Successful organizations today understand the difference between creating education and training programs for diverse audiences and the need to create a vibrant learning environment for the individual. In plain language, it is no longer just about education and training for the many — it is about personalized learning for the individual, and it is not only about teaching everyone — it is also about creating an environment in which individuals can learn.
Winston Churchill once said, “Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” Most people want a mixture of formal training and informal learning, and they often want information in context. If that training and learning are meaningful, personalized and in context, they might be able to network pieces of what they have learned to create knowledge to share with others.
Achieving targeted training and personalized learning is not complicated or difficult, but it does take thought and planning. The ingredients to create personalized learning have been available for years, yet corporate education and training have focused their efforts on training masses of people without significantly improving the methods of training individuals.
The design and architecture of a holistic learning program — targeted training — can be achieved successfully by weaving together business strategies, learning objectives, and the use of technology to create training for the many and learning for the one. The result of this effort yields happy, informed, educated, productive professionals who, as part of a whole, can make a meaningful contribution to organizational success.
“Beginning With the End in Mind”
Guideline 1: The end result of training and learning programs needs to focus on achieving business goals — training and learning objectives must be designed with this end in mind.
Anyone can design and develop training for almost anything. The question becomes, “What’s the point?” We then need to ask ourselves what business we are really in, and what end point we are trying to achieve. To design targeted training we need to understand our learning objectives. And in order to relate learning goals to business goals, we need to begin the design and development process with the end clearly in mind.
Once we have clearly defined the learning goals and objects, we can look at the means by which we need to achieve them. As innovative learning professionals, we can combine formal and informal learning to create powerful educational opportunities for groups and individuals.
When we add personalization into this mix, we have a recipe for almost certain success. This might sound straightforward, but the implementation of such targeted programs takes planning and thought.
Technology can make a significant difference in the development and delivery of training and learning for many and for the individual —technology offers opportunities for personalization when previously none existed. Even more interesting, is the rate at which new technologies are emerging and becoming incorporated into the “training and learning fold.” Often, it is individuals who grasp the potential value of technology to enhance either their formal training or informal learning options and experience.
The combination of formal training, informal learning and personalization, with the use of technology to develop and deliver both, is the topic at hand. With a deep understanding of your workforce and these ingredients you can develop targeted, focused training. Organizations have recognized the need to do this, and they made it happen. You can, too. Just remember to “begin with the end in mind.”
Understanding the Workforce
Guideline 2: Know Your Audience
No training effort should begin without a thorough understanding of the target audience. No matter what you think people need to know, you need to walk in their shoes before you determine what you think they need to learn and how they should best learn it.
Subject-matter experts often think people initially need to know everything, so training is designed to pack monumental amounts of information into a short time frame. What people take away from that sort of training is minimal — it is often too much, too soon and not placed into context so people can think of the knowledge in an established framework.
Understanding your workforce allows you to modularize learning, that is, to break it up into manageable, meaningful learning blocks. Building on those blocks allows people to assimilate knowledge and information. Blend learning modules with practical experience, and most people will happily learn foundation knowledge and add to that knowledge over time. Reinforce learning with real-world experience, mentorship and hands-on exercises, and knowledge will settle into people’s minds as they take ownership of what they have learned.
Creating the Value in Learning
Guideline 3: People need to understand what they will be learning and why
People need to see the value of taking the time to learn and what the expected outcome will be. They need to be made part of the development process so that they become owners, that is, stakeholders in their learning. Weaving personalization into training and learning programs goes back to what those of us in the education and training profession have known for years as the skills-gap analysis, which can be described in four steps: understanding what people know, what they need to know, the gap between the two and how to best fill that gap.
Designing Targeted Training
Guideline 4: Consider the many people you will be training, but do not forget the group is made up of individual learners
Training brings a set of interesting challenges, whether it is 10 people or 10,000. Many variables must be taken into consideration, including geographic distribution, cultural diversity, language issues, time challenges, mixtures of knowledge base, diverse skill sets, access to technology, different learning styles, etc.
Training for “the many” might include the need to dispense information and knowledge to widespread audiences on such major initiatives as application rollout, soft skills and technical subjects, process changes, compliance-related topics and product launches.
It is also possible to provide learning for the one. Individuals compose the “many” for whom you are planning education and training. Remember this as you design, develop, deliver and measure your learning program: Individuals are not faces in a crowd but distinct learners who stand out in a crowd.
Teach to them, for them and with them, and you will achieve a level of personalization that will make your training more successful than could be imagined. Forget them, and your training program will most likely not yield expected results.
Learners who participate in formal training often go back to their workplace and apply the knowledge provided. If formal training provided what they need, the application of their learning will have been successful. If not, learners often are left to seek sources of information informally and to build a personal learning network to capture the specific knowledge they need to do their job.
It becomes very important to teach people where to go to find information and to systematize sources of information in consideration of the time it takes to search for needed additional knowledge.
Blending Formal Training and Informal Learning
Guideline 5: Blend formal and informal learning to design comprehensive, targeted training programs
No matter what we do, we need to design targeted training. The importance of formal, “focused” training combined with informal learning cannot be understated. So what do we mean by formal training and informal learning? The training and learning industry is challenged today with new terms and terminologies and a redefinition of terms that have been in existence for years. Defining formal training and informal learning is becoming more difficult because of the fluid nature of the training and learning lexicon.
The importance of formal training cannot be overstated. According to H.J. Frazis and J. Spletzer in the February 2005 issue of Monthly Labor Review, “For example, analysts using cross-sectional data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) have found that individuals in the United States receive earnings that are approximately 10 percent higher for every additional year of schooling they have completed.”
Numerous studies citing that most learning does not occur in formal training programs, but informally, have generated a growing interest in informal learning. In an article on infed.org, Mark K. Smith wrote, “Informal learning should no longer be regarded as an inferior form of learning whose main purpose is to act as the precursor of formal learning; it needs to be seen as fundamental, necessary, and valuable in its own right, at times directly relevant to employment and at other times not relevant at all.”
Supportive learning environments with activities such as informal discussions, demonstrations, reviews of work, nonstructured group problem-solving or brainstorming, and other collaborative experiences and noncollaborative informal search activities, provide a substantive, nurturing, ongoing, informal learning experience.
Amy Finn, Ph.D., is the vice president of business development for Saba Software. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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