Our industry appears to be embracing the reality that only performance matters in the workplace and that we’d better start finding ways to align ourselves with that outcome.
A common roadblock is how to transform a traditional training program into one that encompasses both formal learning and performance support. Why does a powerful learning asset such as a paper-based student guide mean so much to a learner during class but then sit idle and rarely touched once the classroom experience ends? For the learner it’s about the context in which the knowledge is being consumed, but back at work the business process governs all.
When we author or purchase learning assets targeted at formal instruction, we look for materials that effectively guide a learner from knowing little about a topic area to having mastered it. This content is often structured in a linear manner. The topics move from simple to complex throughout the experience. Concepts and tasks are grouped according to like categories. These design approaches govern the creation of everything from classroom manuals to e-learning courses.
The irony of these principles is that although they do achieve effective training, learning assets created this way often transfer very poorly into the workplace. Supporting training and supporting performance are two different things and need to be governed by different principles. If we are to sell our services across the enterprise and get the return and attention we deserve, we need to reconsider the positioning and design of our solutions outside of formal instruction.
It’s all driven by context. The classroom is not only successful because the content is sound and the instructor is effective but because of its physical structure. The context in which the student is placed is conducive to being taught. We remove learners from the workplace so they aren’t distracted. We place them into a controlled environment surrounded by all the learning tools needed to be successful. We provide a trainer who guides and supports them through the outlined and promised objectives. We allow them to practice and assess for mastery. All of these things make the classroom work.
What about informal learning? What is its context equivalent? How do we set up the learner for the same level of success?
The table of contents for informal learning is the business process learners enter once they return to the job. Learning assets and support resources need to be mapped to this process if the learner is to find them when needed. Support frameworks need to be constructed that pivot on the business process, not on the content or constructs used for formal learning.
For years, learning portals and similar tools have been used incorrectly and unfairly positioned as being ineffective. They have been constructed as landing pages for an unlimited amount of poorly organized information. The assumption was if we simply placed assets on these sites and categorized them by topic, the learner would do the rest. This isn’t happening. Learners find themselves lost, overwhelmed and frustrated by these informal tools and are defaulting to the most expensive — and at times most unreliable — learning asset available: their peers.
The organizations we support can no longer survive with an ineffective support infrastructure. Learners need to become more agile and self-reliant. The good news is that many of the resources and support content we need to enable this transition already exist in the formal assets we’re currently creating and maintaining. They simply need to be re-engineered and brokered through a business process approach.
The emergence of design tools and principles that allow us to single-source learning and support content not only allows us to maximize resources by authoring once and publishing to both the formal and informal domain, it allows us to reuse existing assets found outside of these systems. Reuse is no longer only a benefit for the assets we create going forward, it also allows us to broker existing assets in new ways.
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.