Posted tagged ‘informal first’

The L&D maturity curve

4 March 2019

Over the course of my career, I’ve witnessed a slow but steady shift away from formal learning to informal learning.

Of course, remnants of the “formal first” philosophy still exist, whereby every conceivable problem is attempted to be fixed by a training solution, typically in the form of a course. Over time, the traditional classroom-based delivery of such courses has increasingly given way to online modules, but that’s merely a change in format – not strategy.

While courses certainly have their place in the L&D portfolio, the forgetting curve places a question mark over their longterm effectiveness on their own.

The informal first philosophy balances the pendulum by empowering the employee to self-direct their learning in accordance with their personal needs.

While in some cases informal learning obviates the need for training, in other cases it will complement it. For example, I see the informalisation of learning as an opportunity to deliver the content (for example, via a wiki) which can be consumed at the discretion of the employee. The focus of the course then pivots to the application of the content, which is the point of learning it in the first place. Similarly, the assessment evaluates the learning in the context of real-world scenarios, which is what the learner will encounter post-course.

And since the content remains accessible, it can be used for ongoing reference long after the course has been completed.

A hand holding a pen pointing to a chart.

While I consider the informal first philosophy a giant leap in L&D maturity, it essentially pertains to instructional design. For a more holistic view of L&D, I propose an “assessment first” philosophy by which the capability of the target audience is analysed prior to any design work being undertaken.

The rationale for this philosophy is best appreciated in the context of an existing employee base (rather than greenhorn new starters). Such a group comprises adults who have a wide range of knowledge, skills and experiences. Not to mention they’ve probably been doing the job for a number of years.

Sheep dipping everyone in this group with the same training doesn’t make much sense. For a minority it might be a worthwhile learning experience, but for the majority it is likely to be redundant. This renders the training an ineffective waste of time, and an unnecessary burden on the L&D team.

By firstly assessing the target audience’s proficiency in the competencies that matter, a knowledge gap analysis can identify those in which the population is weak, and targeted training can be delivered in response. Individuals who are “not yet competent” in particular areas can be assigned personalised interventions.

This approach avoids the solution first trap. By focusing the L&D team’s attention on the real needs of the business, not only does the volume of demand reduce, but the work becomes more relevant.

The assessment first philosophy may appear incongruent where new starters are concerned, who by definition are assumed to be weak in all competencies – after all, they’ve only just walked through the door! – but I counter that assumption on two fronts.

Firstly, not all new starters are doe-eyed college grads. Many have had previous jobs in the industry or in other industries, and so they arrive armed with transferable knowledge, skills and experiences.

And regardless, the informal first philosophy holds true. That is to say, the new starter can consume the content (or not) as they see fit, demonstrate their understanding in the scenario-oriented “course”, and formalise it via the assessment.

The results of the assessment dictate any further intervention that is necessary.

Of course, some topics such as the company’s own products or processes will necessitate significant front-end loading via content development and maybe even curricula, but these may be considered the exception rather than the rule. By looking through the lens of assessment first, the L&D team works backwards to focus that kind of energy on where it is warranted.

It is also worth noting the assessment first philosophy renders the traditional “pass mark” obsolete, but such a radical idea is a story for another day!

Laptop showing business metrics.

While the assessment first philosophy represents an exponential leap in the maturity of L&D, there is yet another leap to make: “performance first”.

The raison d’être of the L&D team is to improve performance, so it’s always been a mystery to me as to why our work is so often disconnected to the business results. I do appreciate the barriers that are in our way – such as the inexplicable difficulty of obtaining the stats – but still, we can and should be doing more.

Under the performance first paradigm, it is not knowledge gaps that are analysed, but rather performance gaps. A root cause analysis identifies whether the cause is a capability deficiency or not – in the case of the former, a capability analysis feeds into the assessment first approach; in the case of the latter, a solution other than training is pursued instead.

As with assessment first, performance first may appear incongruent where new starters are concerned. After all, their stats thus far are zero, and waiting to recognise poor performance may have unacceptable consequences.

So again we have another exception to the rule whereby some folks may be scaffolded through L&D intervention prior to their performance being analysed. However the point is, we needn’t force everyone down that road. It depends on the circumstances.

And again, by looking through the lens of performance first, the L&D team works backwards to focus its energy on where it is needed. But this time with results at the forefront of the team’s purpose, its relevance to the business goes through the roof.

The L&D Maturity Curve, featuring Formal First rising to Informal First rising to Assessment First rising to Performance First. The x-axis represents maturity of the L&D function and the y-axis represents its relevance to the business.

I realise my take on L&D maturity might freak some of my peers out. Concurrently, others will argue that we should leapfrog to performance first now and get on with it.

Personally I consider the maturity curve a journey. Yes, it is theoretically possible to skip stages, but I feel that would be a shock to the system. From a change management perspective, I believe an organisation at one stage of the curve would achieve more success by growing into the next stage of the curve, while ironing out the bugs and creating the new normal along the way.

Besides, it isn’t a race. Important journeys take time. What matters is the direction in which that journey is heading.

The foundations of innovation in L&D

14 May 2018

There are two sides of the innovation coin in corporate learning & development: technology and pedagogy.

The former is rather obvious and is often conflated with the term innovation. Futuristic hardware and magical software that educates everyone at the press of a button are tempting “solutions”. Some folks call this mindset Shiny New Toy Syndrome, and by golly, it’s a pandemic.

The latter is less obvious because it involves thinking, and I’m not being facetious when I say that thinking is hard. Traditional ways of learning in the workplace are, by definition, ingrained in the psyche of the vast majority of the workforce. Changing the concept of how we learn and redefining how we can help people do it better involve shifting the organisation’s culture, and that is a challenge greater than any IT implementation.

I see technology as an enabler of the pedagogical outcome, rather than it being the outcome per se. And just as we must learn to walk before we can run, so too must an organisation lay the foundations of innovation before it can reach for the stars. Though not as sexy as their more tweeted-about alternatives, these foundations are the building blocks of long-term efficiency, flexibility and creativity.

So what are the foundations of innovation in L&D?

I will hereby attempt to answer this question by looking through the lens of the 70:20:10 model. Whereas previously I have advocated this approach when designing a solution for a specific learning objective, this time I’m elevating the approach to the strategic level, with a view to designing a future-proofed solution for all the organisation’s learning objectives.

The Foundations of Innovation in L&D: content library, knowledge base, enterprise social network, and performance-oriented training

The 70

From the get-go, a false idol that must fall is the belief that the role of the L&D department is to create all the training to meet the organisation’s learning needs. These needs are so diverse within and across all the different job roles that the task is an almost comical impossibility.

Moreover, a large proportion of these needs is generic; despite what many organisations think, they’re not that special. Analytics is analytics. Decision making is decision making. Difficult conversations are difficult conversations. The nature of such content is universal.

So my first building block is a third-party content library. There are many players in this space, and sure it makes sense to pick one that matches your organisation’s profile, but their pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with immediate access to an extensive suite of learning assets, covering a broad range of topics, on demand. Such a resource empowers self-directed learning which, in the language of 70:20:10, can be done on the job, just in time.

Another false idol to fall is the myth that all the information we need is at our fingertips. Clearly, not all our needs are generic. The organisation is special in the sense that has its own products, processes, systems, policies, etc, which a third party will never cover.

So my second building block is an in-house knowledge base. Whether the underlying technology is an intranet, CMS or wiki, again the pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with on-demand access to bespoke content that improves performance.

The 20

Despite the best intentions of a content library and a knowledge base, they will never meet every conceivable learning need. An enterprise social network covers the “in-betweens”, principally by empowering everyone to ask their own questions to the crowd, and to keep abreast of emergent knowledge in the moment.

The 10

The building blocks in the 70 and the 20 spearhead an informal first approach to learning and development which lifts a mountain of weight off the shoulders of the L&D team. Freed from the burden of training everything, we can now focus our attention on what should be trained.

Furthermore, these building blocks enable change in the nature of the training. With the bulk of the content hosted elsewhere, it doesn’t need to be shovelled into the course. The class can be flipped, the narrative pared back to its key messages, and a scenario-based design adopted to train not the content, but its application.

In this way, the training becomes performance oriented.

A man working on a house frame

By no means do these building blocks exhaust the 70:20:10 model, nor do they represent the extent of innovation in L&D. Rather, they form the bedrock of further innovation.

For example:

  • User-generated content has a home, not only where it can be housed, but also where it can be governed.

  • Blended learning goes beyond pre-work online modules by integrating social activity and ongoing performance support.

  • Corporate MOOCs have a delivery vehicle.

  • Micro-learning and micro-assessments have a rich source of reference content to which remedial feedback can link.

  • If the content library, knowledge base and ESN are mobile accessible, they support mobile learning.

  • Any reduction in training volume creates more space to explore emerging technologies such as AI, VR and AR.

  • An orderly, structured L&D service offering provides the basis for a proper consideration of the value that a next-generation learning management system may add (or not).

So while I remain an advocate of ad hoc innovation, I see it as a necessity in the absence of a plan. My preference is a much more strategic approach, bedding down what matters most to meet the immediate needs of the business, prior to building additional innovative initiatives that stand firmly on that foundation.

In this way, not only do we innovate now, but we have a platform for innovating into the future.

M-Learning’s dirty little secrets

13 May 2013

I have a confession to make.

At my workplace a little while ago, I created a smartphone-friendly version of our online induction course.

Ownership of smartphones is relatively common in this corner of the world, and a large proportion of our new recruits are Gen Y. So conventional wisdom dictated that a mobile version of the course would be a smash hit.

It tanked.

But my confession is not that it tanked. It’s that I knew it would.

You see, when you have been in the e-learning game for as long as I have, you learn a few things that a surprising number of my peers in the broader L&D industry don’t know – or perhaps don’t want to know!

This insight bubbled to the surface during my little m-course experiment. It was doomed to fail and it did.

To explain why it failed, let me share with you m-learning’s dirty little secrets…

Woman with finger to her lips in shh fashion

SECRET #1. Most people won’t train outside of business hours.

Some may say most people won’t train inside business hours, but let’s remain generous.

The working day is typically defined as Monday to Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, or thereabouts. An increasing number of people are working earlier and/or later than that, so any time outside of this zone is becoming increasingly precious.

Off-duty hours will be spent on family, hobbies, sports, mowing the lawn, watching TV and sleeping. It won’t be spent on anything resembling more “work”.

SECRET #2. Most people won’t use their own mobile devices for training.

They prefer to use them for fun, like playing Angry Birds or updating their Facebook status.

Besides, if they’re paying for the data out of their own pocket, they won’t chew it up on something that can wait until they’re back in the office.

SECRET #3. Smartphones are a pain.

There are so many makes and models and operating systems and screen sizes and versions, it’s futile trying to accommodate them all. Believe me, I’ve tried.

In my m-course experiment I found it straightforward enough to resize the canvas of the original online course and retrofit the content, but while it looked OK on my iPhone, it was problematic on the Galaxy and Lumia.

Oh the quirks! Apple’s incompatibility with Flash is widely known, but then there are the audio and video formats to consider. I also spent countless hours repositioning graphics so they didn’t obscure the text after they were published (what you saw was not what you got), while the “next” button inexplicably refused to work on the iPhone (whereas its text link equivant did).

While authoring tools on the market claim to deploy to multiple devices at the click of a button, I didn’t have the time to trial them, nor the budget to buy one, nor the inclination to learn it, nor the naivety to believe it anyway.

Moreover, I think I would have been going down the wrong track. But more on that later…

SECRET #4. LMSs aren’t smartphone friendly.

For all the rhetoric in the LMS market about mobile learning, IMHO they are designed principally for the desktop. While some have mobile apps, not all do, and the user experience has been the subject of criticism.

That makes a system that is notoriously arduous to navigate at the best of times highly unlikely to be navigated “on the go”.

SECRET #5. Most people prefer the big screen.

Size matters. The restricted dimensions of a smartphone screen compromise the user experience, and hence the learning experience.

Of course, people will use their smartphone for training if they have a burning need and that’s the only device they have on them; but given the choice, they’ll go large every time.

***

When you combine all of these secrets, the message is clear:

The majority of online training is done on desktops, laptops and tablets.

Armed with this knowledge, the question arises as to how you can use it to your advantage. Obviously you use it to inform your m-learning strategy!

May I suggest the following tactics…

Confident woman

TACTIC #1. Think informal first.

Do you really need to push out yet another course? Instead, why not host the content on a mobile-friendly platform like an intranet or a wiki that the learner can access, browse and search via their device of choice.

This approach empowers the learner to pull the learning at their discretion, wherever they are, at the time of need. It replaces the notion of training “in case” it will be required with performance support “when” it is required.

TACTIC #2. Create the one course to rule them all.

If you must push out training, forget about smartphones. No one wants to use them for that, so they are an unnecessary complication.

Instead, concentrate your efforts on the one course that will fit onto desktops and laptops and tablets, based on HTML so it will run across operating systems.

You may still need to accommodate peculiarities such as video formats, but with a bit of clever coding you can make the same course device agnostic.

A venn diagram showing m-learning overlapping e-learning

By employing these tactics, we start to distinguish m-learning from the broader notion of e-learning.

As John Feser articulates so elegantly, and furthered by others such as Clark Quinn, m-learning is more than just doing a course on a mobile device. Such a narrow view misses the point.

The point is that m-learning facilitates learning in context, in the moment.

For example, consider a telecommunications technician working on an electrical box out in the burbs. If he needs to find out which wire should plug in where, he’s not going to go back to the van, turn on his tablet, log into the LMS, search for a course, register into it, launch it, then click through page after page until he stumbles upon the right bit.

He needs to know right here, right now! So he uses his smartphone to look up a step-by-step guide. Quick and easy.

This is m-learning. It is indeed a form of e-learning, but it’s a subset thereof. It’s not just learning on the bus or at the airport; it’s much richer than that.

A defence of the “Next” button

4 June 2012

The “Next” button doesn’t have many friends in the e-learning community. The humble yet shiny arrow is associated with boring page turners.

Neon arrow

Hell-bent on avoiding the “Next” button, many instructional designers will delinearise the content by creating a course homepage with a raft of topics represented by funky icons. The learner is free to explore and discover the knowledge contained therein at their convenience and – more importantly – at their discretion.

While I broadly agree with the constructivist sentiment of this approach, I can’t help but think it’s a band-aid for a much deeper issue.

Let me explain by rewinding a little…

In my previous post Informal first, I articulated a mindset that prioritises informal learning over formal training. I argued in favour of providing all the necessary learning resources to the target audience in an open, structured format. I had in mind an Informal Learning Environment which would host the bulk of the content and enable peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

This is constructivist design. It facilitates pull learning at the convenience and discretion of the learner, and moreover it supports on-the-job learning just in time. Its primary focus is not on training, but on performance support.

Having said that, I am the first to agree that sometimes training is necessary. This is where an online course can step in.

By design, an online course is meant to transmit knowledge to the learner. By design, it’s meant to be programmatic in nature. By design, it’s meant to be ruthlessly efficient.

In other words, it’s meant to be linear.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that an online course should be stripped of all constructivist principle. On the contrary, I highly recommend that the learner be empowered to explore and discover the contents of the course as they wish, free of the yoke of forced navigation. However, it is important to note that such freedom is not mutually exclusive with linearity.

What I am suggesting is that the instructional designer who rails against the “Next” button is valiantly (but futilely?) trying to backfill a void in their organisation’s learning architecture. Because open, searchable, browsable, accessible content does not exist, he or she feels compelled to create it. But the LMS is not the place for it!

Open, searchable, browsable, accessible content should be available to the learner all the time on an open, searchable, browsable, accessible platform.

In contrast, an online course should scaffold the learning experience to achieve a pre-defined objective. It should not be played with for hours on end, and it certainly should not be used for ongoing reference.

Neoen arrow through the heart

So whenever you are consumed by the burning desire to deride the “Next” button, ask yourself whether you are assigning guilt by association.

Perhaps the true guilt lay closer to home?

Next!

Informal first

21 May 2012

It is well documented that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal.

Woman's hand on mouse in front of computer

According to research undertaken by the Center for Creative Leadership:

   • 70% of learning occurs “on the job”
   • 20% of learning occurs through feedback from others
   • 10% of learning occurs “off the job” (eg attending classes, reading)

This 70:20:10 breakdown has since been supported by subsequent research, though sometimes the ratio is represented as 80:20 to reflect informal learning and formal training respectively.

Yet despite knowing these statistics – and sprouting them at opportune moments – many L&D professionals spend their time, energy and dollars in inverse proportion:

   • 80% on formal training
   • 20% on informal learning

Jane Hart and Jay Cross visualise this scenario in terms of the workscape evolution: the earlier an organisation is on its learning journey, the more formal and pushed is its training. As its philosophy matures, the process of learning becomes increasingly informal, self-directed and collaborative.

5 Stages of Workscape Evolution

While the evolution of today’s workscape is currently underway, I contend that more must be done by L&D professionals to accelerate its progress.

And one way of doing that is by committing to “informal first”.

What is informal first?

Informal first is a mindset that prioritises informal learning over formal training in practice.

Whenever a development intervention is being considered, the primary objective of the L&D professional should be to provide all the necessary learning resources to the target audience in an open, structured format.

These resources will no doubt include text, but should also include images, audio, video, interactive scenarios, a discussion forum, downloadable job aids… you name it. Whatever is required to make the learning experience authentic and effective.

This pedagogical foundation facilitates pull learning at the convenience and discretion of the learner.

Moreover, it may stand alone to meet the organisation’s development need. In other words, there might be no reason for an employee to ever set foot in a classroom again!

Empty meeting room

Having said that, in some cases more instructional support will be required.

While “not liking this form of learning” is not a valid excuse in the modern workplace, other drivers might include: the subject matter being complex and thus requiring hand-holding by an SME; or the development need being time sensitive and thus requiring an SME to expedite the upskill; not to mention the fact that some training is just better done instructor-led, for whatever reason.

So, after informal learning has been addressed, sure – supplementary formal training can be considered.

Vive la révolution!

The “informal first” principle revolutionises the corporate learning model.

No longer is formal training the central offering with informal learning relegated to a support role. On the contrary, when we adopt the informal first mindset, informal learning becomes the central offering.

Formal training becomes value add.