The Art of Training People and Bears Using a Learning Continuum

Have you ever been to the circus and watched a bear ride a bicycle? For this to happen, that bear experienced formal learning and acquired some significant skills training; the very same skills you and I learned in our youth. The bear’s classroom is a hundred-foot diameter circle that doubles as their workspace. Our learner’s “circus ring”, defined by the classroom, is where they demonstrate proficiency either by doing something successfully or by passing a test of one sort or another. If their classroom doubled as their workspace too, our training effort could stop there. Unfortunately, it does not, and if our contribution to their learning stops there, we may as well be training bears.

I described the PDR Learning Continuum in an earlier post. Today, I will use three learning situations with examples that demonstrate how the productivity of our bear friend could be enhanced if learning continued downstream from the classroom. Our call to action, as a training organization, is simple – expand our scope – move downstream beyond formal learning (training) – out of the classroom – and into the work context – where we can expand the role we play as professional trainers to influence and embed sustainable performance into the work context.

This expansion does not mean that our formal training efforts are of no value, they are – and they always will be part of most learning solutions. However, if our contribution to the business mission is to create readiness and sustainability in the workforce, our scope and our skill sets need to expand. The Learning Continuum, through use of the PDR Model, gives us a framework to reach beyond traditional, formal training events to the learner’s workspace – downstream from training – and into their work context.

The Role of Formal Learning

To illustrate how we can leverage the Learning Continuum, consider our bear friend in Figure 4.1.

Figure 4.1

The first two phases of the PDR Model, Prepare & Deploy, represent the training the bear experienced on his journey to competently riding a bike – in a circle. Remember that the circle, all one hundred or so feet of it, serves as both classroom and workspace. The learning environment is highly controlled. The administration of skills from trainer to bear is very structured, and demonstration of skills learned by the bear confirms proficiency by riding around the limits of the circus ring.

Level one evaluation looks good based on the smile on the face of the bear munching his sugar cube reward. The pre-test/post-test improvement of perfectly demonstrating navigation of continuous circles confirms a valid level two. Training complete! Predictable, sustainable performance is a lock. Why? Remember, the classroom IS the workspace. What could go wrong? If only it were that simple for us humans.

The Role of Informal Learning – Application & Implementation

Something about training a bear to ride a bike in a circle just seems wrong. Where does a bear live? Where do they work? Right! The woods. Work is foraging for berries and such – in the woods – not riding in circles for sugar cubes. Which leads me to the following statement – What a waste of bear talent! You might scoff and think to yourself – well, what else could a bear do?

I base my answer only on one thing – the training we do successfully. How would we ever know if we could influence behavior beyond the circus ring? We stop the training as soon as they can ride in a circle. Who knows what a bear might be able to do with that bicycle had we equipped them to expand the use of their new found skills in their workspace – if we had supported the bear in the application of his new skill in a larger work context – downstream from his hundred-foot world. Think about it. Imagine if that same bear had the opportunity to take that bicycle out of the circus tent to support his day-job and ride it into the woods to forage for berries. See Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2

One could argue that this may be a little far-fetched, but hear me out. If we had introduced how to use a global position system in the classroom (during the Deploy phase) in experiential, berry-finding simulations with the appropriate Performer Support Objects (PSOs) – job aids – this bear’s productivity would triple. Where would it triple? Right where it matters most, in the work context – in the woods – during the Reinforcement phase of the Learning Continuum – downstream from the controlled environment of the classroom. How could this happen? We embed task-relevant job aids (PSOs – informal learning tools) into the bear’s workflow. We practice using these PSOs in the Deploy phase in a controlled environment. We practice using them in task-relevant simulations with stated intent that these are the same informal tools for use in the field…err…the woods. We successfully routinize (implement) informal learning tools into the bear’s simulated workflow even before he returns to the actual workflow.

No more shuffling into the woods to forage for berries. This bear is riding, and he is prepared to use his technology effectively. He consults his handy job aid to program the GPS functionality in his smart phone (his…ahem… Blackberry…c’mon, no iTouch here…he’s a bear) to locate the best berry patch. We are talking about one highly productive bear here. Triple the amount of berries in a fraction of the time, and he is still able to get to his circus job on time. Truly, we have transferred valuable skills into the work context and the bear has tangible, measurable results to show for it. However, it gets better…

The Role of Informal Learning – Knowledge & Performance Refinement

The Reinforcement phase goes deeper still. It can become social…as do bear on occasion, especially after a couple of brews. See Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3

So now, we find our bear friend totally pumped. He has his berries, it is only 4PM, and he does not have to be under the Big Top until 7:30. So what would any respectable bear do? Certainly! He would have a beer or two to cool off. He would also be compelled to brag about his accomplishments to his bear buds. In other words, he would socialize his discovery with his bear colleagues.

Where would he do this? Of course, at, a social networking site for bears who view foraging for berries as an art form. What could be easier than posting an awesome discovery to a network of peers and bragging about how many berries you managed to forage in less than five hours? So, he did. He shared (posted) what he thought was a best practice to the community. Within a few minutes, one of his bear friends responded and shared something remarkable – something he had not considered. Turns out, he could have ridden his bicycle down to Kroger’s grocery store and purchased the berries already picked and cleaned – by the quart – in less than thirty minutes! So much for short-lived bear bravado.

Closing Thoughts

I must confess that the bear scenarios were a bit bizarre, but will wager that those of you who endured the whole post will retain the concept. In reality, this post is not as much about bears or about knowledge workers in their work context as it is about those of us in the training organization. It is about how we have such a significant downstream opportunity to harvest post-training learning. Take the discovery made by our bear friend pumped about using the bike and the GPS to score the mother of all berry bushes. If he had not had access to a venue to “socialize” his best practice, he would continue to do the same thing. He would never have known (or at least not as quickly) that there was a better solution to the foraging-for-berries effort. Informal social learning enabled post-training learning.

Now here we discover our challenge. How do we, as training organizations, capitalize on the presence of social media? I think our first step requires becoming proficient in the use of Web & Learning 2.0 technologies in the course of our own workflows. By accomplishing this, the opportunities will fall into our laps on how we can expand our reach beyond the classroom and downstream into the workflow – into our learner’s work context. That is where they turn to tribal knowledge when they cannot remember. We fear the inconsistency and potentially invalid information gathered from the tribe. Trust me on this – Web 2.0 just raised the ante. Frequency and ease of accessing the tribe for knowledge just got easier, and it is never going away. We had better become part of the tribe – actively harvesting post-training learning – using the Learning Continuum for what it was intended to do. How else will we build the better bear?

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise