Tag: training

Double defence

In a past life I worked with a fellow named Jim who was very good at what he did.

As what I would term a “trainer”, he was well versed in face-to-face delivery and widely respected in the business as a subject matter expert. He had also racked up quite a tenure at the company, so he was considered something of a stalwart.

In my own role, though, I could see what Jim couldn’t: the incoming wave of e-learning. Sooner rather than later, it was clear to me that not all our training was to be delivered to everyone in the same room at the same time. On the contrary, management’s salivation over the potential efficiency gains of online courses meant that f2f was in danger of extinction. Rightly or wrongly, this was the business reality.

We had a healthy cross-skilling culture in our team, so I actively sought opportunities to share my e-learning know-how with my colleagues. Some of them leapt at the chance to add another arrow to their quiver; but Jim wanted none of it.

I couldn’t work out whether his reluctance was due to laziness, fear, or something else. The typical excuse for this kind of thing is lack of time, however I’d wager that if I were to offer him $1000 for turning up to one of my sessions, he’d be there with bells on. In any case he never lifted a finger, despite the investment in his own career that would surely amount to many thousands of dollars.

Anyway, like clockwork, the dreaded spectre of redundancies swept through our division; and as predicted, Jim was let go.

He was shocked and bitter.

Vintage robot

I hark back to this time whenever I hear the phrase skills of the future.

Just as back then when the internet disrupted Jim’s work, so too are the likes of artificial intelligence disrupting our work today. Digitisation of the workplace is an unstoppable force, so an ability to work with emerging technology remains a skill of the future.

Working with is a critical distinction. While technology will inevitably take jobs, just as it has done in the past, in many cases it will complement them. So the trick here, if there is one, is to use technology as a tool to enhance what you do.

For example, the deployment of machine learning in medical imaging is unlikely to replace doctors; rather, it’s a tool the doctor can use to improve the efficacy of diagnosis. Similarly, robo-advice is unlikely to replace financial planners; rather, it frees up the planner to focus on complex portfolios and provide other value added services.

In other words, the future of work isn’t so much about competing against the robots as it is about leveraging your human talents to do what the robots can’t. The software can crunch the numbers in a heartbeat… it’s up to you to interpret what they mean (critical thinking) and use them to inform a course of action (decision making).

Moreover it’s not just about interacting with technology; it’s also about interacting with people. I’m referring to “soft skills” such as communicating your findings to your target audience (storytelling), hitting your mark (empathy) and motivating them to change (influencing).

And of course it’s about your own innate ability to handle change (eg adaptivity, resilience and active learning).

Robots - You - Humans

Of course, even if Jim did upskill himself in online course development, the company may very well have ended up outsourcing that work to an offshore provider. So the question isn’t merely whether the work you do can be automated, but also if it can be done by someone else at a fraction of the cost.

Hence ongoing employability demands lifelong learning to continue to do what other people can’t.

Skills of the future aren’t just your defence against the robots. They’re also your defence against other humans.

Semantics, semantics

I dislike grammar jokes, pedants, and Oxford commas.

That’s my jovial way to end a year that will be remembered as a tough one for a long time to come.

I found blogging a welcome distraction, so much so that in addition to my annual list of e-learning conferences in Australia (which took a beating!) I churned out no fewer than ten thought pieces.

My joke at the start of this summary is a nod to the theme of semantics, which I maintain are important in the L&D profession. Because it is with shared meaning that we do our best work.

I invite you to share your own views on each piece, so feel free to drop me a like and contribute a comment or two…

A vintage poster depicting a group of dogs of different breeds

I hope you find my articulations helpful.

In the meantime, I wish that for you and your family the Christmas season will be a time of healing, rest and renewal.

Transformers

It seems like everyone’s spruiking the “new normal” of work.

The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping millions of previously office-bound employees at home, forcing L&D professionals to turn on a dime.

Under pressure to maintain business continuity, our profession has been widely congratulated for its herculean effort in adapting to change.

I’m not so generous.

Our typical response to the changing circumstances appears to have been to lift and shift our classroom sessions over to webinars.

In The next normal, which I published relatively early during lockdown, several of my peers and I recognised the knee-jerk nature of this response.

And that’s not really something that ought to be congratulated.

Who led the digital transformation of your company? The CEO (incorrect), The CTO (incorrect), COVID-19 (correct)

For starters, the virus exposed a shocking lack of risk management on our part. Digital technology is hardly novel, and our neglect in embracing it left us unprepared for when we suddenly needed it.

Look no further than the Higher Education sector for a prime example. They’re suffering a free-fall in income from international students, despite the consensus that people can access the Internet from other countries.

Beyond our misgivings with technology, moreover, the virus has also shone a light on our pedagogy. The broadcast approach that we deliver virtually today is largely a continuation of our practice pre-pandemic. It wasn’t quite right then, and it isn’t quite right now. In fact, isolation, digital distractions and Zoom fatigue probably make it worse.

I feel this is important to point out because the genie is out of the bottle. Employee surveys reveal that the majority of us either don’t want to return to the office, or we’ll want to split our working week at home. That means while in-person classes can resume, remote learning will remain the staple.

So now is our moment of opportunity. In the midst of the crisis, we have the moral authority to mature our service offering. To innovate our way out of the underwhelming “new normal” and usher in the modern “next normal”.

In some cases that will mean pivoting away from training in favour of more progressive methodologies. While I advocate these, I also maintain that direct instruction is warranted under some circumstances. So instead of joining the rallying cry against training per se, I propose transforming it so that it becomes more efficient, engaging and effective in our brave new world.

Transformer-style toy robot

Good things come in small packages

To begin, I suggest we go micro.

So-called “bite sized” pieces of content have the dual benefit of not only being easier to process from a cognitive load perspective, but also more responsive to the busy working week.

For example, if we were charged with upskilling our colleagues across the business in Design Thinking, we might kick off by sharing Chris Nodder’s 1.5-minute video clip in which he breaks the news that “you are not your users”.

This short but sweet piece of content piques the curiosity of the learner, while introducing the concept of Empathize in the d.school’s 5-stage model.

We’re all in this together

Next, I suggest we go social.

Posting the video clip to the enterprise social network seeds a discussion, by which anyone and everyone can share their experiences and insights, and thus learn from one another.

It’s important to note that facilitating the discussion demands a new skillset from the trainer, as they shift their role from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”.

It’s also important to note that the learning process shifts from synchronous to asynchronous – or perhaps more accurately, semi-synchronous – empowering the learner to consume the content at a time that is most convenient for them (rather than for the L&D department).

There is no try

Next, I suggest we go practical.

If the raison d’être of learning & development is to improve performance, then our newly acquired knowledge needs to be converted into action.

Follow-up posts on the social network shift from the “what” to the “how”, while a synchronous session in the virtual classroom enables the learner to practise the latter in a safe environment.

Returning to our Design Thinking example, we might post content such as sample questions to ask prospective users, active listening techniques, or an observation checklist. The point of the synchronous session then is to use these resources – to stumble and bumble, receive feedback, tweak and repeat; to push through the uncomfortable process we call “learning” towards mastery.

It’s important to recognise the class has been flipped. While time off the floor will indeed be required to attend it, it has become a shorter yet value-added activity focusing on the application of the knowledge rather than its transmission.

Again, it’s also important to note that facilitating the flipped class demands a new skillset from the trainer.

A journey of a thousand miles

Next, I suggest we go experiential.

Learning is redundant if it fails to transfer into the real world, so my suggestion is to set tasks or challenges for the learner to do back on the job.

Returning to our Design Thinking example, we might charge the learner with empathising with a certain number of end users in their current project, and report back their reflections via the social network.

In this way our return on investment begins immediately, prior to moving on to the next stage in the model.

Pics or it didn’t happen

Finally, I suggest we go evidential.

I have long argued in favour of informalising learning and formalising its assessment. Bums on seats misses the point of training which, let’s remind ourselves again, is to improve performance.

How you learned something is way less interesting to me than if you learned it – and the way to measure that is via assessment.

Returning to our Design Thinking example, we need a way to demonstrate the learner’s mastery of the methodology in a real-world context, and I maintain the past tense of open badges fits the bill.

In addition to the other benefits that badges offer corporates, the crux of the matter is that a badge must be earned.

Informalise learning. Formalise its assessment.

I am cognisant of the fact that my proposal may be considered heretical in certain quarters.

The consumption of content on the social network, for example, may be difficult to track and report. But my reply is “so what” – we don’t really need to record activity so why hide it behind the walls of an LMS?

If the openness of the training means that our colleagues outside of the cohort learn something too, great! Besides, they’ll have their own stories to tell and insights to share, thereby enriching the learning experience for everyone.

Instead it is the outcome we need to focus on, and that’s formalised by the assessment. Measure what matters, and record that in the LMS.

In other words, the disruptive force of the COVID-19 pandemic is an impetus for us to reflect on our habits. The way it has always been done is no substitute for the way it can be done better.

Our moment has arrived to transform our way out of mode lock.

The leader’s new clothes

From $7 billion to nearly $14 billion.

