I’ve always loved the expression, “When you’re holding a hammer everything looks like a nail.” In the ever-changing world of learning, I wonder to what degree this saying resonates when it comes to our approach to solving new learning challenges. I have long believed that our industry finds a new platform, such as e-learning, mobile learning, performance support or social learning, and immediately places it into our training bucket. Many would argue this approach is what hurt the early days of e-learning, when we promised a just-in-time experience but often delivered a boring and ineffective online offering instead.
It’s worth taking a closer look at the learning landscape and considering exactly what type of experience we’re being asked to support and then building solutions from there. I would argue that we are doing less and less of what we have called new or introductory training. By this I mean introducing learners to content about which they have little prior knowledge.
When I first entered the adult learning space, it was on the heels of the PC explosion. Desktop PCs were just emerging in the workplace. We had little to no prior knowledge of this tool and what it could do. So, we built powerful and effective “new” training. That was 1983. Things have changed for the learner since then on many levels, yet when I look at our current introductory courses for IT systems I still see many of the same learning constructs and approaches used, including bringing people into days of stand-up, instructor-led training, much of which is painfully familiar or unrelated to what the learner will be asked to do on the job.
If we take a look at the content and the learners we’re supporting, even with “new” systems and programs, is the experience and outcome really new? Or is it really an extension of, or additive to, prior knowledge already acquired through years of similar experiences? It’s time to start designing for “more” training rather than new.
“More” training is based on the fact that our learner comes to our training programs with existing knowledge or life experiences which we should build upon. This calls for a different design strategy on all levels from the approach we currently take to collect and create content, to the form the content takes when delivering, facilitating or supporting the learning experience.
This forces us to look at the learning experience itself in a very different way. Since it’s no longer about simply acquiring new knowledge, but rather supporting, assimilating, adapting and maintaining existing knowledge over time, we need to be more intentional about the learning experience outside of traditional constructs, such as classroom instruction and e-learning, and better integrate newer modalities such as performance support, mobile and social learning.
Learning is more about remediation and maintenance than about helping learners start from scratch. In this model of more as opposed to new, formal learning modalities such as the classroom and e-learning become secondary to their more contextual and so-called informal counterparts. We begin to design from the informal back. We lead with performance support modalities such as mobile and social learning, and backfill and reinforce with formal assets such as the classroom, e-learning and virtual instruction.
These more formal approaches stop becoming the entre to the journey, as in “new” training, and take on a more complementary role, if they are needed at all. This will cause us to rethink and repurpose some of the most fundamental and long-standing models of our industry such as the coveted ADDIE model, the format of our classrooms, the role of an instructor, and the way we structure and access e-learning from an LMS.
The nail of learning is changing. It’s time we dusted off a few new hammers. If we don’t, we run the risk of drifting further and further from the business outcomes we’re called to serve. That could be a dangerous place for any learning organization to find itself in the fast-paced and performance-oriented world we live in today.
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 editor@CLOmedia.com.
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