Speedboat Learning

I discovered a new blog this morning with an inaugural post “Rage Against the eLearning Machine – How technology can make fools of us all.” The post was shared by Richard Maranta in the LinkedIn group E-Learning Advocates, and I think the posting was well written and spot on. It is worth reading if you do not mind taking a detour link. I will not regurgitate what Rick wrote, but I found myself moved to say “Yes, and…!”

The “Yes, and…” part of what Rick’s post triggered is that there is one additional perspective I suggest is a part of “the technology machine” that seems to get overlooked more often than not, and is well worth “raging against”. While I agree with Rick that content development represents a huge gap, I am convinced that the object of our design focus is yet another gap…and not just from the perspective of competent [or not] ISD practices.

I believe we [as training professionals] are still looking under the wrong rock for making sustainable impact in our businesses. In many cases, introducing technology, e-learning and rapid development of same has more often than not accomplished one thing – the rendering of crappy training faster and making it much more accessible with million-dollar LMS technology. In some cases, the learning content has been cheaper, and sadly, cheaper seems to get top billing and justification for continuing the practice…not that there is anything wrong with that given the right learning circumstances. But guess what? There is a more urgent mission for learning than transferring knowledge and skills, and it is a whole lot bigger than successful training events.

E-learning and the exotic technology to deliver it cannot be viewed as a more efficient way to render crap to learners, and I fear that has happened in various forms, and I agree that this deliverable is worth raging against. However, I suggest we look under a different rock – one that is on foreign ground – the downstream, post-training work context. I am convinced we have our greatest opportunity to drive sustained capability within our workforce by rendering the “right learning” where the workforce needs to be able to “learn @ the point of work“.

Learning @ the point of work creates an environment characterized by different learning needs. Not the least of which – “Give me what I need when I need it!” – and in an amount that matches the learning moment – and in a format that is readily consumable – and to/from the right devices. This is the domain where “E-Learning” could/should shine if we could just evolve beyond our entrenched paradigm of linear, storyboard-based learning design. Learning @ the point of work “ain’t linear”! It is chaotic. It is open water. It is opportunistic. It is continuous because the need is unpredictable, and it is highly individualized…and the individualization is a function of job role and of work expectations at task level. These characteristics represent attributes of a learning environment outside of the scope and charter of traditional training organizations, and yet represent the very environment where training should be in blitz mode.

I believe the end game now [or tomorrow morning at the latest] is building sustained capability in the workplace – in the workflow – for the workforce – in their respective work contexts – @the point of work. Save traditional training [in whatever form] for the compliance-centric check-box stuff. Seek to build design staffs with degrees in performance consulting with a side order of ISD. Pure ISD-certified people tend to be a source of excellent execution of linear design methodology that is keeping training on the decks of the Titanic with budget icebergs off the starboard bow. What we need now is agile speedboat learning with twin-225HP Mercs on the stern that can power through the chaos of open water. We need the agility to maneuver toward performance challenges, slamming into a change of course [no pun intended] turns on a moment’s notice to deliver immediate learning solutions – solutions that may in reality have zip-nada-nothing to do with training – but may actually use some of what we packed into a linear training model…assuming that was part of the design thinking. That level of content agility takes a different mindset – and a radical approach to design methods. It takes forethought based on intimate knowledge of the work needing accomplished in the work context. This shift is indeed a technology challenge  [nightmare?] when the tool of choice is the LMS Titanic. Did you know it takes 30-miles of open water to turn a super tanker around? Does that degree of agility [or lack thereof] characterize your approach to agility in learning design? No disrespect meant here, guys, but in the work context, we do not have 30-miles. We need the agility of a speedboat.

If you have ever been on big water in a smaller craft, you know that it takes a while to adjust of the pitch and roll of a constantly moving deck surface. But it gets easier once you gain your sea legs [and you are no longer barfing over the side]. Traditional training approaches are now faced with demanding new environments [dropped onto the deck of a speedboat] and have a choice to make. Turn loose of linear handholds every now and then, and attempt to gain the sea legs to function in the pitch and roll of the downstream “work context”. It might be a rougher ride for a while, but when you are that close to the water, you can see the waves and plan for riding out the chaos. A little Dramamine might help too…

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

  1. William J. Ryan, Ph.D.
    June 28, 2011 at 7:14 am

    A challenge I see is under the water, the sandbars of staff you can’t see immediately. As a sailor of boats with keels I watch the changes in water color, depth and tune/tweak th ecourse changes to get me thru the shallows as well as the deeps. So performance consults are a key component however we also need (in myopinion friend Gary!) to create the performance worker as well. How else will we create the learn @ the point of work content if we do not have the field expert who helps identify, create, and communicate the of need? Could design become more aligned with facilitation? The guide on the side is the designer of assessments and job aids? I agree with the agility and your point is well taken Gary however I am falling short in identifying how we will create the expanded support team needed to create learing moments that will be accurate and effective @ the poojnt of work, at the time of need. Let’s keep the discussion going!

  2. June 28, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Bill, I could not agree more about the “other” changes that must take place. The whole mindset of learning @ the point of work versus waiting until you get to training or using whatever network or reliance on tribal knowledge to get you through. As far as “facilitation” goes, I agree also, and think the actual facilitation may be less of formal learning interventions and more of facilitating work. Having used EPSS technology now for a few years, I see the shift in training toward learning how to use the tool to learn in the context of the workflow. In many respects, we teach people how to learn outside of the formal training venues we all know and love…or hate…

    The support team, as you called them, I think is a evolving role of the training organization. Not everyone is or can be a performance consultant, nor do they have to be a pure play performance consultant. I really liked the ASTD Human Performance Improvement certificate program because it took performance consulting principles and integrated it with the concept of workplace learning and performance, ther precoursor for their CPLP certification. Where we fall short is trying to fit those new skills into the same old “training box”, and the point of impact I’m proposing is downstream from there.

    I’m not sure how any training professional can understand what to build or design regarding a workflow without experiencing the workflow, ether by walking in those shoes, or having deep discovery conversations and mapping of the actual work. That’s where I see the value of performance consulting…being able to visualize workflows and anticipate pinch points for which job aids and other support options are made available.

    I also think that Trainers/Designers are going to have to have an onboard sense of what technology can do [Web 2.0 to X.0] because it is that technology that is going to support mobility in the work context. Since we are downstream from actual training, we have to figure out how to get the right learning assets into the right hands…and/or build an infrastructure that allows the learner to be the one invoking the learning.

    To your point, the relationship between Training and the workforce they serve is going to have to be a lot more collaborative, and the interactions and equipping of SMEs to contribute their wisdom is essential. I am not convinced the current training paradigms are going to sustain the downstream shift we are going to have to make. The learning moments are of the worker in their work context…and there must be an interactive linkage to Training [dept] with the workforce and less of a “come to class” or “take this course” approach to driving performance.

    Personally, I think this approach scares a lot of trainers…at least it did in my last job. The traditionalists were threatened. The fear of changing up status quo and entrenched design methodologies was a scary premise. If being agile enough with learning assets [hard-soft-human] we need an infrastructure that enables the interface and interaction and a design mentality focused on learning @ the point of work where linearity and structure and learning objectives are less important. The end objective is sustained capability with a stipulation that there was a transfer of knowledge and skills in a secondary supporting role.

    Thanks for the comments – good ones for sure!


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