Posted tagged ‘relevance’

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.

Advertisements

The triple-threat scenario

31 March 2014

There’s no shortage of theories as to why a scenario works so well as an educational device. But for me, it boils down to context.

An authentic and relevant context facilitates two important processes.

1. Sense making

The authenticity and relevance of the scenario contextualises the content so that it becomes more meaningful for the learner. It approximates a real life situation with which she is familiar so that she can make better sense of it.

2. Transfer

When the learner finds herself in a similar situation in real life, she will associate the current context with the scenario and thus apply her experience from it more readily.

When we combine these two affordances with the engagement power of video, we create a triple threat which dramatically increases our probability of success.

An offer they can’t refuse

10 March 2014

One of the best conference sessions I have ever attended was presented by Chris Bessell-Browne from Qantas College.

E-Learning at an airline is challenging because a relatively high proportion of the workforce does not have ready access to a computer. This poses a problem when, for example, you need to roll out compliance training to each and every individual.

One way in which Qantas solves this problem is by showing a series of video scenarios to large groups of their employees. The scenarios involve real employees as well as paid actors, and they recreate scenes that have actually happened at the organisation – eg a young woman receiving unwanted attention from a colleague at the Christmas party, a baggage handler being bullied by a peer in his team, a manager reprimanding one of his team members for her dishevelled appearance, etc. Each video is then followed by a slide featuring several discussion questions, asking if so-and-so was in the wrong, that kind of thing.

According to Chris, the discussions get quite animated as people argue their case for or against. Because there is often no clear “correct” or “incorrect” answer, the interaction represents a melting pot of views and perspectives – carefully facilitated by the L&D pro. It makes the learning experience engaging, relevant and authentic. In other words, nothing like typical compliance training.

As Chris proceeded with her presentation at the conference, everyone in the audience was on the edge of their seat as they eagerly anticipated the next instalment.

When was the last time anyone reacted like that to your training?

Businessman with information and resources streaming out of his smartphone

Video breathes life into content.

For example, while reading about how to provide effective feedback and perhaps downloading a 6-step job aid may be enough to improve your feedback giving skills, suppose you could also watch a video of a manager providing feedback to her direct report. Now you have a role model to follow, and a real-world example to make sense of.

So why doesn’t everyone do this? We have the tools at our disposal – from the camera on our smartphones to a plethora of free editing software downloadable from the internet.

I suspect one of the barriers is fear. We look at the slick productions such as those commissioned by Qantas, and we’re afraid our own efforts will appear amateurish in comparison. And you know what: they will!

When professional production houses shoot a video, they do so beautifully. The picture is rich and sharp. The audio is crisp and clear. The lighting is perfect. That is, after all, what you are paying them for. And it ain’t cheap.

When we record a video on our smartphone, the picture might be somewhat dull, the audio tinny, the lighting dodgy. But I put to you that if the quality of your production is good enough to see and hear, then it’s good enough to learn from.

And if the content is relevant, you’ll find your target audience surprisingly forgiving. You needn’t be Francis Ford Coppola because what really matters is the learning outcome.

So my advice is simply to give it a go. Test a few home-made clips on a pilot group to see how they fare. Incorporate constructive feedback, build on your success and scale it up. Your videography skills will improve over time, and you might even consider buying better equipment and software.

Sure, a beautifully crafted production will always be preferable, but it’s not always attainable or even necessary. You have the power right now to provide your audience with a learning experience that’s engaging, relevant and authentic.

So make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Funny business

27 November 2013

Do you find yourself going to too many meetings? Or to meetings that don’t really achieve anything? I know I do.

Like many large organisations around the world, my employer is not immune to that most insidious of diseases: the ineffective meeting.

However, unlike other organisations that prefer to sweep the problem under the carpet, I’m proud to say that ours has chosen to tackle it head on. The term “proud” might seem somewhat of an over statement, but allow me to put it into context…

You see, in Australian terms at least, the company I work for is old. And with age comes a reputation for being risk averse, compliant, not really innovative, but big and safe. Perhaps we are some or all of those things, but in any case I think it sells us short.

I’ve been employed by the company for a while now, and I can personally vouch for the progressive changes that have occurred over that time. I think no better example of our evolution is a little video clip that we produced to combat the aforementioned spectre of the ineffective meeting.

In the clip, a woman in a supermarket asks the store attendant for directions to the bread aisle. The attendant dutifully escorts the customer to the bread and asks her what type she wants. What follows is an excruciating sequence as she defers to her colleagues for their opinions, everyone suggests conflicting ideas and alternative solutions, someone turns up late, no one is willing to make a decision, and eventually everyone departs, leaving the attendant holding a perfectly acceptable loaf of bread that no one wants.

Customer: Greg’s the key decision maker here.
Attendant: Greg…?
Customer: Greg’s not here.

It’s cheeky; it’s self-deprecating; and above all, it’s funny.

And it set the organisation alight. Our enterprise social network was deluged with positive comments, ranging from wishes of congratulations to urges to post it onto YouTube. Never before have I witnessed such a reaction to piece of training content.

Will it change the meeting culture of the organisation? Only time will tell. But given raising awareness of the problem is an objective, it’s off to a flying start.

Loaf of bread

All this got me thinking about the under-exploited role of comedy in education. Perfect timing – because just as I was contemplating this theme, my friend CJ Delling flew back into town.

CJ is a German-born comedian, cartoonist and “maker of stuff for the easily amused”. She has performed at the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Inevitably, the first observation anyone makes upon meeting CJ is the oxymoron of the German comedian. But that, of course, is a myth. I have met a surprising number of Germans over my lifetime and I have found the vast majority of them to be well humoured. CJ goes one step further by being hilarious.

But this post isn’t about the sociability of our continental cousins; it’s about e-learning – so I cornered CJ on the pretence of catching up for coffee and asked her the following questions:

     • Should comedy be used in education? (0:17)
     • What style of comedy is most effective for education? (0:56)
     • When should comedy not be used? (1:38)
     • What is your favourite example of comedy used in education? (1:55)

Typically creative, CJ illustrated her answers to my questions via the following animation…

I agree with CJ’s view that comedy should indeed be used in education. As she explains, it can improve the learner’s attention, interest and memory retention, while simultaneously reducing their stress and interpersonal barriers they may be experiencing.

I also subscribe to CJ’s advocacy of observational comedy in education. While we view the scene from a safe distance, we still see ourselves in it and hence its relevance to our own worlds. It works because it’s true.

With this in mind, I can see why CJ’s favourite Air New Zealand safety videos work so well. Moreover, I recognise how some of my own favourites might be re-deployed to develop mindsets and capabilities in the workplace. For example…

     • Leadership

     • Followship

     • Teleconferencing

     • Writing skills

     • Influencing without authority

While the comedic device may be…

     • Facetious

     • Dry

     • Black

Yet as CJ also notes: it’s important not to over step the mark. For me, Dilbert springs to mind. While the comedy might be champagne and the message cringeworthingly accurate, the cutting style of Scott Adams might dig a little too deep.

According to the anonymous online employee survey, you don't trust management. What's up with that? Oh. Right.

Does it matter? Yes! You can’t forget your objective, which is essentially to change behaviour. So you can ill afford to alienate your target audience.

That’s why I consider our supermarket clip such a powerful force. It’s obviously a comedy and a fictional scenario, which lets our guard down and provides a psychological degree of separation. Yet it remains unequivocally familiar, and so drives its message home.

Because we ridicule it, we feel the imperative to change. Lest we ridicule ourselves.