Self-Directed Learning or Self-Directed Performance?

Stumbled over a couple of great reads this week that flung a craving on me to share a few thoughts. There is no shortage of new innovation we seek to implement in our L&D discipline, and Micro-Learning is one of the most recent. Depending upon how one chooses to integrate “Micro-Anything”, the results can range from truly innovative solutions to merely applying more lipstick on the training pig.

Nick Shackleton-Jones posted an article back in November that resurfaced earlier this week on LinkedIn, “Micro-Learning: The Next Big Bad Idea”, where “innovation” had a different ring to it, …and no cosmetics or barnyard animals were involved. Nick suggested that we should “build resources not (short) courses”, and I had to applaud. And before L&D can pull this off, we need to break the spell.

The spell reveals, at least to me, part of where our (L&D) challenge resides – Perspective. The primary perspective…or tradition, if you prefer, causes us to cling to Learning like a flotation device in a water landing. Certainly, that statement rings of sacrilege, but stop for a second and consider what our end game really is – Creating Sustained Capability in Our Workforce. Isn’t that what we’re after? Aren’t we after sustainable, measurable performance results? I’ll stipulate knowledge transfer is part of that but is it a priority over our end objective?

Where does sustained capability manifest?

It’s not during a training event – it’s at the Point-of-Work where a Performer is executing some manner of work at the task level. Point-of-Work is ground zero for the creation of tangible business value. The workforce either generates value…protects it…delays it…or losses it. We are chasing consistent execution and the elimination or minimization of errors…mistakes…inaction…poor choices…guesses…or whatever else might cause task-level performance to be deficient.

Also this morning I received a download link from Josh Bersin on the new complimentary Global Human Capital Trends Report for 2016. Download your complimentary report here.

As always, Josh Bersin’s research was top-drawer, and some valid trends are apparent. And there are some trends that are not necessarily promising. For example, there was one quote that grabbed my attention…“61 percent of executives report challenges in moving their organizations toward external self-directed learning.”

So…why are so many moving to external self-directed learning? And why are they challenged? Are they challenged in getting to external learning? Or are they challenged because external learning is not delivering the mail? [Rant] Well…duh…maybe more lipstick on the training pig is not the answer! Sorry!  It’s not!

I wonder sometimes if “self-directed” learning of any type is evidence that L&D cannot keep up. The velocity of business grows exponentially, and old-school learning methods cannot keep pace. I’m not saying internal or external learning are wrong, but I AM saying…or at least putting forth the question…ARE THEY THE RIGHT PRIORITY?

The fastest path to supporting sustainable workforce performance seems a better objective to me. But hey…that’s my bias.

Back to Nick’s article…“Build resources not (short) courses”. Those “resources” he references represent performance support assets intentionally designed for…and consumed at…the Point-of-Work where measurable value is generated or lost. Those resources are what Micro-“Whatever” SHOULD BE versus teeny tiny (said Rosanne Rosanna-danna) little courses.

To build those kinds of performance support resources there needs to be a shift in L&D’s focus to put some serious priority on the Point-of-Work where real performance manifests. That shift requires a skill set many instructional designers do not possess – performance consulting. Discovery changes.

The Point-of-Work is a new playing field for many in L&D because it is the downstream, post-training operational environment where business value is generated…or lost. We cannot only look at Performers through the HR lens of competencies and successful knowledge transfer; we have to look through an operational and performance lens:

  • We have to build solutions that support workforce performance at the Point-of-Work…
  • We have to design assets that can be accessed at the moment of need…
  • We have to provide technology that can enable access in the workflow…
  • We have to understand the nature of business risk and urgency to perform…
  • We have to enable collaboration with SMEs (if SMEs are needed) at the moment of need…
  • We have to support SELF-DIRECTED PERFORMANCE

Which of these – “Self-directed learning” or “Self-directed performance” have the best chance to generating business value?

I rest my case!

I’m not foolish enough to suggest the “rest of learning” is of no value, because it’s IS valuable. BUT…I AM suggesting that if we are trying to take the shortest path to drive revenues and profits, we should be up to our hocks in the Point-of-Work busting out intentionally designed performance support assets that target identified performance gaps. True, performance support is not a silver bullet, but if we’ve not considered it as a targeted, micro-solution we’ve missed a chance to drive or protect business value.

Nibbling around the edges of sustained workforce performance by continuing to chase learning is not a bad thing; but methinks we’re missing the “business value boat” by neglecting to place a sense of urgency…and the appropriate L&D skill sets…on ground zero where we drive results that pay the rent. Nothing wrong with self-directed learning, but I’d rather equip my workforce to direct their own performance at the moment of need as a priority.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning