Instructional Design or Architected Learning?

I have little doubt this title may foster a defensive posture by some readers even before consumption of the first paragraph is complete. On the other hand, it may prompt the question, “What’s the difference?” My hope is that no reader feels the need to defend long-held traditions of instruction design (ISD). The objective of writing this short piece is to position that the art of ISD is a subset of an architected learning solution…and…the architecture of a learning solution, shaped by the work environment it supports, becomes a key influencer of ISD decisions.

Typically, we find the work “architect” used as a noun. In the context pursued here, I choose to use it as a verb. Architect… as in “build” or “structure” a usable solution.  One might view the building of or the process of structuring the solution as most important, but the true guiding principle I target is clearly mapping the environmental attributes of “What is a usable solution?”

This concept requires looking through a different lens than we [myself included for many years] traditionally use for making sound ISD design decisions. This lens is that of the work context. Work Context, a favorite topic of mine, is that place and that time that defines moment(s) of learning need confronted in the downstream, post-training workflow.

Work context is part of the Learning Ecosystem and it resides in the downstream, post-training world where emphasis shifts to supporting the performer as they work. I’ve dubbed the phrase – Learning @ the Point of Workas this post-training application of learning.The work context is the place and time where the need for flawless performance has the greatest impact on business outcomes – the greatest risk of business liability – the greatest potential for loss – the greatest potential for creating material waste. The list of “greatest potentials” could go on, but the point begs the question, “How can learning after training minimize the impact of less than flawless performance?”

The individual members of our workforce are a source of these failures. This is not an indictment of the workforce; it is an indictment of our effectiveness in equipping them to perform flawlessly in their respective work contexts. The best training designed with the highest degree of ISD best practices are critically important…BUT…we make design decisions for those events based upon the delivery of excellent training. Is that wrong? No! The fact is – It is just not enough.

Fulfilling the scope and charter of training at the highest levels does not treat the entirety of the learning environment. I used a Bob Mosher term “learning ecosystem” earlier to describe the domain where we must “architect” a solution that is instructionally sound for the formal learning opportunities we know as training…AND…is functionally relevant to workers in the workflows when confronted with a moment of learning need. It is the second half of this equation where our ISD practices are most often under-scoped.

Does this mean Training does not…or cannot…play in the post-training work context? Absolutely not! I am most passionate about Training’s absence in the work context domain of the learning ecosystem. You might ask “What would training, and/or the ISD function, do differently if they were indeed to evolve/expand scope to address the ecosystem edge-to-edge?” The answer to that question would fill a book, but the short version requires architecting learning solutions that address all three phases of the PDR Learning Continuum [Prepare – Deploy – Reinforce]. Design decision made that exclude the post-training attributes of the work context, consistently fall short of supporting the learning agility required by our workforce when their learning needs carry the greatest potential impact to the business.

What can you begin to do differently now to expand the impact of your training efforts? Continually ask yourself this question, “How are my participants going to remember to do “X” when doing “X” flawlessly matters most to our business success?” The answer has very little to do with satisfying Level 1 & 2 evaluation thresholds; our traditional measures of successful training.

My guess is you will discover Performer Support that isrequired to provide reference knowledge to workers at their moment of need. Is that reference knowledge a job aid pulled down to a smartphone? Is it a collaborative social network interface to connect to a SME/Help Desk? Is it a 15-second video clip that drives home a critical selling point?

Whatever the performer support is…and whatever form it takes…it must be accessible at the moment of learning need. And here is a major point – All of these criteria require design forethought that includes the work context attributes before making design decisions.

Why? Think re-use. If I am going to the trouble to build a reinforcement component…a learning asset…a chunk…a performer support object…I need to make those design considerations from the point of view of using and re-using that object to satisfy my formal learning [training] event, as well as the worker’s ability to consume it efficiently and apply it effectively in their post-training, moment of need. Provide my learners with an opportunity to practice with the same performer support in the safety of the classroom or on-line that they will be expected to use flawlessly in the work context. This is the continuity of learning the learning continuum framework supports.

So…I hope you can see that ISD and architected learning solutions are interdependent. I still see ISD as a subset to an architected learning solution, because the solution itself is a dependent upon the attributes of the work environment where it is expected to support flawless performance through learning @ the point of work.

I’ve highlighted some older posts that address the finer details regarding the Learning Continuum and treating the learning environment as an ecosystem. If you choose to dig deeper, those post may help.

Thoughts?   Please post a comment here on the blog…

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Thanks for stopping by…

Gary Wise