PDR Design Model Supports Shift of Learning Design Into the Work Context

The concept of a learning shift represents a course correction by the USS Training Department. We are under full steam and headed into the shallows, and are in danger of running aground. We are trying to fight an insurgency with an army equipped with tactics and weaponry that do not fit the field of battle. Choose a metaphor of your own; bottom-line is painfully clear – the learning game has changed, and our tactics and methodologies that worked so well in a traditional “training war” are not as effective in a non-traditional battle called “informal learning”. Our tactics need to shift because we no longer serve the expanded scope of the knowledge worker’s environment. In fact, we face the challenge to re-shape, and in some cases, create a continuous learning environment. Our rules of engagement have to expand (or shift) to accommodate a new field of battle and a potential imbalance of focus. (See Figure 1.1)

Learning Opportunity Imbalance
Figure 1.1

The concept of WORK CONTEXT represents the lion’s share of a continuous learning environment when we consider aggregate opportunity to learn. Obviously, the aggregate is not limited to classroom or on-line venues we depend on to deliver formal training. Learning is not shifting into the work context – it is catching up. We are behind the flow of business, and many of us build design and develop solutions for the bigger slice of the learning opportunity pie. Not only does that change our rules of engagement, it changes our approach to discovery.

Expanded Scope of Discovery

If knowledge workers are not in training, they must be at work. I suppose in order for Figure 1.1 to be completely accurate, there should be a third slice labeled “off-task” or more accurately “goofing off”. Even if we include that third slice, the bigger slice of the pie remains work context. In the August 14th post, “The Learning Continuum – Using the PDR Design Model” I introduced you to the concept of expanded discovery that should precede application of the traditional instructional design model – ADDIE. In that post, I shared the moments of learning need that our learners will confront both inside an outside of the classroom. (See Figure 1.2)

Moments of Learning Need
Figure 1.2

If we (as professional designers and trainers) are successful in expanding our focus from the learning event and successful transfer of knowledge and skills, we will find the learner in the crosshairs. With the learner truly serving as our new target, it is easy to see why the five moments of learning need re-define our focus. Within those five moments, we traditionally spend our time and energy in the first two moments – the domain of formal learning – the smallest slice of the learning pie. Our greatest opportunity awaits our design, development, and delivery support in the last three moments of need. The type of learning that is rapidly trending upward is informal learning. The shift is on, and we find ourselves either pushed or pulled into the work context. Rules of engagement have changed. My choice of new tactics is applying the concept of a learning continuum that takes a holistic approach to the whole learning pie, and at the same time, embracing the potential of five different moments of learning need.

The smaller slice of the learning pie represents the first two learning moments. It also represents the Prepare and Deploy phases of the PDR Model. (See Figure 1.3)

Learning Continuum
Figure 1.3

Most training organizations do this very well, and application of the traditional design models (i.e. ADDIE) serve as a comprehensive approach. Unfortunately, the work context is where we find alignment of the Reinforce phase – right in the heart of the work context. Training industry pundit Josh Bersin shared research during “The Future of the Business of Learning” that indicated the rapid increase in the use of informal learning. When we take a holistic look at the entire “pie”, it is easy to see why.

Environmental Attributes in the Work Context

Once again, our point of focus is on the learner – not the learning – and more importantly, the measurable outcome(s) we expect the learner to produce. I will not rehash the role of the PDR Model in this post; rather, I would like to show you a completed template that integrates the continuous nature of PDR within the work context. Before we can integrate the PDR Model, we need to understand the attributes of the learning environment that influence design, development, and delivery decisions.

These attributes represent a significant share of the expanded discovery effort, and they can be bundled into three groupings that surface in our expanded discovery:
Spacea blend of physical location, workflow, risk and urgency
Mediathe most compelling mix of medium, mode, and venue
Systemsthe most effective and efficient application of technology

These three groupings, comprised of a number of environmental attributes, are not exactly on equal footing. A distinct relationship of hierarchical dependency exists. Of the three groupings, Space is primary and describes critical attributes of the work context that can influence Media. Attributes of Space and Media then combine to drive Systems. Notice how the first two environment groupings drive Systems requirements, versus Systems serving as a key driver. That relationship is worth more time in a future post, but for the sake of this document, we will settle on the hierarchical dependencies that surface along the PDR learning continuum. Permit me to use another metaphor to describe the relationship among these three groupings.

Envision throwing a stone onto the surface of a perfectly still pond. As we watch, concentric rings of disruption begin to expand outward toward the periphery. Where the stone strikes the surface is ground zero. The periphery is not hard-wired to ground zero, but it is wholly dependant upon (influenced by) the conditions stemming from whenever and wherever a ground zero event erupts. This metaphor represents what happens when a learning moment of need erupts along the learning continuum. The relationship of Space to that of Media and Systems is the equivalent of ground zero to the periphery of the pond. Everything starts from the point of impact – the learner’s moment of need. If we define Space by the descriptive attributes of the stone that created ground zero, Media and Systems are the periphery and influenced by the attributes of the stone that created the ground zero disruption. The size and weight of the stone, angle of entry, velocity on impact, and where it landed will influence the periphery.

