to choose more solutions that cater to their respective moments of need. Freedom to choose from column B implies that some sort of learning asset is actually designed for column B. Column B should be loaded with smaller, task-level targeted consumable objects [Performer Support]; on-line access to subject-matter experts or Help desk staff; on-line access to threaded discussion forums; and a host of other new social media solutions. In other words, training by itself is no longer serving as a balanced learning diet, especially when satisfying the hunger means we are tasked to sustain human performance, not just retain knowledge and skills.

The PDR Model

The PDR Learning Continuum Framework does not replace ADDIE; quite to the contrary – it includes it. PDR provides a framework that embraces the context of a holistic CLE, and it does that by superimposing a continuum upon which we can design a diverse menu [columns A & B] of learning. The key foundation of using PDR directs our design, development, and delivery efforts to align with the learner’s work context. Before going any deeper, I will briefly define the three phases of the PDR Model. (See Figure 1.1)

Preparation – the learning phase where the objective is to provide activities and learning assets that contribute to a learner’s state of readiness to learn.
Deployment – the learning phase where the objective is to deliver formal learning assets to the learner to ensure knowledge transfer.
Reinforcement – the learning phase where the objective is implementation of learning into the work context to drive measurable, sustainable performance.

PDR Model Diagram
Figure 1.1

When you look at the illustration in Figure 1.1, you will quickly recognize that we all do a good job of handling both Prepare and Deploy phases on the learning continuum. Prepare can be synonymous with “pre-work” which could mean completion of an on-line course as a pre-requisite for a formal classroom program that takes place in the Deploy phase. That would represent our traditional approach. Look beyond that to pre-training activities that require the learner to complete some non-training activity like filling out a profile on a prospective client they select from their account database to utilize in a sales training class. Another perfect example might require visiting a knowledge base and competing in a scavenger hunt for prizes awarded in a future Deploy event. The underlying point in the Prepare phase is to raise the learner’s readiness to maximize what comes next along the continuum.

If the Prepare phase is successful, we have already covered much of the theory, fact, definitions, and concepts that no longer need classroom or online learning time when we move to Deploy. Short of a quick review, we spend our time focusing on the application of learning. Emphasis can now be hands-on practice in a safe environment, simulations, and all things experiential. Here is where we address the work context in the form of using tools or other Performer Support assets in exercises that emulate the work environment. The objective is to training the learner to use the tool effectively in scenarios that represents their role and function back on the job. Deploy represents a safe environment in which to fail. Notice the thread of continuity that exists from Prepare to Deploy:

• The learner used the knowledge base (tool) in a scavenger hunt in Prepare
• The learner used the knowledge base (tool) in a job emulation exercise in Deploy

Okay, we have completed pre-work, and the classroom event is complete – what do we do next? Sure, we have the participants fill out the smile sheet (level 1 evaluation) and complete a testing assessment with a passing score (level 2 evaluation) and administer their graduation tattoo and turn them loose into the work environment with best wishes and instructions not to break anything expensive. Then what do we do? Right, we wonder why sustained performance back on the job does not match the promises from perfectly legitimate level 2 evaluations. So then what do we do? Certainly, we fire the training vendor for inferior product and/or lousy delivery and re-design the training for another formal learning ablution. Well, maybe not everyone does that, but I have worked for companies in the past where we re-applied training until the learners “got it” – no matter how ineffectual it was.

We all have heard the rumors of how quickly learning retention drops off upon learner’s leaving the classroom or logging off the completed online training course. (See Figure 1.2 below)

Learning Retention
Figure 1.2

Performer Support is a valuable component for driving a sustained capability, although it serves as only part of what we find in the third phase of the continuum – Reinforcement. This third phase is where many training departments begin to tread on virgin territory. The use of job aids is not a new concept. I wonder, though, how many of us design them in as a thread of continuity – from introduction in Prepare, to practice in emulation exercises in Deploy, and then integrate into the work context in Reinforce? On more than one occasion, I have witnessed the insertion of job aids as a reactive development effort when the formal training did not produce sustainable results. They were not designed into a continuum – they were designed based on post-performance failure.

It is important to note that Prepare and Deploy represent the comfort zone of our traditional training department role. Reinforce represents the expanded approach required to build a CLE – a continuous learning environment. The post-training work context involves more learning stakeholder than the learners/workers who work in it. Consider the role of a manager offering coaching; were coaching materials part of the learning solution design? Consider the role of the Help Desk; were job aids they can “push” to workers on-demand part of the learning solution design? Were knowledge bases with FAQs part of the design? Were there ever any plans to capture and harvest best practices at some point in the future? Do the skills exist within the training department to accomplish root cause diagnostics when performance gaps surface?

These are tough questions, but they serve as minimal entrance criteria for building a continuous learning environment. So what makes it continuous? Notice in Figure 1.1 that the Reinforce phase serves a role as a source as much as it does a destination on the continuum. Harvesting best practices and feedback on relevance and effectiveness of tools provide indicators that feed the design/re-design engine that enables new or improved Performer Support. This newly discovered evidence then is baked in as “new” tools introduced during the Prepare phase for the next wave of learners. Accurate root cause diagnoses of performance gaps that surface in the work context serve as new targets for additional knowledge, skills, and capabilities required to support learners along the continuum to improve performance.

Work Context

All three phases in the PDR Learning Continuum are susceptible to CLE attributes of the learner’s work context. In addition, the moments of learning need (See Figure 1.3) will be variables that have potential to impact design decisions. These “moments” were developed by Dr. Conrad Gottfredson of BYU in collaboration with Bob Mosher of LearningGuide. Are there more than five moments of need? Hard as I have tried, I come up empty. Everything I can think of fits in one of these five for the most part. Why these moments of need are so critical is simply that one worker’s moment of need may not imply that another will have the same moment, very likely not at the same time, nor possibly even at the same place in the workflow. Designing a learning solution becomes a moving target if individualization is to be part of the solution. ADDIE does not address that level of chaos within its linear orientation. In fact, when you get into the last three moments of need, there is nothing linear about what happens there.

Learning Moments
Figure 1.3

Formal learning – training scenarios – are often where we experience the first two learning moments. The last three are where we find informal learning most effective. It is no coincidence that moments 3, 4, & 5 are in the work context. Recall Josh Bersin’s observation that the application of informal learning is increasing at a rapid pace. The most effective learning is finding its way closer to the point of work. A key technology available today is Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) or Business Process Guidance (BPG) platforms, and they target learning moments 3 through 5, not only in the work context, but also in some cases, right in the middle of an application process or workflow. In both cases, the worker never leaves the host application to invoke a context-sensitive learning asset.

Permit me to provide some substance around work context. Following are several discovery questions that may be more effective in directing your thinking about what this context includes than paragraphs of well-crafted definitions. I choose to go in this direction because every work context is as different as the learner who is engaged in it.

Consider these discovery questions:
1. What are the learner’s existing capabilities and experiences?
2. What are the knowledge and skill requirements for flawless execution of task?
3. What is the functional job role of the learner?
4. What are the circumstances around urgency or duress related to effective task completion?
5. What is the degree of business risk attached to flawless execution?
6. Where is the worker physically located in their moment of learning need?
7. Where is the worker located within their respective workflow?
8. What are the technology and connectivity [mobility] implications based upon #6
8. What is the most effective media blend to support performance based on #1-6?
9. What does a sustained capability render that is tangible and measurable?

These are but a few of the expanded discovery questions that should precede application of the ADDIE instructional design model. You may see #2 as a familiar part of the “A” in ADDIE, but notice it is contextualized to task-level behavior as opposed to targeting satisfaction of learning objectives. Again, it sounds like I am bashing the institution of ADDIE as a valid approach to design, but hear me out. ADDIE works for formal training, and it can support informal learning as well when used to support a learning continuum. We easily see the “best fit” in Prepare and Deploy phases, but Reinforcement is outside of traditional design scope and presents a challenge. Expanded discovery and an iterative application of ADDIE can overcome the challenges inherent in holistically designing a solution for any work context on a learning continuum.

Expanded Design Scope

We have already examined expanded discovery in the partial list of questions above. Obviously, there are more, but these set the tone as essential points of root discovery. The learning environment is larger in scope than the variability we have addressed in the work context. In reality, the nature of the learning environment drives the need to iterate when using ADDIE. Take question #6 from the list above and answer it from the perspective of the PDR Learning Continuum. Can you see where the learner may actually reside in three or more discrete physical locations as they complete each phase? What about their connectivity to learning assets? Could that not also be different? What about urgency? Risk?

We have a certain sense of control over learning variables when we have control over the environment. Recall Josh Bersin’s comment that workers spend only 5% of their time in formal learning activities. Well, guess what? That 5% pegs the extent of our span of control over the environment. Graduate the learner into the jaws of their work context and your span of control is history, but the need for our design skills is at an all time high. Do we answer the call with the approach we depend on today? Are we spending any time designing for the 95% where learning moments 3 through 5 are manifest?

Given the learner could be in different locales, does it not follow that the choice of media – authoring tool(s) – the availability of network access (or not) – the actual device technology in their possession (or not) – might have bearing on our design decisions? Absolutely it does.

These variabilities are the drivers behind adopting an iterative application of ADDIE or whatever design tool we choose to use – during Prepare – during Deploy – and during Reinforce.

So far, all I have addressed is the learner in the equation of consuming learning assets. How does learning activity from proactive sources reach them across the phases of the continuum? The designer has a burden of responsibility to consider all the learning stakeholders engaged in the learning environment. Consider these stakeholders in support of the learner:

Managers or mentors who coach What learning assets are required in support of their role?
Trainers, facilitators who teach What learning assets are essential for their role?
Help Desk staff who support real-time What learning assets are required to support on-demand requests?
Peer/colleagues who collaborate What social venues do we support – moderate – harvest for best practices to build into future learning assets?
ISDs who design What expanded competencies do they need related to initial discovery, root cause analysis, work context definition, and technology awareness?
Clients/Customers who generate revenue What learning assets are appropriate for them in the context of changed behavior in-house?

Closing Thoughts

The list above addresses supporting the learner in the learning environment and along the learning continuum. I have not even begun to address where the addfitional stakeholder population may actually be [located] when the learner’s moment of need arises; have not addressed the optimal media blend; have not scratched the surface of attribute clusters of Space, Media, and Systems and the role they play in the Learning Continuum; and have not fully addressed the technology, mobility, security, and connectivity implications for the stakeholder population either. All of that may be unleashed in a future post.

For now, I will remove my knees from your chest and allow you to get up. It is funny how I always wind up apologizing for my passion and the resulting momentum when I get on the CLE roll. The “Future of the Business of Learning” panel did nothing to squelch the inertia behind my passions; rather, I saw it as a shot across the bow of all training organizations.

Re-inventing our training approach to expand skills and scope to address the fluidity of a continuous learning environment is more than just a good idea. I am convinced sustained employment for those of us sitting in “cost centers” called training are in play too. If our departments do not contribute to the bottom line, we are at risk every time budget review rolls around and examined for potential for return on investment. It scares me to think that the funding we are lucky enough to get focuses on only 5% of the learner’s time on the job. Worse yet, the metrics we report are based on how busy we are, not how much we contribute to sustained capability. Our re-invention needs to be dialed in on the other 95% where the learning environment supports continuous learning. This concept of the PDR Learning Continuum provides a viable framework for re-invention.

I hope this post has been helpful and has stimulated some expanded thinking. I welcome any all conversations that may come forth.

Where we think, work, and share together – we learn.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise