Learning Brokers Force Training to the Edge

Moving the workforce into a state of readiness holds profound implications of producing performance and tangible outcomes that consistently contribute to sustained capability in any organization. It goes without saying that readiness is a desired state for the entirety of the organization’s workforce despite the diversity of work unit contributions. The one business unit in particular that carries mission-critical responsibility to be in a state of readiness is the Training organization. Their mission, if they do it well, should carry the responsibility to enable every other business unit’s workforce contribution to reach sustained capability. Many are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The training unit is in the best position to be a key purveyor of readiness. Unfortunately, many training units are limiting themselves by remaining in their traditional roles – enablers of knowledge and skills acquisition. Pumping heads and hearts full of new knowledge and skills is a good thing, but not enough to sustain capability in the work context. They are on the edge” but the wrong one.

If organizational readiness is the prize, the training unit’s scope must expand from their traditional domain of formal learning [a.k.a. Training] revealing new territory downstream from classrooms and on-line learning venues and into the work context. (See Figure 1) Training must have their finger on the pulse of each business unit’s ability to perform flawlessly in their respective work contexts. Wait a minute…should training be responsible for reading the pulse of productivity?

No, not as a primary task…but they should be business savvy enough to recognize where learning has a role to play in both formal and informal circumstances. They should have the technical awareness to recognize an opportunity for integrating a Web 2.0 solution. They should have the ability to see beyond the typical “request for training” and identify a root cause for the performance gap. And…Training spends on average 80% of time a resources NOT doing those things.

Learning EcosystemFigure 1


Readiness within the Training unit is the keystone for readiness across the rest of the organization. Gone are the days when we could afford to haul our workforce off-task for hours or days into classrooms to learn. Many organizations turned to digitizing classroom training and offered the same learning content on-line. While there has been some success, there has been greater parts disappointment; not to mention the workforce was still off-task to learn.

Training’s job scope has expanded [and is different…which is a source of resistance to Change] when they venture into the work context. Many are not at a place of readiness to embrace the implications of expanded scope that include:

  • New skills beyond delivering knowledge and skills
  • New competencies beyond training expertise
  • New discovery requirements
  • New technology awareness beyond the LMS
  • New design and development methodologies
  • New delivery venues

Knowledge and skills are still a part of the Training domain, but the role of training has shifted to the effective application of those knowledge and skills – in the work context – and at the moment of need.  (See Figure 2)

Convergence of Learning & WorkFigure 2

The velocity of business demand for flawless performance in the work context is causing a convergence with learning moments of need. This relentless convergence of learning moments and real work feeds that a velocity that out-paces traditional training approaches aimed at our workforce. Our training context only satisfies learning moments in the 5% slice of the ecosystem pie.

The other 95% is where the workforce generates real business results. The other 95% is the work context where learning is confounded with urgency and risk tied to flawless performance. This is the environment where Training has a responsibility to be present and engaged, and this is where Training, for the most part, is MIA. Why? I think it is a question of both readiness and willingness.


Training does not focus downstream. Training too often focuses on the controlled, structured “event” of training. Training is often too busy responding to request for training and neglecting to dig beyond the request and discover the aspects of performance that could render a sustainable solution. Why? Because the solution is not always training…AND…when you consider how convergence has shifted the need for agility and delivering tailored learning assets at moments of need – Training’s role has changed and expanded to include that of a Learning Broker. (See Figure 3)

Learning BrokerFigure 3


Take learning downstream and into the work context where moments of learning need have business risk and urgency as constant companions. Business operations and related workflows are continuous; why should the opportunity to learn be any less continuous? A Learning Continuum framework best articulates the nature and scope of continuous learning across the organization [the learning ecosystem]. (See Figure 4)

PDR Learning ContinuumFigure 4

Is the Learning Broker a piece of technology? It could be, and to keep pace with learning at the edges, it may very well need to be technology-based. Most of us have heard the acronym EPSS before, also known as Electronic Performance Support Systems, and written about extensively by an early pioneer, Gloria Gery back in 1991 – “Electronic Performance Support Systems: How and Why to Remake the Workplace Through the Strategic Application of Technology”. Yup…1991…twenty…yeah, count ‘em…twenty years ago, and who can tell us where EPSS has been all this time? Opinion – It was an expensive application with a too narrow focus on integration with on-line systems support.

Enter Web 2.0, and the technology has morphed enabling a really good idea and making it a viable, cost effective learning solution. The Broker momentum is building rapidly because the concept does not exclusively link to on-line business applications any longer. In fact, the Learning Broker can address ANY process flow whether using a system for all of it…part of it…or none of it. A “system” could be a process like onboarding where a new employee follows a visual map of orientation tasks and actions items over a period of time requiring access to other systems…company video clips…background information, visual workflow support, relevant policies based on their role, access to mentors…and who knows what else that may be URL addressable that one may choose to bring a new employee up to a state of readiness. And check this out – the new employee is in charge of invoking the assets used on this journey. Wow…empowering the learner in the learning process. That sounds so Millennial…

The Threat?

Ahah…the crux of where EPSS has been hiding all these years. Again, with the opinion – Training has viewed EPSS as a threat to their existence. And I would be the first to agree. BUT…my agreement comes only for those Training organizations clinging to traditional linear learning solutions like flotation devices in a water landing. Here [in the Broker role] we have an old technology reborn through Web 2.0 capabilities – costs have come down dramatically – training time has been reduced by half or more in most implementations [koff…] – and investment payback has typically been realized within the same year as implementation – and a host of other efficiencies gained to enable learning at the moment of need.

I see the Learning Broker concept as the future of learning – at the moment of need – and my position is that “Broker” technology, using Web 2.0 innovation can change the face of training in the organization. And that scares the crap out of training professionals. And it should…because Training is…or should be… THE best entity in the organization to drive this “Broker” concept across business units. Training should be all over this technology; instead, most view it as a distraction to status quo. Okay, do you want to hear something really threatening? If Training does not rise to the occasion, the operational side of the business will. And THAT, my friends is the real threat to the Training organization. If we do not go to the edges of the ecosystem to contribute to workforce readiness, there will be another “edge” coming that is razor sharp and cuts Training budgets and funding and moves those dollars to the edges where ROI is tangible. The learning game has changed venues, folks, and we [Training] have got to head to the edge and “broker” learning at moments of need if we want to survive.


Hah…yup, another rant. I have to confess that I feel strongly that this is worth ranting about. In fact, I am more excited about the “broker concept” than anything I have experienced in my learning career. I mean this is bigger than the LMS and Virtual Classroom tools in my estimation. It is bigger because it is not a technology that just digitized something we already did. LMS digitized the learning management process…woohoo. Virtual classroom took us from face-to-face training to synchronous distance learning. Now that was a big deal when I first discovered it. But this…the Learning Broker is radically different because it changes the rules of learning engagement. It takes the control out of the hands of training, and it empowers the learner at THEIR moment of need. I find that exciting, because learning is now right smack dab in the workflow. Can I hear an “Amen?”

I first heard the word “broker” used in this context while in conversation with a colleague who is in the EPSS business. The concept is so painfully obvious that I am embarrassed for not catching on sooner.  I have been focusing on EPSS since deploying one in a previous life at a large hospital to support the PeopleSoft HRIS suite, and ultimately, a massive new Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system. It was during the PeopleSoft deployment effort that I connected the dots. The EPSS did NOT have to link to a system like PeopleSoft. It could link to nothing at all. My “aha moment” was this – “Any workflow process is fair game for supporting learning at the moment of need by a Learning Broker.”  Truly, this changes the rules of engagement big time.

If this rant has piqued your interest or prompted questions, I welcome a conversation.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise