Work Context Is Ground Zero for Expanded Role of Training

Recent posts I have made referenced a concept I support “learning ecosystems”, and why I’m convinced training organizations have a call-to-action to expand their role. To make that case, I put forth a few questions to consider – “How many sales deals do sales reps close in the classroom? How many process decisions preventing creation of material waste do managers make while taking an on-line training course? How many impactful customer complaints are resolved in training role-plays or simulations?” If your answers range from “none” to “nada”, then another question looms – “Why are we pumping up to 80% of our training/learning resources into a learning context where no tangible business value is generated?”

In a July 2009 webinar, “The Future of the Business of Learning”, Josh Bersin shared research that showed on the average we spend about 5% of our work year in formal learning [training]. Also, on average, organizations allocate up to 80% of their training resources to that 5%; hence, the relevance of my questions above. The fact that we generate no tangible value during formal learning events should cause us pause and prompt us to reconsider how to maximize the role of training. I suggest that we move downstream into the post-training world – the other 95% – where people are engaged in real workflows and creating tangible business outcomes. This downstream environment represents our new target to impact performance with learning – our ground zero for expanded support.

Add the “other 95%” to the 5% we now support, and you have just defined a holistic environment that I refer to as the learning ecosystem. Consider this simple definition…

“Work context is that place where work gets done.”

I suppose I could have dressed that up a bit, but in reality, the definition is just that simple. What introduces complexity to an otherwise simple concept is the variability of the attributes shaped by the work context multiplied by the variability of learning moments of need of those functioning in the work context. I think we can agree that work is continuous. From that statement, I make the assumption that learning moments of need are equally as continuous – though surfacing at different times – with different workers – and at different points within their respective workflows. These variables make the case for a different approach to design, development, and delivery of learning assets within the work context. The shift refocuses emphasis from the 5% [training] to the 95% [informal learning] where we find performer support as a foundational tool.

This shift changes the rules of engagement for many training organizations. As such, it causes us to look through a different lens at what are often foreign attributes that ultimately affect design, development and delivery decisions. Refer back to the definition of work context. The most deceptively harmless word in that definition is “place”. When I think of “place”, my mind immediately considers physical geographic location. Implication – Where is the learner physically located when a moment of learning need strikes? What compounds things are additional variables also present [attributes] beyond physical location that directly impact whether or not flawless business performance happens. To provide some organization, I bundle these attributes in three categories: SPACE – MEDIA – SYSTEMS.

These three categories are interdependent with SPACE as the foundational cluster of attributes. SPACE influences MEDIA decisions relative to design, development, and delivery of the learning asset(s) required. Ultimately, the combination of SPACE and MEDIA influence and restrict SYSTEMS decisions. If we consider these three attribute clusters as capable of impacting design, development and delivery decisions, it follows that an expanded discovery effort needs to take place before design begins. The “A” in ADDIE [the knowledge and skills needs analysis] does not typically focus on the downstream world of the work context. So…is ADDIE defunct? Nope – just requires expanded work context discovery on the front end. And no…I am not suggesting ADDIE become DADDIE…there’s something fundamentally wrong with what could come out of using that acronym in conversation.

There are implications of enhanced discovery competencies for us to consider for those asking the “new questions”. To name a few; business savvy, or business acumen; recognizing a root cause versus a symptom of performance gaps; knowledge depth and breadth of rich-media types and their application; and delivery system implications including those that push learning assets to the learner as well as those devices that pull and/or receive assets that rest in the hands of the learner. Bear in mind that “systems” does not default to the LMS; we have to consider systems like electronic performer support (EPSS) that better serve the just-in-time, downstream work context moments of need. Throw in bandwidth restrictions and firewall complications if you really want to muddy things up. The point I make is that this expanded discovery effort requires more than good questioning skills. Basic performance consulting skills, rich-media awareness, and learning systems technology familiarity represent a good place to start.

