Posted tagged ‘corporate’
This post is the third in a series in which I deliberate over the semantics of education.
I dedicate this one to Jane Hart whom I was delighted to meet in-person in Sydney last month. Jane is a renowned advocate of performance support in the workplace, and I wonder what she’ll make of my latest musing.
While much of Jane’s work exposes the difference between training and performance support – and implores us to do less of the former in favour of the latter – my post here does not. The difference between training and performance support proxies (at least IMHO) the difference between formal and informal learning, and I do not intend to rehash that which others such as Jane have already documented so well.
Instead, I intend to explore the relationship between learning and performance support, with the former considered in its informal context.
I hasten to add that while much of Jane’s treatment of informal learning is in terms of social media, for the purposes of my post I will remain within the scope of broadcast content that is published by or on behalf of SMEs for consumption by the masses. The platform I have in mind is the corporate intranet.
A healthy corporate intranet comprises thoughtfully structured information and resources to facilitate learning by the organisation’s employees. While this content is typically delivered in an instructivist manner by the SME, it is probably consumed in a constructivist manner by the end user.
Much of the content – if not most of it – is designed to be consumed before it needs to be applied on the job. Hence I refer to it as “pre-learning”. It is undertaken just in case it will be needed later on, and is thus vulnerable to becoming “scrap learning”.
But of course not all pre-learning is a waste of time; some of it will indeed be applied later on. However it may be quite a while before this happens, so it’s important that the learner can refer back to the content to refresh his or her memory of it as the need arises. This might be called “re-learning” and it’s done just in time.
To support the learner in applying their learning on the job, tools such as checklists and templates may be provided to them for their immediate use. These tools are called “job aids” and they’re used in the workflow.
However job aids aren’t the only form of performance support. Content in the ilk of pre-learning may be similarly looked up just in time, though it was never learned in the first place. These concepts may be so straight-forward that they need not be processed ahead of time.
To illustrate, consider the topic of difficult feedback.
James is a proactive manager who reads up about this topic on the corporate intranet, watches some scenarios, and perhaps even tries his hand at some simulations. But it’s not until an incident occurs a couple of months later that he needs to have that special conversation with a problematic team member. So he refers back to the intranet to brush up on the topic before going into the meeting armed with the knowledge and skills he needs for success.
Jennifer also explores this topic on the intranet while she’s in between projects. Some time later she finds that she too needs to have a conversation with one of her team members, but she feels she doesn’t need to re-learn anything. Instead, she’s comfortable to follow the step-by-step guide on her iPad during the meeting, which gives her sufficient scaffolding to ensure the conversation is effective.
George, on the other hand, has been so busy that he hasn’t gotten around to exploring this topic on the intranet. However he too finds that he must provide difficult feedback to one of his team members. So he quickly looks it up now, draws out the key points, and engages the conversation armed with that knowledge.
The point of these scenarios is not to say that someone was right and someone was wrong, but rather to highlight that everyone is subjected to different circumstances. Sure, one of the conversations will probably be more effective than the others, but the point is that each of the managers is able to perform the task better than they otherwise would have.
So when we return to the relationship between learning and performance support, we see a subtle but important difference.
Learning is about preparing for performance. This preparation may be done well ahead of time or just in time.
Performance support is about, umm… supporting performance. This support may be provided in the moment or – again – just in time.
Hence we see an intersection.
But the ultimate question is: so what? Well, I think an awareness of this relationship informs our approach as L&D professionals. And our approach depends on our driver.
If our driver is to improve capability, then we need to facilitate learning. If our driver is to improve execution, then we need to facilitate performance support.
Arguably these are two different ways of looking at the same thing, and as the intersection in the venn diagram shows, at least in that sense they are the same thing. So here we can kill two birds with one stone.
The title of my previous post, Let’s get rid of the instructional designers!, was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a radical view of instructional design.
I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of us in the L&D profession do not advocate the riddance of instructional designers. On the contrary, they are the experts in a science that is critical to the overall performance of the organisation.
The title of this post however, while similarly tongue-in-cheek on my part, is much less so on the part of many of my peers.
We live in an era where “training”, “lecture”, “course” and even “teaching” have become dirty words. In their place, a learner-centered vocabulary espousing “inquiry”, “exploration” and “discovery” are the soupe du jour.
A manifestation of this trend is no more vivid than in the invective directed at MOOCs – or more accurately, xMOOCs. To many L&D folks, these types of courses (there’s that word again) are mere replicas of the lectures and exams that they so despise. Ergo, xMOOCs are bad.
Now I maintain this view sells xMOOCs short, but for the sake of argument I’m willing to pretend that this mode of delivery is devoid of constructivist empowerment. I acknowledge that many MOOCs do replicate olde worlde instructivism, at least in part.
And here’s where I propose something counter-radical: Sometimes that’s a good thing.
Indeed, I advocate direct instruction under the following circumstances:
1. When the learner is a novice.
Novice learners don’t know what they need to know. But the expert does.
By adopting an instructivist approach, the expert can scaffold the learning experience and construct a foundational framework for the subject matter. The learner can then build upon this foundation by other means.
2. When the subject matter is complex.
By definition, complex subject matter consists of interconnected parts which may be difficult to make sense of through inquiry, exploration and discovery.
Sometimes it makes more sense to have someone who understands the system explain it to you end-to-end.
3. When the subject matter is black & white.
It’s worth noting that complex is not the same as complicated, whereby inquiry, exploration and discovery may be eminently suitable for gathering multiple versions of the “truth”.
Geopolitics springs to mind, but cooler headed topics such as strategic thinking and decision-making are also highly dependent on context, lending themselves to a more constructivist approach.
But not all topics are like that. Consider financial statement analysis: the content is so straight-forward that it would make little sense to inquire, explore and discover, when you could simply see how it’s done and practise it for yourself.
4. When speed to competence is important.
Learners in the workplace are time poor, and whatever the topic, their employer demands that they get up to speed quickly. Otherwise, don’t come Monday.
These people don’t have the luxury of a semester to inquire, explore and discover. They need to know what they need to know now.
5. When the learning outcome is non-negotiable.
There are some things that your employer must know that you know. It may be critical to your role, a compliance obligation, or a risk management issue; so it can’t be left to chance.
Personally, I think the indicator of must-know learning is its assessment. I wouldn’t care so much where, when or even how you learned it, so long as you did.
However, I can also see that if an employer found itself in court because one of its employees sexually harassed one of his colleagues, it would want to demonstrate that it had provided sufficient training to that individual.
6. When the learner is less inclined.
We in the L&D industry tend to believe (or want to believe) that our target audience is just like us. They’re self-motivated individuals with a hunger to inquire, explore and discover.
The truth, of course, is that our target audience occupies the full spectrum of autodidactism. And dare I suggest many huddle at the lower end.
Getting back to xMOOCs specifically, another point I wish to make is that just because they are delivered in an instructivist manner, does not mean they must be consumed in an instructivist manner.
While the learner is free to work their way through the curriculum along the pre-defined weekly path, they are also free to inquire, explore and discover at their discretion within a thoughtfully structured environment.
But oh no! If we empower the learner to drive their own MOOC experience, they might not finish it!
As history reminds us time and time again, no one view is ever the “right” one – at least, not all the time.
Our perspective is so dependent on the circumstances that we learning pro’s must appreciate the problem before trumpeting or poopooing the solution.
Just as it makes little sense to get rid of the instructional designers, it makes little sense to get rid of the instructors. Instead, let’s get smarter about instruction.
Why do we wear seat belts?
To avoid the fine… right?
I really wish I embedded this video into Take the law out of compliance training, but I didn’t.
So here it is now.
“What apps do you recommend?”
With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the workplace, this is a question I am being asked with increasing frequency.
And I don’t really like answering it. I mean, I have my faves, but they are my faves. What I find useful might prove useless for you. It all depends on the nature of your role and what you are endeavouring to do with your device.
So to better inform my answer to this question, I am crowdsourcing a list of favorite business apps. I can now point to a dynamically curated selection of apps that a range of other people find useful. The weight of numbers lends credibility to my recommendations.
While it’s early days yet, I’m not surprised to see Evernote streaking ahead. In just about every conversation I have with my peers about apps, the peppermint pachyderm rates a mention. It seems everyone is talking about the elephant in the room!
However, I am surprised by the listing currently in second place: Dropbox. I’m not surprised by the fact it’s listed as a favourite app – Dropbox is excellent! – but rather that it’s listed as a favourite business app.
You see, while Dropbox offers wonderful affordances in terms of cloud-based storage and retrieval, it’s (apparently?) not very secure. Despite its Help Center’s claim to the contrary, the internet is littered with warnings such as this one and IT departments tend to frown upon its use.
Nonetheless, people use it. A lot. For business.
I see this as a sign of the times. Employees are circumventing their company’s restrictive and frustrating IT policies with their own technology.
Now I must stress that I am neither an IT manager nor a security expert. I am not arguing one way or the other on whether this is right or wrong. What I am saying is that this is happening. Shadow IT is casting itself over the corporate landscape.
Consider the implications for the e-learning professional:
- Your employees expect to access information and resources on their own device – whatever make, model or operating system it may be.
- Your employees are watching YouTube videos and engaging in social media, even if those sites are blocked by the company.
- Your employees are participating in MOOCs, even if you disagree with their pedagogy.
- Your employees are playing games when they get bored or they need a break.
- Your employees are familiar with apps and they are using them.
The list goes on… You can try to suppress it – or embrace it.
Isn’t it time for your organisation’s e-learning to come out of the shadows?