Close to the Edge: The Radicalization of Training

As I reflect on this title, I can imagine some rather extreme images springing forth in the minds of long-time training purists. I say this with confidence because the topic of facilitating learning at the edges of the ecosystem has freaked out both platform trainers and instructional design professionals before. Yeah, and yours truly was that source of disruption. Several actually questioned if the time had come to update their resumes. In my no-longer-humble-opinion, if training does not step up…make that…step out…to the edges of the learning ecosystem, training budgets will continue to shrink and those resumes will need updated anyway. My thinking around this radicalization of training becomes more urgent by the day, and the only thing that gets blown up is a paradigm or two.

Urgency soon will be routine for businesses. Some are already feeling it as the economy begins to reawaken from recession. The velocity of business demands will increase. Hiring will begin in earnest. Businesses will start spending their stash of cash on new technologies. These are all good things, and we have been waiting for them to manifest for a couple of years now. I have to ask though, “Where are we headed with this reawakening?” And another question, “Are we headed back to business as usual?” Or “Are things going back to normal?”

I think we are going to see a new “normal” characterized by a velocity like we have never experienced. To meet the demands of urgency at the hands of this velocity, new technologies are going to play a more important role in driving workforce effectiveness. While hiring will increase, I am not convinced headcount is going to be replaced one-for-one with pre-recessionary levels. So, here we go with “doing more with less”. And why not? Work demands will not be “normal” anymore so why would we think normal might apply to anything else? Fewer people will get the job done, and they will most likely have the new technologies to do it.

A future such as this should have Training more than a little concerned. If the velocity of business operations is going to accelerate…if the rate of hiring and onboarding are going to accelerate…if the introduction of new technology is going to spike training demand…there should be significant concern. This concern is not only a supply/demand concern; it is a question of creating sustained capability in the workforce. Traditional training methods of classroom and/or on-line venues cannot meet the sustainability demands that flow from workforce capacity “doing” the work. Why? Because Training is not present at the “point of work”. Training has no presence out on the “edges” where work happens.

Training will do what training does best – impart knowledge and skills. Imparting knowledge and skills is not the same thing as building workforce capacity. Those two outcomes happen in two radically different places and contexts. Knowing “how to do a job” and having the “capacity to do the job” are very different. However, it is absolutely critical that both exist. This co-existence is what those most threatened by this implied Change are missing. Training “how” is still important. Always will be. The reality is, it is no longer enough, and that is because workforce capacity is required downstream, post-training in the work context. More often than not, this is within the workflow or at the point of work.

Moving downstream requires a new “design-think”. I built the PDR Learning Continuum framework to facilitate the continuous nature of learning in this environment. New technologies are enabling the convergence of training with Business Process Guidance. But frameworks and technologies are not the answer in and of themselves. The secret sauce is Training recognizing the expanded role they must play in the work context. No other business entity is better equipped to go there. But I must quickly say – do not go into the work context to TRAIN. It is not training that is needed down there.

The mission is now more of being an information broker, and without new technology in the mix, we cannot meet the demands. The mission is anticipating where a worker is going to have a learning moment of need. The mission is identifying root causes behind performance gaps and sorting out what is trainable from what is not. The mission is putting the power of learning into the hands of the learner by supporting a continuous learning environment. This truly blows up existing training paradigms, but not “blowing up” like in exploding into smithereens…I’m talking “blowing up” like a balloon…making it bigger than it is. This is an expansion not a replacement. In reality, a learning ecosystem is and always has been right under our noses, but our focus has only been on the formal learning components of it.

We have our million dollar LMSs tracking training, and they may or may not yet integrate with HR talent subsystems like performance management, or competency management, or succession planning. All of those systems are mission critical. Like I said, it is bigger than training, and speaking of critical, here are two downstream questions that beg for an answer:

  1. Where is Training down in the work context where performance failures carry a price tag of business liability, excessive costs, material waste, redundant efforts, and loss?
  2. Why is there such an acute absence of Business Process Guidance (PBG) and Performance Support (PS) technology in this work context domain?

The first question sets up the premise that the second question solves. I am dumbfounded as to the answer to the second question when you consider BPG/PS technology is a mere fraction of the investment of a low-end LMS. More confounding – most BPG/PS investments provide positive payback in less than a year. I think what is so baffling is remembering all the pain and agony I went through to manufacture ROI for a new LMS. We managed to do it, but I must admit there was a little voodoo involved, and we cooked a few numbers in subjectivity to get there. Conversely, BPG/PS has enough documented evidence of positive impact that it is astounding that Training continues to ignore this amazing technology. Do any of you have ideas why? I would truly love to hear them.

Vendors who sell this technology make it a practice to bypass Training and go straight to the operational side of the business. Why? Because the operational side of the business understands…lives and dies…by minimizing or eliminating things like business liability, excessive costs, material waste, redundant efforts, and loss. Training’s charter does not include playing in that sandbox. We try sometimes, but we are not close enough to the edge. We need to be. The business needs us to be in that sandbox. Workforce capacity and sustained capability need Training’s support in that downstream sandbox.

If we holistically cover the entire learning ecosystem, including the edges where work is done, we have an environment where:

The right learners have seamless, frictionless and ubiquitous access to/from the right learning assets – at their moment(s) of learning need – in work context-friendly amounts – in compelling, readily-consumable formats – to/from the right devices.

That environment I just described is larger in scope than the limits of our current training paradigms permit. Methinks it is going to take some radical moves, some “blowing up” of training paradigms to get beyond where our responsibility ends today – finish your test and complete your evaluation before you return to your work and hopefully do not screw anything up. Yeah, it is time for the radicalization of Training.

If your organization wants to map a journey to the edge, we should chat. I have been there now on two occasions, flirting with a third trip to the edge with a new client, and have found the world not to be flat and the only monsters to be slayed were myths.

Thanks for listening!  I welcome any dialog or questions or comments. Why do you think there is such an absence of BPG/PS technology out there?  I would really be interested in your thoughts.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise