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Think Beyond the Course

8 Nov

Training is not a singular event. The notion of “doing to the training” was never a useful paradigm, but even less so now with our always-on digital world. What information will the learner have already found on his own before taking the course? What social media posts has he already read about the training event he is set to undertake? After the fact, where will he turn and what will he discover to reinforce, amplify, or potentially torpedo the e-learning activity?

Learning is an ongoing activity that now takes place significantly online. ImageRather than think of e-learning as an event, smart organizations deliver timely useful information throughout the year on a continuous basis. People are always going to search for interesting, useful and engaging information. Human nature demands we find patterns, connect the dots, synthesize information.

How does your organization deliver information so that people are learning lessons that map to their success? And, how do e-learning products, be they courses, webinars, job aids, social media posts, etc., fit in to that larger strategy? We need to step back to consider if the digital milieu supports or undermines effective training, and take action accordingly (see more on this from Jane Hart). E-learning becomes an act of information curating rather than – or in addition to – creating content.

Objection Sustained? Not if you hit objections head on

7 Oct

Not all people welcome even well thought-out and executed training. (Shocking, I know!)

Some find it irrelevant. Others, that it is an unwelcome interruption to their already overflowing schedules. There are also people who object to the nature of a specific type of training, such as compliance or harassment training.  Some are simply hostile to the entire notion of training.

In planning a training activity, we need to dedicate part of our needs analysis and instructional design time to investigate and plan methods to address learner objections and obstacles. We should never assume that negative attitudes are unimportant nor simply ignore (what may be) valid attitudinal barriers to our efforts. I’ve found that the best way to address these issues is by engaging a learner up front with the relevance of the topic at hand.

Make it personal; tell a story. This is important to her because there may be real consequences – organizational, legal, and personal – to her or her colleagues if performance objectives here are not learned and internalized. If you can’t discover the direct relevance of a particular course, see this earlier post or the Cathy Moore topic it refers to.

Flipped classroom and Instructional Design: Flip me!

19 Jul

My workplace’s primary historical purpose was to improve, support, and supplement classroom teaching. And while Education Northwest’s scope has expanded over the years, there are thankfully still many very smart people steeped in the world of education and scholastic excellence.

I am not one of them.

My background, as you know if you’ve read this blog before, is in Instructional Design (ID) and e-learning, especially for adult workers (i.e., training). This is both a challenge and opportunity. On a day-to-day level, it means learning each other’s terms, nomenclature, and assumptions, so we are speaking a common language when we talk about projects and solutions.

A colleague recently pointed to th

Interaction is essential for class room learning.

Interaction is essential for class room learning.

e (terrific) trend toward “flipped” classrooms, where teachers spend most of the class time coaching hands-on activities while allowing students to watch the “lecture” online, suggesting that this was a step closer to what I do. Yes, a challenge and an opportunity.

While watching lectures, TED talks, videos, and other infotainment is all well and good, it is in fact not what we IDs and e-learning designers do. When instructors or trainers stand in front of learners, whether to lecture or to train, they have an immediate feedback loop: The learners are engaged, bored, eager, confused, frustrated, etc. Through conversation, application, and exercises, the instructor has an immediate way to judge success and failure. It is a true two-way give-and-take, and good trainers (and teachers) thrive in that environment.

When we think about e-learning, we start with the learner—alone, at a screen, hoping at best to have a useful and mildly engaging 15 minutes, but fearing pages of text that bore him to tears and from which he will retain next to nothing. (Well, there’s always email, solitaire or less wholesome ways to pass the time if forced to sit at a screen.)

An ID’s job is to design something to surprise, delight, and exceed those dreary expectations.

IDs think about the lonely learner: "How can I reach these kids?"

IDs think about the lonely learner: “How can I reach these kids (or adults)?”

How can we replace that human classroom experience with a learning experience that engages learners and, in its most elevated form, allows them to transfer the knowledge and skills to their work performance? That is our starting point. Creating that design is part science and part art. It requires a deep understanding of the topic, and then combines it with the science of how people learn, how they might apply what they’ve learned to real life, and what kind of activities convert a screen watcher into an immersive participant in his own learning. That’s what e-learning specialists do.

Anyone with modest proficiency can tape a lecture or throw slide sets online and call it learning. At best, it’s an interesting invitation that might lead to learning: The flip in the flipped classroom is where the magic happens. E-learning delivers the flip, not (just) the lecture.

Informal Online Learning: What the dog saw

10 May

Since puppies sell (who doesn’t love a good dog story?), here I go. Please stay on the scent, there is a point about informal learning:


Our dog Forrest, who definitely learned exactly what he could get away with (RIP).

Dogs are social animals, and they learn through interactions with other dogs and humans. I’ve trained a few dogs in my life, and the best advice I ever got from a good dog trainer was: “Your dog is learning something every day. Your job is to make sure he is learning the things you want him to learn.” 

People are also social animals, and nothing is more social than learning. Indeed, even the most basic learning is based in discourse. At times that discourse may be a conversation with one’s self, but we learn through conversations about facts, ideas and applied skills. (It’s why folks in isolation end up muttering to themselves.) That’s just how social animals roll.

Bringing it back to the professional sphere—Every day we continue to learn something about our jobs, our value to our organization, our place in the world. In formal learning environments (synchronous or a-synchronous), teachers, trainers and IDs work hard to hold learners’ attention and deliver what we want them to learn. 

But really, that’s the tail wagging the dog, because that accounts for only 5% of adult learners’ time in the best of circumstances. Informal learning is the nod to the other 95% of learners’ time. 

Think about it: The most admired and valuable members of your team have attained that status in large part through time and effort spent understanding how your organization works, who the key stakeholders and partners are, when and where to “pitch” ideas and ultimately how to get things done. He or she didn’t learn any of that in school. We are social learners, and the folks we admire are those who take the initiative to learn the skills they need to thrive on the job. (A lot like a well-adjusted dog, don’t you think?)

As e-learning professionals, we should strive to:

  • Build the structures for informal learning
  • Support a learning culture that “teaches” people that:
    • what they know is important
    • sharing what they know is valuable
    • we expect and support the time and effort they make to learn outside formal learning events
  • Facilitate, guide and coach the process as needed

Informal online learning might take the form of online Communities of Practice, ask-the-expert sessions, forums, shared resources and tools, social media and curation opportunities, user-contributed success stories, etc. There is no one way to do it, and every situation is different. The question that should gnaw at us is: “If our learning cohorts are not learning what we want them to learn, then what ARE they learning?”

For more on Informal Learning, see Marcia Conner’s Introduction to Informal Learning and Jay Cross’ post about it on his site. I’m also a big fan of Jane Hart, and she has a great piece on ID and social learning.

When is training the answer? (hint: never)

8 May

Training, be it instructor-led (ILT), an e-learning course, blended learning or what-have-you, is not the answer. Never. It is at best part of an answer.

The reason of course is that training in isolation may lead to knowledge. Knowledge is good, no question about it. But as I discussed in my last post and elsewhere, knowledge doesn’t do anything. Good is good for nothing in the workplace. Skills, attitudes, motivation, and reward are what gets the job done.

So, as this terrific video from Cathy Moore points out, when your ears buzz because someone in your organization says “I need training,” your job should not be to say “OK.” The request should begin a process of inquiry—and a process of internal education—that will lead to the best business solutions to the problem.

See the full post here to download the flowchart.

Cathy Moore is spot on (as usual… I encourage you to check out her great site!), but only half the way home. Training may be part of a set of answers that will address the root of the business need. But what Cathy sort of implies but does not state directly here is that without the cultural, motivational and supportive tools, the trainee will not be able to effectively transfer the training.

In the example here, if the staff go through the training and are able to correctly identify a Spanish last name, does that mean they will do it consistently? Not necessarily. In order to achieve the business need (correct data entry), the staff has to

  • Be given the time and managerial support to take the training
  • Understand why it is important to the business and to themselves (carrot and/or stick)
  • Have the motivation to apply it every time
  • The reminders and reinforcements over time to make it second nature.

In other words, training may be an answer, but it is never THE answer. As trainers we have to admit to this reality and work to get others to understand that everyone has a stake in improving performance.

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