Let’s look at SPACE, and the attributes included:

  • Learning stakeholders affected – Includes the learner/worker as the obvious stakeholder; the coaches/mentors supporting in the work context; managers or supervisors who may double as coach/mentor; Help Desk staff; training staff [if we really are engaged];and even potentially includes customers & clients and/or vendors.
  • Physical location of all affected learning stakeholders – Physical proximity to the work performed and/or supported
  • Proximity within the workflow – Where in the workflow does the moment of learning need surface? Recognizing that the “moment” may be different for virtually every worker. This implies leveraging the art of process mapping and mastering the Jedi mind trick of anticipating where the “moment(s)” will occur [all part of performance consulting competency].
  • Urgency to perform flawlessly – Include sources of pressure and/or duress present that could influence effective consumption of a learning asset designed to support flawless performance? Urgency is a perfect example of an attribute that directly influences a design decision – I.E. An employee confronts an active fire and needs to activate a fire extinguisher. No time to log on to the LMS and review the Fire Safety course. No time to download a one-page PDF that graphically reviews “How to…” from an iPhone. However, there is time to read a big yellow tag that says “Remove Pin & Squeeze Handle” in 144-point ARIAL BLACK font.
  • Business risk for less than flawless performance – Identifies both tangible and intangible costs related to less-than-flawless performance. Identifying business risks also serve another very necessary part of training – quantifying tangible key performance indicators that contribute to valid Level 3 and Level 4 evaluations. Remember, cost avoidance is only a soft dollar when the “before” performance was never benchmarked. Assessing business risk gives us a valid benchmark to measure our impact.

Throw all of these attributes together and one can begin to see how they can dramatically influence MEDIA decisions. As we all have experienced, the best time to decide what authoring platform to use is before we use it. That may sound a little tongue-in-cheek; but remember, we are no longer in a safe, controlled linear environment. We are smack in the middle of the other 95% where unstructured, uncontrolled chaos shapes the need…and the moment(s) to learn. Following are some of the variables of MEDIA influenced by the attributes of SPACE:

  • Modes of Delivery – Includes verbal, written, visual, rich-media, web-based, CD/DVD
  • Content Creation – Choice(s) of authoring platforms
  • Re-Use/Re-Purposing – Supporting the credo of “Create Once – Use Many Times” implying the authoring platform provides for easy editing and reformatting per the work context scenario
  • Granularity – Critical for re-use and retaining a “thread of continuity” throughout the ecosystem

SYSTEMS represent s the last cluster of attributes and fill the role of both influencer and limiter in the upstream decisions related firstly to SPACE and then MEDIA. Without these two dependencies fully identified our selection of the correct technology blend for the solution risks compromise. Consider the following attributes of SYSTEMS:

  • End-User Devices – An inventory of the device(s) accessible to the learner in their work context
  • Internet Connectivity – Defines degree of access and implications to bandwidth & security
  • Access to Content – Determines push versus pull; defines seamlessness & usability
  • Content Repository Options – shaped by MEDIA choices, static downloads versus streamed, etc.
  • Tracking Usage – Who uses what assets, frequency, & volume
  • Evaluation – Active feedback loops to gauge relevance, usability and metrics for Levels 3&4 eval
  • Help/Escalation – Defines accessibility to help resources beyond learning assets

Keep in mind, this writing focuses on the “other 95%” as a definition of work context. Earlier, I mentioned where ADDIE fell short in the post-training support of learning. In support of ADDIE, it still is a viable model for linear instructional design for formal training assets. Where I feel we have a huge opportunity is integrating attributes of the post-training work context into design decisions we make for the formal learning venues of classroom and on-line courses. Re-using content designed to support the work context in classroom simulations and as job aids supporting on-line exercises lend that “thread of continuity” I mentioned earlier. This is essential for extending knowledge retention beyond what we typically experience. Using a job aid [designed for post-training support] in formal training as a role-specific simulation scenario is a perfect example of establishing that “thread” I mentioned. Emphasis shifts from remembering “How to do something?” to a much easier to remember “What tool do I use to get something done?”

So…how do you answer the call to action? Is this really a new “ground zero” for your training resources? Is your training team at “readiness” to accomplish the expanded discovery? There are “no-cost to low-cost” Web 2.0 solutions that can support a lot of this approach of redefining learning as an ecosystem. While training scope may expand, the costs of training can easily go down by refocusing where and how we support learning for the workforce. To take this leap requires changing paradigms and a willingness to break traditions. I do NOT recommend leaping before assessing your readiness. If any of this has piqued your interest, I welcome open dialog any time.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise