I remember when all we had was the classroom. If employees wanted to “learn” or receive “training,” most organizations sent them to a classroom — instructor-led training (ILT) dominated the learning landscape.
Now, that’s not to say there weren’t other learning modalities around, but the classroom was clearly king. The frustration on the learners’ part was that, from their perspective, there wasn’t much help beyond the classroom and the courseware that came along with it. There were help desks, but that was about it.
We have come a long way since then. Most organizations have established quite an array of learning assets — for many learners, the problem now lies in the sheer volume of choices.
There has been a lot of talk about formal and informal learning lately. If learning organizations are going to be effective across the spectrum of the learning assets available, they need to examine what they have and do what’s most effective.
For years, we have been in an “additive” mindset when it comes to learning assets — we’re constantly building and launching as the technology and need arise. I was recently speaking to a colleague who was launching a wiki initiative within his organization. When I asked why, he responded, “To be honest, I’m not sure, but my manager heard it talked about at a conference, and we’re going to have one.”
My concern is this: When do we take a breath and look at the learning culture we’ve created? How well do we understand how everything is going? Do our learning assets complement one another? And how aware are our learners of everything that’s available and how to use it most effectively?
I recently spoke to a learning organization from a large enterprise that had identified more than 1,000 learning assets within its organization. It was chaos.
One of the first things a learning organization needs to do is an asset analysis. Basically, it involves stepping back and analyzing what’s out there and what’s working. It should look beyond learning’s typical domain. There are many learning assets being built, shared and maintained at the departmental and the learners’ level, and many learning departments aren’t even aware of it.
Questions should be asked on many levels and across stakeholders. The analysis should involve groups both inside and outside the learning organization, including trainers, learners, managers, IT managers, senior management and even customers.
Once these groups are identified, seek answers to questions such as:
• What assets do learners favor when looking for help?
• How do they find learning assets?
• What assets work best for formal instruction and informal performance support?
• Which assets don’t meet their needs? Why?
• If they could design a learning strategy for themselves, what would it be?
• What’s their confidence level with the learning assets available to them?
• How supportive are their managers and the organization at large?
Once information such as this is gathered, it’s time to start crafting an overall learning architecture. Learners need more than a lot of choices — they need guidance in that journey.
They also need to understand when to use (and not use) different assets. This guidance should be at two levels: how the asset relates to their role and projects, and when to best use that asset relative to the level of information and learning they might need.
When living in a world of unlimited learning assets, both in form factor and content, the learning organization’s job is becoming one of guidance and not one of strictly dissemination.
Creating and scheduling learning is no longer enough — we need to become both the consultants and architects of the learning experience within our organizations.
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