Tag: intranet

The relationship between learning and performance support

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.

Woman typing on computer keyboard

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.

Man giving woman difficult feedback.

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.
Venn diagram showing the intersection of learning and performance support at JIT
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.

How social are our intranets?

I tailed my previous blog post with the question:

What is the SII of your organisation’s intranet?

By “SII” I mean Social Intranet Index – a metric I have proposed to measure the degree of social functionality afforded by the platform. From 1 through to 10, the SII represents an increasing level of sociability.

Business woman using computer

I posed this question to 23 intranet managers from around the world, and they kindly rated their respective platforms against a 10-point likert scale. The results are displayed in the following graph.

The current distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

Graph 1. The current distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

I also asked the respondents to rate what they thought the SII of their organisation’s intranet would be in 12 months’ time. These results are displayed in the next graph.

The future distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

Graph 2. The future distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

While my sample size is no doubt too small to indicate statistical significance across the wider population, simple observation suggests the following:

We expect our intranets to become more social than they are today.

As you can see in the first graph, the ratings are quite spread out across the scale (x̄=5.1 σ=3.3). In other words, the level of social functionality is variable among our different intranets. Plenty of us are still using the platform as a broadcast medium, while others have added social elements.

As you can see in the second graph, however, the ratings shift noticeably to the right (x̄=7.5 σ=2.4). In other words, we expect the level of social functionality to increase over the short term. Whether we are planning, hoping or praying for this to happen, plenty of us think that in a year’s time our intranets will be personalised and our target audiences will be producing the content.

As an e-learning professional with a passion for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, I hope we realise this future state sooner rather than later.

Introducing the Social Intranet Index

There’s a lot of talk about social intranets these days. It even threatens to overtake the blogosphere’s current obsession with gamification.

But what exactly is a social intranet…?

Everyone seems to have a different opinion, from a human-centred platform, to the intersection between portals, team sites and social sites, to a system that ties the business’s processes and data to the employee’s social behaviour.

Which one is correct? They all are.

You see, a “social intranet” is simply an intranet with social media elements that allow the users to interact with the content and with each other.

While everyone’s definition covers this functionality more or less, what is different is the degree of the functionality.

So, to introduce a common language and some standardisation to our discourse, I propose the “Social Intranet Index” (SII).

Smile Clusters

The Social Intranet Index is a metric that denotes the degree of social functionality afforded by an enterprise’s intranet. From 1 through to 10, the SII represents an increasing level of sociability…

1. An intranet with an SII of 1 is the traditional, old-fashioned broadcast medium. Its content is published by a select few (usually members of the Communications team) and remains read-only for the target audience.

2. An intranet with an SII of 2 accommodates special account holders outside of the golden circle. These are typically highly motivated individuals, because the backend is clunky and illogical.

Unfortunately these individuals tend to find themselves in the unenviable position of publishing content for other people, because said people are either too dumb or too lazy to learn how to do it themselves. Strangely, though, they all know how to use Facebook.

3. An intranet with an SII of 3 introduces a star rating or a “like” facility. The target audience can interact (albeit minimally) with the content by judging its quality and relevance.

4. An intranet with an SII of 4 introduces a commenting facility. Beyond a reductionist score, the target audience can now post free-form comments in response to the content.

5. An intranet with an SII of 5 bolts on third-party social applications such as Yammer, Compendium and Confluence. While these apps aren’t components of the enterprise’s intranet proper, they’re accessible from there and thus form part of the network. The target audience is empowered to generate their own content within these ringfenced zones.

6. An intranet with an SII of 6 integrates social media elements such as a discussion forum, blogs and wikis into a single sign-on solution. The user experience is seamless.

7. An intranet with an SII of 7 maintains a bank of user profiles that includes everyone in the organisation and is accessible by anyone in the organisation. The profiles are rich (including photos, contact details and subject matter expertise) and integrate with the other components of the intranet (eg the discussion forum) to facilitate social networking.

8. An intranet with an SII of 8 enables the users to personalise the interface. This typically involves the selection and arrangement of social widgets (eg a particular blog, a discussion sub-forum), a filterable activity stream, plus external functionality such as a customisable RSS feed.

9. An intranet with an SII of 9 empowers anyone in the organisation to publish and edit “regular” informational content beyond the aforementioned social media elements, though still within certain ringfenced zones. For example, a team site may host user-generated content pertinent to that team.

10. An intranet with an SII of 10 is the poster boy of heterarchy. All content is easily publishable and editable by everyone in the organisation. Devoid of ringfences, the platform effectively becomes a giant wiki. The corporate community pitches in to produce and maintain organic knowledge.

Outlandish and unworkable, or innovative and game changing? At the very least, I say an SII of 10 is aspirational.

Concurrent trends associated with the Social Intranet Index

From 1 to 10, the Social Intranet Index represents a series of concurrent trends.

Most radically, the direction of publishing shifts from one-way to two-way to multi-way. This is typically associated with an increasing ease of use, which in turn encourages an increasing number of content producers.

Knowledge contained in silos is increasingly shared, and a broader community blossoms. As governance loosens, the organisation puts more trust in its own employees. Effectively, its hierarchy flattens.

As more control is relinquished by the company to its people, however, the risk of something going wrong increases. The content that is generated by the users might be flawed, and in extreme cases an individual might abuse their privileges and do something malicious.

On the other side of the coin, though, loose governance does not mean no governance. Sensitive content may still be locked, while an approval process and a reversion facility can prevent disaster.

Moreover, it may be argued that the shifting paradigm places an increasing obligation on the SME not only to share their knowledge with the wider organisation, but also to maintain its currency and relevance. Those who can’t or won’t will soon get found out.

Business woman using computer

Clearly, a “social intranet” is not just about the technology; it’s about the culture of the organisation. Just because sophisticated functionality is available does not necessarily mean it will be used!

Notwithstanding this truism, I submit that culturally speaking, an SII of 1 is poles apart from an SII of 10. The former is characteristic of a restrictive, distrustful, clunky organisation, while the latter is characteristic of an open, empowering, nimble one.

Which organisation do you think will be more collaborative?

Which one is more adaptable to change?

Which one will ultimately perform better in the market?

Closer to home, what is the SII of your organisation’s intranet…?

Informal first

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.

My award-winning IQ

Ryan collects awardToday I had the honour of collecting a Best Blended Learning Solution Award (Gold Level) at the 2010 LearnX Asia Pacific Conference.

The blended learning solution in question is “IQ”, an intranet-based portal that I developed for my colleagues at my workplace.

My driver for creating this portal was the realisation that, in a big corporation like the one I work for, knowledge is distributed everywhere – on random intranet pages, in obscure folders, in people’s heads – which makes it really hard to find.

As an L&D professional, my concern was: if someone wants to learn something, where do they start?

The answer is IQ

Essentially, IQ is a site that centralises learning resources for staff. It doesn’t host content itself, but rather points you in the right direction.

Businessman typing on keyboardFor example, if you want to attend an advanced negotiation skills workshop, you can look up the sessions delivered by our preferred training providers.

If you want to read about leadership, you can refer to our book list or search our e‑book catalogue.

If you want to do a self-paced course on Java programming, you can jump onto our e-learning platform.

In this way, IQ covers the full range of delivery modes that are available to our staff, from face-to-face classes and online courses, to books, e‑books, podcasts, blogs, wikis and other social media. I’m also keen to add information about our mentoring and coaching programs.

It’s our first port of call for learning.

So what?

Reading this, you might be scratching your head and asking yourself what all the fuss is about.

I’m the first one to put up my hand and say, as a blended learning solution, IQ is really simple. It doesn’t involve any new whizz-bang technology. After all, it’s an intranet site.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that it’s also an important step in the evolution of the learning model at my workplace.

5 Stages of Workscape EvolutionIt shifts an instructivist pedagogy towards a more constructivist and connectivist one.

It transforms a formal learning environment into a more informal one.

It returns the power (and responsibility) of learning back to the learner.

That’s why I’m so pleased to claim this award. It’s not just a pretty trophy to sit on my desk; it’s the validation of my instructional design by my peers in the industry.