I’m stealing my title for this month’s column from one of my favorite books: Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers: Developing Change-Ready People and Organizations by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt. I feel we as a learning industry have a responsibility to constantly evaluate our departments, our offerings and those we serve and reflect on how we’re doing.
The theme of this column is “Selling Up, Selling Down,” which I have always taken to mean that we’re constantly being asked to validate our services to those who employ us, as well as those who sit through all the things we create. If we let old habits, processes or approaches go on too long, we will distance ourselves from our customers and, ultimately, become obsolete.
I’d like to take a look at a few of learning’s sacred cows in this column.
Sacred Cow No. 1: What’s in a name? I was working with an organization recently that no longer calls its learners just that: “learners.” It’s referred to everyone who consumed its instructional content as “performers.” When I asked why, I was told the organization didn’t just want learners anymore — it needed performers. Everything it created, distributed, assessed and streamed needed to help the organization function better, smoother and more profitably. Just having employees who knew things or could even find things wasn’t the end game. It needed people who could take those first two outcomes and actually perform better.
It found that when they changed the label from learner to performer, employees looked at their responsibilities differently. If the outcome is to perform rather than learn, how do you design curriculum, classrooms, e-learning, performance support, help desks and all other learning assets? If learners are instead referred to as performers, would they demand a different set of services? Would they feel the class they signed up for or the e-learning they consumed helped them achieve that label?
Sacred Cow No. 2: Let’s keep learning in the classroom. This has bothered me for years. According to recent research, instructor-led training (ILT) still leads the pack as the preferred method of learning, but do we have to drag it on for so long? Remember the blended-learning initiatives of the 1990s? E-learning’s greatest legacy may not be its design or content, but what it did for the classroom as an effective instructional asset. The problem often has been that although we added more content before or after class, we did little to the classroom itself.
We need to stop showing and teaching so much content. With all the learning tools and techniques we have today — e-learning, performance support and communities of practice — we need to get better at maximizing class time for what it does best and then teach these other tools to support performers back on the job. When this approach is taken, I have seen two-week classes become two days and performers become more effective after the experience.
Sacred Cow No. 3: Every course should have large accompanying binders. This has been a running joke in training circles for years. We all know that although the binders work wonderfully in class, few are opened once the performer leaves the classroom. And they are almost impossible to keep current in today’s rapidly changing work environment. Let’s get this information online and teach with it in class so it can be more realistically consumed at the workplace.
Now I know that not all content can go this route, but the majority probably can. There are few work environments that do not have PCs or laptops. This content can be structured so these tools act as a perfect electronic “binder” for class and, even more importantly, a perfect support tool for performers back on the job. It’s also easier to keep the content current if it’s managed electronically and distributed at the moment of need, be it in the classroom or on the job.
Let’s listen to our performers and continue to create learning assets that truly move the dial on performance. We can start by looking at our current offerings and methods and making changes from there. I’m sure you have other sacred cows that need considering. I’d love to hear your feedback.
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