This one goes out to all the L&D folks who are wary of the “I haven’t been trained” excuse.
As learning in the workplace becomes increasingly informal, the motivation of employees to drive their own development becomes increasingly pivotal to their performance.
This is a point that I fear many of our peers fail to grasp.
You see, we love learning. We share knowledge on Twitter, contribute to discussions on LinkedIn, read books, write blogs, comment on blogs, subscribe to industry magazines, share links to online articles, watch videos, and participate in MOOCs. We tinker with software, experiment with new ideas, attend conferences, and join local meetups. We crowdsource ideas, invite feedback, ask questions, and proffer answers. The list is endless.
No one forces us to do all this. We do it because we enjoy it, and we understand that it is critical in keeping our knowledge and skills relevant in an ever-changing world.
The inconvenient truth, however, is that not everyone does this. I’m not referring to some of us in the L&D profession, although that’s an ironic part of the problem. For now I’m referring to a large proportion of our target audience. In a nutshell, they’re not like us.
An embodiment of this concept is the 1% rule. This heuristic maintains that in a typical online community, only 1% of the members create new content, while the remaining 99% lurk. A variation of this theme is the 90-9-1 principle, which maintains that in an online space that empowers users to create and edit content (eg an intranet or wiki), only 1% of the members will create new content, 9% will edit it, leaving the remaining 90% who consume it.
Of course, these ratios assume a participating population; they don’t account for the proportion of the membership that is disengaged with the community. That is to say, not even lurking. And that proportion may be surprisingly large.
In any case, I’m not interested in getting tied up in knots over the numbers. Like 70:20:10, these are merely rules of thumb that reflect a broader truth. I also appreciate that lurking isn’t necessarily a bad practice. The consumption of content is an important element of “learning”. No argument there.
A problem arises, however, when active participation is expected. Consider an ESN such as Chatter: 1% of the organisation won’t adequately reflect the enterprise’s collective intelligence. Or a discussion forum that supports an inhouse training program: 1% of the participants will fall short of the critical mass that is required to develop a rich, diverse and meaningful discussion. In such cases, the vast majority of the SMEs are effectively holding back their expertise, and those with experiences to share are not doing so. Hence the learning experience suffers – even for the lurkers.
Another challenge we face is pre-work – or more to the point: it not being done. Of course this has been a problem for as long as pre-work has existed. However it’s becoming acute for those among us who are trying to implement a flipped classroom model. Value-add activity can not be undertaken when the face time is spent on the non-value add activity which should have (but hasn’t) already been done. It defeats the purpose.
Again, when the expectation of active participation is not met, everyone’s learning experience suffers.
So how can we as L&D professionals change the situation? How can we motivate our participants to participate actively…?
My poll results from Drivers of Yammer use in the corporate sector are somewhat enlightening. Indeed, I have enjoyed some success by getting executives actively involved, as well as by calling on champions throughout the business to push the barrow.
I recently asked a presenter at an e-learning conference what she does when her target audience aren’t actively participating in the discussion forums that she sets up, and she replied matter-of-factly that she reports their reticence to their respective managers. Ouch! but apparently it works.
Natalie Lafferty blogged about a paper recently published by the Virginia School of Medicine, in which they reported dwindling attendance at their flipped classroom sessions…
“In sessions where students could sit where they wanted, they were less prepared as they would typically sit with their friends and would choose their table based on fun rather than who knew their stuff. The session for some served as a ‘social catch-up’, others admitted they watched videos. There was however a difference in approach to team-based learning sessions where students were assigned into groups; they were more likely to prepare as they were more concerned about appearing stupid.”
I call the latter phenomenon “social accountability” and it appears powerful.
Jayme Linton blogged about encouraging her students to do their pre-reading by employing similar techniques such as “speed dating”…
“Speed dating allows students to interact with several peers in a short amount of time. Students talk for a short time (1 or 2 minutes) with a classmate, typically in response to a question or set of questions. After the specified time period has passed, students rotate and have a conversation with another peer.”
Dare I suggest again the major concern of the participants is their social standing?
While all these techniques evidently motivate the target audience to participate, I can’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. Because each of these motivators is extrinsic.
Whether it be ego, fear, politeness or bald-faced sycophancy driving their behaviour, I put it to you that the retirement of the motivating technique by the L&D pro would result in the cessation of that behaviour. By definition, the motivation is not intrinsic and so the participants are relieved of their incentive to continue.
Of course, an alternative is to cultivate the participants’ intrinsic motivation instead. For example, if the content is authentic, relevant and engaging, then that makes it compelling, and that should pull the participants in. However, I put it to you further that even with the most compelling content in the world, it will be worth nil if the participants are not habituated into interacting with it and with one another about it.
Which leads me to consider a hybrid approach: using extrinsic motivators to drive the desired participant behaviour, which is consequently rewarded by an experience that is intrinsically motivating. In other words, scaffolding the informal learning process with a formal structure, thereby driving the behaviour that achieves the outcome that drives the behaviour.
Perhaps over time a sustainable participatory culture will emerge and the need for such scaffolding will dissipate. In the meantime, though, we may have no choice but to dangle the carrot with the stick.
