Discovery Methodology for a Learning Continuum

The purpose of this document is to provide a guide for accomplishing discovery that defines attributes of a learning environment, in particular, the work context – when and where learning moments of need are manifest. It is essential that these attributes are identified in early planning stages in any project where learning assets are created to ensure design decisions are not negatively impacted by variables within the learner’s work environment. This approach includes three key learning environmental influencers – Space, Media & Systems – each having a cluster of discrete attributes that should be included in an expanded discovery effort.


Moments of Learning Need

This approach is essential when technology is utilized in the creation/capture and /or delivery of learning assets to ensure that the tech component(s) remain as enablers and not that of drivers of the ultimate solution. Any learning solution developed should holistically consider the learner’s environment to effectively address multiple moments of learning need. See Figure 1

Moments of Learning Need

Figure 1

If learning objectives specific to the event are intended to drive sustainable performance, then any solution must consider the work context where the learner confronts their moment(s) of learning need.

In addition, characteristics of the life-cycle of learning must also be considered. Learning, in and of itself, cannot be treated as a transaction or a singular event if sustainable performance is the desired outcome. In fact, learning is a continuous process, and the concept of life-cycle spans a continuum of learning.


The Learning Continuum

The Learning Continuum represents the holism of learning, meaning that it includes both formal aspects of controlled, pre-meditated learning (training) and unstructured, unplanned informal learning moments. To encompass the spectrum of learning moments that surface within formal and informal scenarios, our design methodology cannot not be restricted to a linear approach. This is especially true when we consider the learner may be in a completely different work context when confronted with a learning moment of need than experienced in the formal classroom or online setting. This implies our design methodology must become iterative across the life cycle of learning, and the iteration is addressed using a three-phase framework called PDR. See Figure 2

Learning Continuum

Figure 2

Prepare – Establishes a state of readiness within learners in advance of the formal learning program. This could be as minimal as  sharing an agenda in advance, or it could be more complex including an activity like an on-line course serving as a prerequisite to the
actual event, or a pre-reading assignment, or another activity. Emphasis at this first stage is to deliver theory in “preparation” of the learner to maximize the next stage in the learning life-cycle.

Deploy – Represents the actual learning event. This could include a learning program that utilizes classroom training, or self-paced on-line learning, live distance learning, or webinars to a remote audience – or a blend of all of the above. The focus is on application where the learner is engaged with experiential learning, interactivity, collaboration, exercises, role and scenario-based simulations, etc. Emphasis is on “doing” rather than “knowing”.

Reinforce – Represents the most critical component of the continuous learning environment; the component that drives sustainability. The Reinforce phase typically is post-training – downstream in the chaos of the work context. This phase is where the non-linear nature of learning surfaces in solution components like Performer Support – just-in-time learning, job aids, reference guides, access to SMEs, manager/mentor support, knowledge bases, access to social media, etc. The emphasis in this phase is driving sustainable implementation – sustainability either does…or does not…happen in this phase.


Work Context Discovery

Learners will be confronted by one or more of the five learning moments at various points within their individual path to competency. These critical learning moments are shaped by attributes of the learner’s work context. These learning moments – when and where they occur – are where our ability to support continuous learning are most critical to impact sustained performance and our learner’s production of positive business outcomes. It is essential that we consider the attributes of Space, Media & Systems and their roles across all three phases of the Learning Continuum as we make design, development and delivery decisions.

Attributes of Space:

The concept of “space” represents attributes of the learner’s work environment at their moment(s) of learning need, and they include:

Learning Stakeholder(s)

o Who is/are the primary learning stakeholder(s)?
(i.e. who are the targeted learners? Who will consume the learning assets?)

o What does their role/function produce in their work context?
(i.e.  Responsible to produce “X”, promote “Y”, manage process “Z”, etc.)
   o Who are the other stakeholders?
   (i.e.  Mgr, Help Desk, SME, Mentors, etc)

Physical Location
o Where is the learner physically located at their moment(s) of learning need?
  (i.e. physical location during the learning continuum stages of prepare – deploy – reinforce)

Work Flow
   o Where is the learner within the context of their work flow or work process when
confronted with their moment(s) of need?
   (i.e. Using on-line system @ bed-side, managing worker who work remotely,
engaged in training of a colleague as the resident SME, etc.)

   o What is the level of urgency associated with flawless execution at the learning moment of
   (i.e. Planning learning for 90-days in the future – low
or accessing a job-aid “just-in-time” for a critical work flow task – high)

   o What is at risk if flawless execution falls short?
    (i.e. Death or injury, material waste, non-compliance liability, financial loss, etc)

Attributes of Media:

The concept of “media” addresses the format (modes and/or venues) that contribute to a compelling transfer of information and/or knowledge. The attributes of “space” are a key dependency that influences the viability of media options considered. Media selection may ultimately be a blend of several components that compliment the “space” that the learner may occupy – and as it changes – depending upon what phase of the learning continuum they are in at the time. Those blends may include any combination of the following:

o Will the learning event include live/recorded facilitation or delivery?
       (If yes, describe interactivity, one-way, two-way, Q&A, etc)

   o Will content reside on hard-copy documents?
      (i.e. Word, Excel, PPT, PDFs, etc.)

   o What manner of graphics are required to make the message compelling?
       (i.e. photo images, graphs, charts, video clips, animations, etc)

Rich Media
o Will video content be embedded in the learning asset?
o Will audio content be embedded in the learning asset?
o Will video or audio be accessed/streamed from media archives?

   o Will content be accessed through on-line URL links?
    (If yes, define links as internal intranet, internet, issues of access rights, etc)

   o Will content reside on CD/DVD or other portable media?