That’s how much the spend on leadership training by American corporations grew over the preceding 15 years, according to Kaiser and Curphy in their 2013 paper Leadership development: The failure of an industry and the opportunity for consulting psychologists.

Over that same period we witnessed the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the implosion of Enron, and of course the Global Financial Crisis. While the causes of these unfortunate events are complicated, our leaders were evidently ill-equipped to prevent them.

Despite the billions of dollars’ worth of training invested in them.

Undressed mannequins in a shop window

For a long time I felt like the child who could see the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Then Jeffrey Pfeffer visited Sydney.

Pfeffer is the Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He was promoting a book he had published, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, in which he states what I (and no doubt many others) had been thinking: leadership training is largely ineffective.

At a breakfast seminar I attended, the professor demonstrated how decades of development had no positive impact on metrics such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, leader tenure, or leader performance. He posited numerous reasons for this, all of them compelling.

Today I’d humbly like to add one more to the mix: I believe managers get “leadership” training when what they really need is “management” training.

They’re entreated to be best practice before they even know what to do. It’s the classic putting of the cart before the horse.

For example, the managers in an organisation might attend a workshop on providing effective feedback, leveraging myriad models and partaking in roleplays; when what they really need to know is they should be having an hour-long 1:1 conversation with each of their team members every fortnight.

Other examples include training in unconscious bias, emotional intelligence and strategic thinking; yet they don’t know how to hire new staff, process parental leave, or write a quarterly business plan. Worse still, many won’t realise they’re expected to do any of that until the horse has bolted.

I’m not suggesting leadership training is unimportant. On the contrary it’s critical. What I am saying is that it’s illogical to buy our managers diamond cufflinks when they don’t yet own a shirt.

At this juncture I think semantics are important. I propose the following:

  • Management training is what to do and how to do it.
  • Leadership training is how to do it better.

In other words, management training is the nuts & bolts. The foundation. It’s what our expectations are of you in this role, and how to execute those expectations – timelines, processes, systems, etc. It focuses on minimum performance to ensure it gets done.

In contrast, leadership training drives high performance. Now you’ve got the fundamentals under your belt, here’s how to broaden diversity when hiring new staff. Here’s how to motivate and engage your team. Here’s how to identify opportunities for innovation and growth.

$14 billion is a lot of money. Let’s invest it in a new wardrobe, starting with the underwear.

Micro-learning’s unsung sibling

Micro-learning is so hot right now.

But I’m not going to deliberate over its definition. If you’re into that, check out Shannon Tipton’s Microlearning: The Misunderstood Buzzword and 7 Deadly Myths of Microlearning.

Nor am I going to try to convince you to jump on board, or abandon ship.

Instead, I’m going to consider firstly how micro-learning might be used in a corporate training context; and secondly, pivot towards something slightly different.

And if you were to find any value in these musings, I’d be delighted.

How micro-learning might be used

The nature of micro-learning lends itself to the campaign model.

Independent but related packets of content that are distributed over time can be woven into the working day of the target audience, and hence reduce time “off the floor”. In this context, the micro-learning is the training.

Similarly I see an opportunity for micro-learning to be deployed before the training. The content can prime the target audience for the experience to follow, perhaps in the form of a flipped class.

And of course I also see an opportunity for micro-learning to be deployed after the training: what one may call “reinforcement” to improve retention and increase the probability of knowledge transfer.

Sure, but does it work?

Well cognitive science suggests it does. I recommend reading up on the forgetting curve, subsumption theory, Piaget, cognitive load, the spacing effect and interleaving. It’s worth it.

A hand holding a pen pointing to a chart.

The pivot

While I’m obviously an advocate of micro-learning, a less buzzy but perhaps just-as-important variant is micro-assessment.

This is similar to micro-learning except the content is in question format – preferably scenario based and feedback rich.

In one sense, the two approaches may be conflated. Formative assessment is nothing new, and a few daily questions over a set timespan could constitute training, or prompt critical thinking pre-training, or promote application post-training.

If you want more bedtime reading, I suggest looking up the testing effect or its synonyms, retrieval practice and active recall.

However I feel the untapped potential of micro-assessment lay in its summative power. As the bank of results builds up over time, the data can be used to diagnose the population’s understanding of the subject matter. If the questions are aligned to competencies, the knowledge gaps can be identified and closed with further interventions.

Hence, micro-assessment can be leveraged to execute an assessment first strategy, thereby increasing the relevance of the L&D service offering to the business.

And if you want yet more bedtime reading, I suggest exploring metacognition and its effect on motivation.

On that note, good night!