One of my most popular posts of last year was M-Learning’s dirty little secrets.
By “popular” I mean quantitatively: it attracted a relatively large number of hits and comments. Qualitatively, however, the situation was somewhat different: while many of the comments were concordant, others were not. For the record, I don’t believe those discordant comments were wrong – they just represented different points of view in different contexts.
Nonetheless, while I stand by what I wrote back then, there was always something niggling at the back of my mind. I felt that I had missed something. Those discordant comments prompted me to think about it deeper, and I’m glad they did because now I feel I can improve my position.
Mindset #1 – Push
Given the increasingly mobile workforce and the emergence of BYOD, increasing pressure is being placed on the organisation to distribute its content to multiple devices. In corporate e-learning, the most obvious example of such content is the online modules that the company distributes via its Learning Management System.
In M-Learning’s dirty little secrets I advocated the creation of “one course to rule them all”. I argued that 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 – ie what your target audience will use to consume it. If you base it on HTML so it will run across operating systems, you can make the course device agnostic.
Responsive web design may render my argument moot – but only when rapid authoring tools adopt the protocol, enabling Average Joe to implement it.
Mindset #2 – Pull
Having said that, in M-Learning’s dirty little secrets I also advocated pull learning.
Instead of pushing out yet another course, I’m more inclined to host 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 – including a smartphone.
This approach empowers the learner to pull the content 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.
For many, this is the essence of m-learning: on demand, in the moment, in context, just in time, in the workflow.
And yet, while this deceptively simple mindset represents a tectonic shift in corporate pedagogy, it does not on its own fulfil the potential of m-learning. For that, we need a third mindset…
Mindset #3 – Experience
Experiential m-learning leverages the environment in which the learner exists.
This approach need not be hi-tech. For example, a tourist following the walking tour in a Lonely Planet is undertaking experiential m-learning. The book points out the specifics of the environment, and the tourist subsequently experiences them.
Of course, electronic technology facilitates experiential m-learning like never before. Handheld devices combined with the Internet, geolocation, and the likes of augmented reality make the learning experience engaging, timely and real.
It’s also important to note that this mindset applies to both push and pull learning. For example, an LMS-based architecture course may step the learner along a particular route through the city. Alternatively, an interactive map may empower the learner to select the points of interest at their discretion and convenience.
Which leads me to one of the commenters who took umbrage at M-Learning’s dirty little secrets. This fellow was developing a smartphone app for his students enrolled in a Diploma of Community Services. While I suspect his polemic stemmed from a misinterpretation of my argument (which no doubt related to my inability to articulate it sufficiently), he did indeed cause me to ask myself:
Why can’t an app push training on a smartphone?
And the answer, of course, is it can. But then I would add:
Why would you want to?
Given the speed and cost effectiveness of producing online courses in-house these days, combined with the availability of content repositories in most organisations, I would be inclined to save the time and expense of building an app – unless it exploited the mobility of the device.
So part of my lengthy response to this fellow was:
…I would suggest that the app enables the student to interact with the content *in the field*. Perhaps it encourages them to walk around the Cross (to be Sydney-centric, but you know what I mean) and prompts the student to describe their surroundings. If the app then simulates an interaction with a homeless person or with someone who is drug-affected, then it’s done in the context of the work and thus becomes infinitely more meaningful. And if the student could select the scenarios at their discretion rather than have to wade through them in a pre-defined linear manner, then that hands over to them some of the control that you want them to have.
In other words, I would bother with an app only if it offered something that “regular” push or pull content doesn’t. And that something is an authentic experience.
It is this mindset which urges us to realise the full potential of m-learning.
The universal advice for m-learning is to keep it short.
The argument is that workers these days are busy professionals with the attention span of a juvenile gnat, so anything longer than a few minutes won’t be effective.
I don’t buy it, but I am in the minority.
Nonetheless, I recognise the benefits of this approach. Shorter content is quicker to develop, and single files like MP4s are easy to produce.
Regular snippets are also useful for reinforcing key messages, assessment, post work, and bridging the knowing-doing gap.
However, I also think this approach is limited.
Although it leverages modern technology – namely, smartphones and tablets – this kind of m-learning remains traditional “push” training. Of course push training has its place in the broader learning model, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a true learning organisation, the vast majority of learning is pulled.
So I propose we turn the prevailing notion of m-learning on its head…
Let’s think less in terms of “training” and more in terms of “performance support”. Create the content once in a central repository (such as a wiki or an intranet) where it can be searched, explored and discovered on-the-job, and just-in-time if need be.
This approach accommodates multiple devices (mobile or otherwise), without the need for multiple authoring tools or the production of multiple content packages.
It also facilitates a more constructivist mode of learning, which one may argue is the pedagogical foundation of the 70 in 70:20:10.
Of course the pull approach to m-learning relies heavily on standardisation. Wikis, intranets, VLEs, LMSs etc must be mobile friendly for the paradigm to work.
In other words, these repositories must be compliant with international mobile standards so that we can accommodate the myriad of devices, browsers and operating systems that m-learning entails.
And we can turn this on its head too. If we all build content on standards-compliant platforms, suddenly the onus is on all those devices, browsers and operating systems to accommodate us.