Due to implications imposed by the Continuum’s life-cycle phases (prepare, deploy & reinforce) the design and development decisions are rife with potential for redundant effort. The ability to create once – use many times becomes an essential consideration for any design/development effort. The “create once – use many times” approach springs from the ability to use the same content multiple times during the learner’s transition across the Continuum. All design and development decisions should be tested against the potential for re-use efficiencies inherent in the different phases using the PDR model. As such, there are development questions that must be addresses in the spirit of maximizing re-use and minimizing redundant effort. These decisions include:

o What authoring/capture application(s) will be utilized?
Different authoring tools may be more or less appropriate within each PDR phase – Defining
“Space” becomes critical knowledge here.

Content Editing
   o Not every capture tool renders output that is easily edited outside of its native state.
    (i.e. some video capture tools can be edited easily after-the-fact, and some cannot)

Re-Purposing & Re-Use
   o Does the content already exist in some other format?
 If so, can it be edited and/or reformatting to be re-utilized all or in part?
   o Will content created for this solution serve another purpose or a secondary audience?
  (Potential for re-use may determine initial capture methods)
   o Will all or portions of the content support all three stages of the learning continuum?
Looking for opportunities to re-use a content object in all three phases of the Continuum.
           Prepare – Insertion of job aids or other reference materials into pre-work
           Deploy – Use the same job aids in classroom exercises and scenario-based simulations
Reinforce – Use same job aids as downloadable performer support, and/or as
coaching guides for managers/supervisors, etc)

   o What is the optimal size of learning content objects?
A learning object is a “chunk” of learning that holds learning value on a stand-alone basis.
(i.e. A 15-minute e-learning module, 30-second video clip, 3-minute podcast, etc)

Attributes of Blended Systems:

We now have two layers of dependency defined – Space and Media. We know what learning asset(s) serve each phase of the Continuum, and we know details regarding the learner’s work context. Both of these attribute clusters influence the technology required. Without these two dependencies fully identified, our selection of the correct technology blend for the solution risks being compromised. Technology must also be addressed in a holistic way when we consider the three stages of the PDR learning continuum – and the potential for the learner being in three different “spaces” and consuming three different “media” blends. Technology cannot be treated as a one-size-fits-all proposition to get continuous learning into the hands of the learner. In addition, we have not even considered how to measure effectiveness yet. Obviously, additional peripheral criteria must be considered when building a holistic technology solution. Consider the following:

End-user Devices
   o What technology is in the hands of, or is accessible to, the learner when confronted with
their learning moment(s) of need?
(i.e. individually assigned computer, shared workstation, DVD player, smart phone, etc)
   o Keep in mind that more than one device may be employed at different points on the
Prepare – DVD player for pre-work
            Deploy – Computer in the classroom
Reinforce – Smart phone access to job-aids back on the unit

Internet Connectivity
   o Is access to the internet required to serve the learning moment(s)?
o If so, what bandwidth requirements must be available (in the aggregate) to accommodate
anticipated content transfer rates?
   – Are all users on-net or are there non-employees participating using their own computers?
– How many – are there 10 participants or two hundred? Video?
   o Once again, the different learning continuum phases may require different levels/type of
internet access.

Access to Content
   o Will the system “push” the content to the learner, or will the learner download or “pull” the
content on demand?
o Are there access rights/ restrictions to be considered?
o Who will be accountable for content management and currency?

Content Repositories
   o Given the nature of the content, where will it be archived?
o How will it be retrieved?
(i.e. Facilitated virtually, downloaded by learners, streamed on-demand, etc.)
   o Will the content be searchable?
( Implies selection of metadata (keywords, tags)

   o Will consumption of the learning asset require a record of completion?
o If so, describe acceptable recording format.
          (i.e. Training history in the LMS, printed certificate)

   o Will learning asset consumption require evaluation or testing?
  If so, describe format (i.e. hard-copy instrument or on-line access)
   o Will the impact render a tangible result or an intangible result?
o Define the key performance indicator(s) expected if successful?
  (What evidence will be realized if sucessful?  What does sucess look like?)
   o What is a reasonable expectation for time-to-impact?
   (i.e. Should evaluation be captured immediately or after “X” months post-event, etc)

   o Who does the learner turn to if they need help?
    (i.e. Help Desk, content owner, subject-matter-expert, etc)
   o Will there be a knowledge base?
  If so, how does the learner access it?
   o Who are the SMEs and how does the learner access them?


Summary Thoughts

Was it noticeable that these discovery questions went deeper and broader than those we use  in a typical training needs assessment?  This discovery methodology actually does not preclude accomplishing the traditional needs assessment – it is still required for the linear components of formal learning that are present in the Deploy phase of the Learning Continuum. Is it more work? Sure it is, but if you are in this business to produce sustained capability, it needs to be added to your discovery repertoire.  Do not toss out ADDIE just yet. Instead, plan on using it iteratively to adjust to the work context and the three phases of the PDR Learning Continuum.

Do you feel anything is missing that holistic discovery should cover?

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise