The Training Chasm
As more and more traditional business functions become automated and organizations work toward becoming real-time global enterprises, the ability of knowledge workers to learn, perform and innovate within a 24×7 environment is imperative just to survive. In order to succeed, an organization must be able to focus on the skills and knowledge that people need to perform their job functions effectively. Traditional linear instructional design methods are outdated. They take too long, cost too much money and seldom track ROI.
A 2002 IDC/Delphi Group report studied enterprise businesses (greater than $1 billion annual revenues and 5,000 employees across many cities) and discovered that, across the board, these large businesses were losing approximately $5,000 per employee per year due to a lack of information or skills. Average annual losses totaling $25 million dollars are not insignificant. Why are these companies failing to provide a globally competitive workforce?
E-learning was supposed to be a panacea for the time and expense of traditional classroom training methods. Two studies conducted in the United Kingdom and the United States offer some not-so-surprising results. Just because companies bought e-learning libraries didn’t mean that users learned. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development surveyed 500 U.K. training managers. Less than one-third had introduced e-learning as a training alternative, and of those who had, nearly three-quarters said that few people were accessing it. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) discovered in a 2002 study that less than 20 percent of courseware library modules were utilized. Why are thousands of e-learning licenses lying dormant? How could this waste be allowed to happen? The answer is relatively simple: Learning/performance outcomes (aka training objectives) were not aligned with business results.
Real-Time Performance-Level Solutions
Transfering organized learning responsibilities from traditional silos to outcome-specific knowledge and skills will enable organizations to make the leap across the current knowledge void to learning ROI. The most immediate paybacks of this paradigm shift can be realized through the creation of real-time learning tools that offer workers information when and where they need it.
Real-Time Learning aligns knowledge and skills with the performance- or outcome-level of the BBL model. (See Figure 1.) Historically labeled “on-the-job training” (OJT), the 3 Ns (Need kNowledge Now) more accurately reflect today’s global environment. Traditional transaction-oriented job functions are becoming obsolete. Tiered management infrastructures are flattening. Workers in today’s services-focused economy must absorb new information “on the fly,” process it within the framework of corporate strategies and take profitable action independently.
Implementing tools that enable dispersed corporate teams to make strong decisions quickly is fast becoming a competitive differentiator. Successfully developing and deploying performance-focused tools is the keystone that will enable a corporate learning organization to transcend its cost-center-overhead status and be recognized as an active contributor to corporate profitability.
Performance-Based Job Aids
Outcome-based learning programs require managers and subject-matter experts first to define training outcomes that reflect desired corporate goals. An organization can realize significant efficiencies by structuring learning into small, task-oriented units based on measurable performance objectives, enabling a variety of learning media to be combined, creating an innovative curriculum targeted at the experience of the student and the depth of the content.
Beginning the design of a training curriculum from the end goal (aka real-time performance learning phase of the BBL Platform, see Figure 1) can greatly improve the performance of knowledge/specialist workers. The bulk of the instructional design energy is placed on the actual skills and tools required for job performance. (See Figure 2.) Working backward, instructional designers are able to reflect on the skills and knowledge necessary to perform each function.
Training curricula will be based on the goals and objectives of actual job descriptions. The traditionally abstract core knowledge and concept learning components will be directly mapped back to actual performance metrics. Effectively, training programs will be designed to answer the questions: “Why do we care?” and “How will this help us perform our jobs and achieve business goals?” If the instructional designer cannot answer these questions, then the development of the module or performance-support tool must be immediately halted. This mindset will result in a well-defined purpose as opposed to a serialized mystery format in which people are left hanging as they wait for the next learning installment.
The key to successful and profitable training solutions is to focus on the desired learning outcome, reflect on the experience level of the participants balanced against the depth of the content and select an appropriate training delivery method that will create a time- and cost-effective learning environment. Why spend three weeks in a classroom when a brief online tutorial is sufficient? On the other hand, why waste self-study development resources when a focused hands-on lab environment would reap stronger skills transfer? Mapping the content depth and the experience level to the delivery method will enable organizations to best allocate limited training dollars. Training departments once considered overhead will now become strategic corporate support engines based on productive learning vehicles and measurable ROI.
Susan Schwartz is the founder and principal consultant of The River Birch Group, a performance improvement group that provides a broad range of services to global companies designing and launching online communities and next-generation blended learning solutions to increase business productivity. Some of these activities include job-task analyses, certification/assessment programs, mentoring/coaching, curriculum design and virtual team communications. Her more than 18 years of experience in the adult learning field includes a wide variety of both technical and professional skill-enhancement initiatives. Susan is a noted speaker and author with a passion for helping companies learn how to drink from virtual water coolers.
Some questions to consider when designing and implementing real-time learning communities are:
- Who is the audience?
- What tools do they need to perform job functions?
- How can these tools be adapted to improve staff performance and productivity?
- What foundation concepts are needed to most effectively leverage the tools (aka, why should we care)?
Figure 2: BBL Design Model
|Performance||Business Outcome||Job Aids|
|Process||Business Application||Lab Exercise|
|Concept||Target Knowledge||Facilitated Session|
|Knowledge||Core Information||Facilitated Session|