Work & Learning Convergence: On a Collision Course

Competency. Urgency to perform flawlessly. Business risk. Sustainability. Pick whichever one of these strikes your fancy, but they all speak to what we hope effective training will deliver – avoid – and/or create in our workforce – meaningful and legitimate outcomes all. Unfortunately, we cannot realize these outcomes from the classroom or because of on-line training; rather, they manifest downstream from our training efforts – in the work context. Are we spending our time, resources, and energy in the right place? I am not convinced we are, and as a result, human performance will not be widely sustainable.

In several previous posts, I write about the significance of work context – the downstream domain where human performance takes place. I describe work context as “the new classroom”. The concept of work context is where workflow [actual work] and the need to access learning assets seem more mission critical than ever before. Convergence is the best word I can conjure up to describe what is happening. The gap between the need to perform flawlessly and the actual capability to perform flawlessly do not always match up. To bridge the gap, we must facilitate application of effective learning assets with little or no delay. So what do we do? Abandon formal training and have subject matter experts ride shotgun with our work force? That might be fun for a change of pace, but not until they perfect cloning. As I recall, none of us can be in three places at once.

Who among us has not heard the cry for more informal learning, or questions about how important is informal learning to have increasingly embedded in the mix. I think the more important question is who among us is in a position to do anything about it? And if it is to become part of our strategy, how do we get there? Following is a five-part opinion to consider:

  • Change Methodology – modify the mix of content and activities in formal learning events that mirror the work context
  • Shift Paradigms – shrink learning assets with the intent to re-use
  • Look Downstream – equip your training team to leverage discovery in the work context
  • Start Harvesting – look downstream for successes, “deviant behavior”, and failures
  • Enable Access – connect the work force to learning assets inside the workflow

Methods & Paradigms & Things That Live Downstream

Okay, so right out of the chute I use the word “change”. Sorry about that, but there is no way we can avoid this fundamental shift in our methods, and I realize the word “paradigm” is a bit overused, but it still works in my mind’s eye. What I propose is not a silver bullet for all training programs, but it is dead on target when you are dealing with virtually anything that is process and/or task intensive. Try implementing SAP or Oracle ERP or CRM solutions without this approach and…no don’t…it can be ugly…have seen it…when none [well maybe a few] can recall what they learned in training prior to GoLive. It is not just “systems” training where this works. Also consider sales product training where factoids, competitive matrices, cross-department workflows and key differentiators are a big deal.

Think shrinkage. Think create once – use many times. While you’re at it, think about the learner as the key point of focus – not the content you are jazzing up with Flash – and make that focus center on the downstream work context because that’s where they’re going to need the support. Coincidentally, that is where we want sustainability to happen…but I digress.

Build the classroom or on-line experience around job emulation that matches up with the roles involved. Avoid one-size-fits-all unless one-size-really-does-fit-all. Likely different roles must do different things, and the emulation effort should be diverse enough to reflect those differences. Simulations work well in this regard, but those simulations should be based upon discreet roles and integrate the actual learning assets [performer support] the workers are expected to use as tools in their respective work contexts.

Match the component tasks, steps, phases, processes with content [performer support] that are targeted as stand-alone tools sufficient to complete each task, step, phase, etc. etc. This means objectization in the design process where granularity matches the increments of work. Storyboarding and linear facilitation still work, but I am suggesting what is linear is chunked to accommodate not only formal learning but the informal downstream application as well.

Farming and Other Things That Get Us Dirty

Yes, farming. We prepare the workforce [soil] with formal learning solutions, we reinforce [cultivate] with performer support in its many forms [informal learning], and we extract [harvest] best practices and other forms of deviant behavior. Deviant? Sure…anyone who builds a job aid that is better than the ones we built as part of our design and development effort is a deviant worker. We need them to deviate. And when they do, we need whatever they have produced that works. Likewise, we need to harvest the failures – especially if they are coming from the use of tools we designed to make them successful.

Where do we harvest? On the extremes of that infamous bell curve. I want to talk to the “top guns” about why they are top guns. I want to talk to the bottom ten percent [regardless of what Jack Welch recommends] and find out the source(s) of their performance gap(s). Will you get dirty? Yeah, maybe a little, but you have to get out of the classroom and go downstream to where work happens…or is not.

Unfortunately, the act of harvesting is not a thriving endeavor for some training organizations. Get your level one evaluation and demonstrate transfer at level 2, and we call it done, when in reality we should just be beginning.

Enable Access to Performer Support Assets

I think sometimes, and this may be radical to a few of you, that I would rather be the proud owner of an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) than the LMS everyone loves to hate. EPSS is the technology platform that, in many case and with the better ones, integrate learning assets in a context-sensitive manner right into the application workflow. If the worker is at step 6 of 17 and they find themselves stuck trying to access recall knowledge [that exited their brain before the taxi delivered them to the airport to return home after training] the need for performer support is immediate. Color that immediacy with business risk [flawless execution, financial loss, creation of waste, liability, injury or death, other attributes of urgency] and potential cost of failure just went up.

If I could find an EPSS that handled the LMS compliance tracking capability I need, I do not think I could recommend ever owning another LMS. It is not my intent to slam the LMS population; their design never included them going in that direction. I need my workforce to have seamless, frictionless, and ubiquitous access to the right learning assets in their moment(s) of learning need in the right amount and format, to and from the right devices. If my hair is on fire, I do not have time to log into the LMS and take a course on fire safety. Yes, I have crowed these words before, but now I am aligning them with a technology solution that can make it so.

Should EPSS be a standard technology tool? The standard consultant’s answer applies, “It depends.” If you work/train in a high volume environment heavy with process-intensive and/or heavy reliance on on-line applications or systems, then I would seriously recommend investigating the technology. In addition, anticipate the payback in the first year or certainly before the second year is through. Anticipate the return from a decrease in formal learning, which in turn drives down time off-task, and enables increased productivity. Many companies going this route have seen these benefits.

Closing Thoughts

Collision course, eh? I am afraid so. Does sound a bit ominous, but losing competitive advantage has a bit of a twinge to it too. Losing budget dollars because all we can support is evidence of formal learning activity as a cost center holds little appeal as well. We have to get downstream. EPSS demands that we scope out the work context and performer support needs by role and function. Downstream is where we discover those attributes.

Do not allow the absence of an EPSS platform stop you from making the adjustments in method, shifting the formal learning paradigm, and heading downstream to do a little farming. I am not sure how to sustain capability without the training department integrating their role into the work context. Even if an EPSS solution is not in your future, the time has come to step out of the traditional training role, and get downstream and start doing a little farming. Enable work and learning to converge and avoid the collision altogether.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning