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Lead with Training? Look beyond the recipe

15 May

I’ve seen it time and time again. An organization has a new technology, often joined with a new process and vision for processing, customer service, data alignment, sales, etc. The knock comes on L & D’s door, and we are thrilled to be able to get in on a new initiative without the baggage of poor performance leading the request.

But just as we should pause and assess if training is the part of the solution to substandard performance or a new change initiative, we need to also pause to think about the appropriate timing and type of training that will advance the strategy initiative. While it might seem counter-intuitive to those of us in the instructional design and training game, we need to think about training as an essential element in the organizational kitchen remodel — a part of a well-designed program, but not the driver.

OK, I’m not entirely sure a kitchen is the best analogy, but let that marinate with me for a moment. A kitchen needs a workflow plan, a place to store fresh and nonperishable items, ample space to store tools and cooking utensils, and a set of good cook books (explicit knowledge), at least until the cook moves through competence and proficiency to become an expert intuitive gastro-artist (implicit knowledge).

So, training can carry the novice cook along the path to competence, and even proficiency. However, if the goal is to build expertise, training can’t carry the load the full distance. Similarly, the training program, no matter how well designed and implemented, can’t deliver the tools, materials and setup necessary to get the anticipated results.

Cathy Moore has done some excellent work on how to evaluate the need for training to address performance issues. But what I’m suggesting here is to take that to another elevation: Even when training is part of the issue, are the conditions for applicable success present? Seen this way, each training design should be a mini (or full-blown) change management program. Per standard practice of change management, skills are an essential ingredient. But so too are organizational support, vision and incentives to follow through.

complex change matrix

Complex Change Management Matrix

So, if you are already in the discussion that Moore (and I) suggests, take it to the next logical step: How does training fit into the change the organization wishes to see?

We don’t spend the money to build a beautiful kitchen without the hope that we’ll become better cooks. But design and appliances don’t get us there. Neither will skills alone without the proper tools and support for experimentation, failure and improvement.

What We’re Missing When Discussing MOOCs: Unintended intentions

20 Aug

There is much talk about MOOCs already, so I needn’t rehash the pros, cons, exemplars and far-more-common horrors as MOOCs reach their fifth birthday. MOOCs for fun, for hobby, for education, for egalitarianism—even MOOCs for corporate purposes and MOOCs for profit. And yes, (Silly Rabbit!) MOOCs for kids!

MOOC completion rates, in the mid-single digits last I saw, get a lot of press. What an uninspired question! But what I have read very little of, and to me is the most interesting question, is why do people sign up for MOOCs in the first place?

Put another way: What are people’s intent when they sign up for a MOOC? If we can begin to capture that, those of us in the learning game might be on to something.

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Joining a MOOC is a nearly perfect moment of good intentions. How can we harness that?

Millions have taken the time to peruse course offerings, register for a class and attend the first session or two—at least until they are asked to complete tasks and participate in online groups. That is no small act. Those millions are hungry for learning of one kind or another, demonstrated by the act of choosing and signing up.

Is it for hobby? Professional development? Work-related skills? Life skills? Intellectual curiosity? Social pressure (“You’ve never read Moby Dick!?”)? If MOOCs fail to fill most of those hungry minds, that’s a golden opportunity lost.

People want to learn. We yearn for new knowledge, desire (sometimes require) new skills. What if we could offer our people—that is, the folks for whom learning is our responsibility—a vast array of choice, but direct them to learn it in ways that they can actually be successful? When I (and many others) talk about self-directed learning, this is where my imagination runs.

Get our folks to understand that the content they need to learn just about anything and acquire many skills they may lack is there at their fingertips. What an age we live in! They just need the skill to see it, use it, learn it, share it, connect to others through it, incorporate it, grok it. The world is our MOOC, and we can all be our own instructor.

Our jobs need to shift to where we are the facilitators and coaches of self-directed learning, breaking down learning into systems and practices they’ll want to complete … eventually realizing that learning is an ongoing process of their own design that never is complete.

Completion rates? That’s the wrong question! Intention rates? That’s where we need to direct our efforts. Where there is intent to learn, there is shell waiting to be cracked. Where there may even be no intent, there is opportunity to introduce curiosity and growth.

Can you MOOC it, man?!

State Your Purpose: A few words about webinars

2 Jan

A speaker. A podium. A slide set. Information to disseminate. This is a fine scenario, and it is the paradigm on which webinars are built.

A: I have information.

B: You want that information.

C: I will share that information.

However, I think we all agree that the majority of webinars go off the rails pretty quickly. The reason for webinar-fail can be mostly categorized in five buckets:

  1. Poor presentation skills. There are many great resources to improve public speaking, slide design, and delivery. I rather like Slide:ology and The Webinar Manifesto, among many other great resources. Some folks are just not cut out for public speaking. There’s no shame in that. However, this is not my concern here.
  2. Technical problems. Yes, it happens, but not as often as you might think. Learn your platform and plan for worst-case events. That’s not my area of expertise.
  3. Poor understanding of the medium. A webinar compels participants to sit at their computer, watch and listen. That’s a personal-space environment. Don’t expect learners to pay attention for more than 15 minutes if they are not at their own screen, headphones on or in a very quiet room, alone. Groups gathered together to “watch” the webinar—unless it is a highly produced presentation experience, a là Apple introducing the iPad—will fail. (And, don’t get me started on anything that is planned for more than 60 minutes!) This is an oft-misunderstood element, and there is a lot of literature on how we act in groups versus as individuals, but that’s not what has my attention today.
  4. Wasted time. I attended a webinar recently of genuine interest, planned for an hour. There were 15 minutes of housekeeping, introductions, bios, and “setup.” Really? I can read bios and setup before, or after. Get to the topic! They lost me at “I’ll allow each of the four speakers to introduce themselves.” Again, I refer you to The Webinar Manifesto and numerous other books, blogs, articles, videos, and (yes!) webinars.
  5. Designers conflate dissemination, instruction, and learning. This is what I want to talk about.

Dissemination ≠ Instruction

As trainers are fond of saying: Telling Ain’t Training! If you’d like to share some news, build excitement for an initiative, or get all your scattered team members on the same project timeline, webinars are extremely useful. But if you’d like to train folks on the new CRM, or regulatory process, or how to avoid slips, trips, and falls in the warehouse, there are much better ways. At best, a webinar is part of a larger program. There is a reason that the phrase I’ve told you a hundred times! is so common. Telling is for the teller’s benefit, not the ones being told.

Instruction ≠ Learning

Learning happens by, and through, the learner. No matter how sound your instruction, how skilled a teacher, whether in a live classroom, via webinar, or in one-on-one coaching, learning happens when learners take new information or skills, filter and synthesize with their own experience and reference points, and apply it productively. No webinar is going to do that. There are ways to design learning experiences in which learners can demonstrate and apply lessons in real time. It takes good instructional design and a lot of skill to pull off. Alternatively, or in addition, you can observe or measure how the content you deliver is applied. In some cases there are hard metrics, but in most cases assessment will be anecdotal and iterative. You see, learning is a process that is ongoing, not an event. A stand-alone webinar is an event, useful for many things, but not to demonstrate that learning has occurred. If that is your goal … well, some design thinking is in order.

So, the when you plan your next webinar, think through:

  • The objective. If it involves words like teach, train, instruct, or educate, a webinar is at best a piece of a larger instructional program. If it is to inform, prepare, share, discuss, or gather feedback, you’re setting yourself up for success.
  • The attendees’ experience. What will the participants do during your time together? If it is sit and watch, don’t plan for longer than 20 minutes. We live in an interconnected, ultra-distracted world: Holding anyone’s attention longer that it takes to read this post is asking a lot. (If you’ve read this far, thanks!) There are ways to flip the webinar, that is, to do pre-work so that time online together is spent clarifying, discussing, and answering questions (for 20 minutes). Fewer slides, more talk/chat.
  • The purpose. If your purpose really is to train or teach, then design the learning experience. Again, this is not unique to the webinar medium, but participants are especially disinclined to sit through a webinar that is not useful.

A big thank you to Roger Courville, The Virtual Presenter, for his review and suggestions on this post. Check out his excellent blog and get a free copy of his handy book 102 Tips for Online Meetings.

Learning Space Means Anyplace

24 Jul

Two related stories came to my attention today, and it put a frame around what’s been on the top of my mind lately: learning spaces.

The first story came from the heart (ehem… Hart) of the online learning world: The Centre for Learning & Performance Technology (@C4PLT). Jane Hart recently published her annual survey of Learning in the Workplace. For those of us in Training and especially in eLearning, the results should be a wakeup call. eLearning and formal training are not very highly valued.

From Centre for Learning & Perfromance Technologies, 2014.

From Centre for Learning & Perfromance Technologies, 2014.

The second story comes from the American heartland. Kansas City is constructing a new school, driven by an admirably forward-thinking school district. No lockers, no long corridors, scant few “industrial” classrooms with rows of desks, and fitted with “maker spaces.” What will students do in those spaces? The principal rather bravely answered, “Who knows?”

What both of these seemingly disparate stories illuminate is that our ideas about learning need to change. Learning is not an event. Learning is not bound by a specific space, or a specific time. Learning, be it for students or workers, formal or informal, is going to be learner-driven and anchored in creativity and connection.

Actually, let me restate the paragraph above: Not only do our ideas about learning need to change, our practice must also. In a world where information is plentiful and readily available, in which knowledge need not rely on few experts but the availability of the plentiful experienced, consideration for space should be one of our leading design factors.

Space is not bound by walls, media, platform or geographic place. Space is also not tethered to time. (OK, this is getting a little woo-woo for some, I know, but I’m almost done.) Learning space is about connection, conversation, trust and creativity. The reasons eLearning is failing in organizations is because learning is not an event, it’s a constant process that needs nurture and occasional direction. The reason it is failing in classrooms is because students have the answers at their fingertips, but lack the ability and creative license to ask the right questions.

Why aren’t most training and eLearning programs preceived as valuable? Because they don’t provide value, in part because they are not developed for the rigors of space and time.

It’s time to unleash the spaces – online spaces, mental spaces, emotional spaces – that will allow individuals to pursue their passions and organizations to follow where those passions lead within a broader, elastic strategic vision. (Wait, doesn’t that sounds kind of like Google? Yes, I guess it does.)

Setting the Course: Do we still need e-learning courses?

8 Jun

I’ll start with this: I’m an instructional designer (ID) and e-learning guy. When I have less than 60 seconds to explain what I do to the semi-interested, I usually talk about courses. You know–complete the course, do the learning check, and get back to your life. I have been of a mindset lately that courses are a pretty poor way to learn. If you’ve been reading these posts with any frequency you’ll already know that I’m much more interested in the social, informal, and learner-directed activities. I absolutely believe that’s the direction we should be headed.


From: Tom Kuhlmann – The Rapid E-Learning Blog. Thanks, Tom!

I remarked rather flippantly to a colleague the other day, “I’ll be happy if I never have to build another course.” I meant it, in part selfishly (they can be tedious to produce) and in part philosophically. But since then I’ve been thinking: Is there still a place for courses? Those SCORM-compliant nuggets with a beginning and an end, with narratives built-in and easy navigation throughout? I mean, I’ve worked on hundreds of courses in my 20 years in ID, and I am truly proud of several of them.

I think I have to walk back from my flippancy just a bit. After a few days chewing on it, I think courses are part of (but not the whole) solution to a learning need:

  • Where compliance is absolutely (legally) necessary, such as HIPAA, fiduciary laws or the like: If you must have it on file for an auditor that you’ve reviewed something, and there is an expectation that it will change your behavior in some way, a course makes sense.
  • When learning how to use a tool or software application or system, and the course can be as much of an immersive simulation as possible.
  • Where there are no other means to model interpersonal communication, such as a remote sales team, working with volunteers, physician-patient conversations or social workers on home visits. It is best to do these in person, but sometimes that isn’t possible. These should also be as immersive and branching as possible.

That’s really about it. For almost every other need I can think of, I would lean toward creating some other kind of learning experience that includes some combination of research, curation, sharing and coaching. And, when you are creating courses, don’t rest on the ways you’ve been doing. Rethink anew how to best deliver the content to be as useful as possible to the learner. The Serious eLearning Manifesto is a good starting point for each project.


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