PDR in Action

Following is a template (See Figure 1.4) that shows a training scenario that has both the PDR Model applied as well as the attributes of the work context. I will use a sales training scenario from the Pharma industry to serve as our example, and just for the record, Product Development and Product Marketing conspired to throw the stone.

Let us first examine ground zero – the point of impact. An innocent phone call from Product Marketing started the chain of events we have all experienced in our training organizations. They plan to launch a new drug into the sales mix and have requested that we, the highly responsive training department, develop new product training to support the rollout. Piece o’ cake! We take calls like this everyday. If Product Marketing is true to form, the rollout is next week. Gulp! Actually, that too is another story for another time…

The traditional chain of events that unfold usually include a training needs assessment, and if memory serves me, that effort focused on features, functions and benefits of the new drug, the core components of any sales training effort worth its salt. Oh yes, and then there were pricing models and volume discount calculations that rivaled string theory. Do not forget the complexity of actually placing an order into the system, which by the way, is also a brand new user interface…and remember; there will be no training during business hours. We sell product during business hours – not take training. This is not a drill. Can you hear the claxon horns going off and the scramble to battle stations?

Everything happens like a well-oiled machine. The designers assess and design; developers develop; trainers train; learners learn; and sustainers…wait a second…who said anything about sustaining? We have our level one evaluations that say we excelled. We have level two evaluations that confirm knowledge transfer. We have done our part. Job well done by the training team! Apply tattoo and send back to field to excel…hopefully.

Sound familiar? If we consider our job finished upon graduation from training (formal learning), our job may really be “done” when our evaluations can only confirm training activity instead of learning impact in the form of sustainable results.

Matrix Map
Figure 1.4

How to read the Matrix: The matrix provides learning environment attributes down the left side with key discovery points posed as questions. Across and aligned with each attribute, the three phases of the PDR Model are shown. Note how the answers vary within each phase of the learning continuum despite association with the same attribute.

If our task (and it should head in this direction) is to drive sustainable results through a continuous learning environment, the scope of our discovery efforts just got bigger. The design focus shifts from the learning solution to the learner and the environment where they learn – the environment where they confront one or more of their learning moments of need – the work context.

The results of that discovery drive an iterative approach to the use of ADDIE. I do not want to imply that this means we apply the entire ADDIE model in consecutive iterations; rather, we consider design decisions (within the model) as many times as the attributes of the learner’s work context change with the learner’s transit along the Learning Continuum.

Learning Space Discovery

Learning Space is at the heart of the work context and is at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to shaping influence across the rest of the continuum. This fact alone is why we center our focus on the learner and not the learning.
Who are the stakeholders? In a holistic approach to continuous learning, the stakeholders range from the learner, designers, facilitators, managers, mentors, colleagues, help desk, and even clients or customers. The learner may be at ground zero, but who works on the periphery, and what role in the learning moment(s) do they play? From a design perspective, we may have different content solutions depending on the stakeholder role that must be satisfied. If we plan carefully, we just may be able to re-use content or re-purpose it for different stakeholders. The key point here; the environment is bigger than the learner is.
Where are the stakeholders physically located when they confront their learning moment of need? In a controlled training environment, we know where the learners will be. In this example, the learner (the sales rep) is on the road during the Prepare phase handling their pre-work. In the Deploy phase, they are in a hotel room enjoying a distance-learning event after hours while colleagues at Corporate are in a physical classroom with the instructor. After training, in the Reinforce phase, the sales rep is back on the road. Their manager and help desk personnel are desk-bound at corporate.
Where are the stakeholders in their workflow when they confront their moment of learning need? This one is a little trickier. The learner may be directly engaged in their work (i.e. sitting in front of a potential client), or totally disengaged (i.e. driving to their next appointment). This example shows the learner listening to a podcast while driving during the Prepare phase. After training (Deploy), the learner is selling back in the field in the Reinforce phase. This phase is where we have a huge opportunity to promote sustained performance. The learner is in their workflow (work context) and moments of learning need must be satisfied at the point of attack with targeted learning objects that support their WORK as well as their learning. A perfect example in this selling situation is a competitive product matrix that is downloadable for a blackberry for the reps use, or to a laptop for live presentation to the client.
What is the level of business urgency? What is the risk attached to flawless execution? Typically, urgency and risk are not significant factors in Prepare and Deploy. In the Reinforce phase; however, or in the work context, flawless execution can have a direct impact on revenue generation from closing a successful sale. The usability and relevance to a job aid (PSO) goes up dramatically when flawless execution attaches significant risk (loss of business, loss of life, injury, excessive material waste, etc). At this level, we can acquire expanded discovery through interviews with top sales reps (or SMEs), sales managers, possibly even clients themselves. Without fully understanding the performance expectations within the learner’s work context, we will be hard-pressed to develop relevant PSOs that serve the dual work/learning role.

Learning Media Discovery

Now that we have defined the work context, we have parameters that give us the lines to color within as we select authoring tools, rich media components that will work within the venues acceptable within the work context of the learner at their moment of need.
What is the most compelling mix of mode and venue? Consider every variance of the learner’s physical location in each of the PDR phases, and add in where the learner is in the midst of their workflow:
o Preparein their car/disengaged/no urgency/no risko Deploy – in training/higher level of engagement/low urgency & risk
o Reinforce in front of potential client/maximum urgency/ maximum risk
Can you see how urgency and need to perform flawlessly point to consumption of smaller objectized learning assets during Reinforce, and yet very different media works better in Prepare and Deploy?
Authoring Tool Selection – Note how the authoring tool selection changed based upon the physical location across the continuum – from creating steaming audio to PowerPoint with embedded video, to PSO job aids to share with the client during the sales call.
Source/Re-use/Re-Purposing – We must also weave these considerations into authoring tool selection. Critical to maximizing re-use is recognizing the work context in which the learning assets are used. If that is not identified, we leave ourselves open for redundant design efforts and time-consuming re-work.
What is optimal size of the learning objects? – Here again, we must have advance knowledge of the work context. We cannot stream a 15-minute program to a sales rep in front of a client. The learning moment has a dual role of illustrating a feature function learning moment for the client. Having that foresight as a designer implies they are intimate with the selling process and the challenges inherent in overcoming objections.

Learning Systems Discovery

The final grouping of attributes can turn out to be more restrainer than driver when, as in this example, we plan to stream audio to MP3 players in the hands of sales reps. First, we have to have the technology in place to stream audio; and second, the field sales reps must have MP3 players in their possession. Streamed audio likely came out of a decision that considered burning CDs as an alternative. My point is this – supporting a continuous learning environment and the capability to do so wind up being the driver of technology decisions. If buying bright shiny technology and then trying to adapt learning to it is the approach, work context was likely not a consideration on the front end.
End-user Devices – Going back to the stakeholder audience, keep in mind the learner is not the only end-user in this equation. For simplicity, I have only addressed the learner in the template. Notice how we use a different end-user technology in each PDR phase.
Delivery Systems – Keep in mind that delivery does not always mean we are “pushing” learning assets to the learner. The just-in-time nature of PSOs implies that the learner may be the point of originating a request to “pull” an asset into their work context for immediate consumption.
Network Access – Whether push or pull or both, the implication is that the learner has available and adequate bandwidth to accomplish the transaction. Designing an embedded, high bandwidth video into a learning asset that may be queries in a questionable bandwidth situation may not be a good idea. If the video is that critical and the learner is mobile (untethered), a DVD may be the better choice.
Access to Content – Seamless, frictionless, and ubiquitous would be a good place to wind up regarding access. While that may be nirvana for many, our task is to get the right learning into the right hands at the right time and in the right amount. Where it resides must be easily accessible. Why make a learner log into the LMS, re-launch a training course to page through to a useful matrix? Access should be direct link accessible to a content repository outside of the LMS to support the Reinforce phase of the continuum.
Utilization and Tracking – Through Prepare and Deploy, we pretty much have tracking nailed. Unfortunately, we track activity, not results. Head downstream from the classroom in the Reinforce phase, and tracking is limited to gossip and rumors if we do not proactively survey or interview learners. Within the Reinforce phase is our greatest opportunity to gather intelligence or harvest effectiveness and relevance on PSOs and other assets used within the work context. Harvesting (moderating) actually becomes a job role when social media is utilized and communities of practice begin to blossom. Harvesting best practices becomes an essential take of training because the re-design engine should continually inject improvements and discoveries from the field into both formal learning content and informal repositories and communities.

Summary Thoughts

I realize this has been a whirlwind look at the PDR learning continuum compounded by attributes of work context and learning context. The abbreviated template suits limited display of thought in this limited venue, but hopefully, the idea of addressing a multi-faceted learning continuum came across. In addition, I hope you were able to see how ADDIE still works but in an iterative way. Training traditions remain safe, though where growth is most prevalent is downstream from our comfort zone.

Any way you slice it, the role of training has expanded beyond the well-worn boundaries of tradition. With that growth there arises the need for expanded skills and competencies within the training organization. Consultative skills necessary to question and discern the true nature of the work context are paramount. Relationship building with the line managers and top performers are essential, for within their world does the business machine run. Intimate knowledge of workflows and processes are critically important. A working knowledge of technology capabilities and limitations are critical to making valid design decisions. Gone are the days when the target was comprised of completed modules and delivered content with acceptable evaluations, and with it went budget and funding.

The shift to a continuous learning environment is as much about saving the training department as it is driving sustained capability within the workforce. We have to point to more than learning activity to justify our existence and worthiness of budget dollars. We should have line of sight into results and affects enabled and sustained through consumption of our learning assets. Sadly, those that matter most are downstream from where we spend a majority of our time. The sooner we embrace the 95% of a learner’s time to learn informally, the better off we will be.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise