Your most important learning investment isn’t the LMS. While it may be the most expensive, the learning management system is no guarantee of effective learning.
Your most effective learning tool isn’t a tricked-out, technology-rich smart classroom or a snazzy, high-powered simulation. It’s not user-generated video or an engrossing new game. While they may be the coolest, those tools are no guarantee of effective learning, either.
The most effective learning tool won’t cost you a single dollar. The most important investment you can make is time. More specifically, it’s finding the right time.
A well-timed lesson delivered at the moment of need is the most powerful learning tool there is. For most it’s a useful boost, providing a practical leg up on a knotty problem. Managers struggling to connect with a low performing employee can benefit from a well-placed course or video about having difficult conversations.
For some, its effect can be more profound. Providing a high potential leader with rich opportunities to learn new skills or finding the right time to try out a challenging new role just might lead her to be your next superstar.
The right time is a moment when interest, curiosity or need hits and the act of learning becomes effortless. More often than not, those teachable moments come when they’re least expected.
As a case in point, my 4-year-old son recently learned to play chess. I don’t mean just moving pieces around the board. He’s legitimately beating adults. Well, he’s beating me at least. Granted, I’m no grandmaster but take my word for it, he’s getting pretty good.
What sparked this development wasn’t me sitting my son down and telling him it’s time to learn to play. It didn’t come from taking each of the pieces out and explaining in detail how each moved about the board.
Rather, his own natural curiosity took over when he spotted a chess board and asked what it was. The time was right for him to learn.
The idea of the teachable moment has been around in education circles for decades but in recent years it’s been taken up by officials and politicians. Turn on the news after a tragic fire and you’ll hear the fire chief remind people to check that their smoke alarms work.
Teachable moments are all around yet when it comes to learning investment they’re marginalized at best, ignored at worst. Departmental staffing, classrooms and physical and online infrastructure gobble up the lion’s share of spending.
What would your learning strategy look like if you built it around teachable moments instead? The LMS would continue to play an important role in making learning widely available. Instructor-led training would remain a powerful way to ensure crucial lessons are delivered and e-learning would continue to be the easiest way to widely distribute content.
There would also be noticeable changes. On-the-job tools that bring learning to learners at the point of need would be much more prevalent. Performance support tools, job aids and microlearning via mobile devices and video vignettes would be used more widely.
But the most important change wouldn’t be in making learning more accessible via a wider range of devices and approaches. It would be in holding learners accountable for their own development and surrounding them with others who are supportive.
As any student of Buddhist philosophy or fan of kung fu movies will tell you, an old saying captures the essence of true learning: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
Learners’ curiosity or need is critical but equally important is having a teacher prepared and ready when the moment of learning comes. And those teachers are all around, in places you’d think to look and places you might not.
Teachers are, of course, your classroom trainers and instructional designers. But teachers are also their managers and colleagues. There are teachers in the cubicle next door. There are teachers in the satellite office halfway across the world.
Teachers are older and experienced as well as younger and full of fresh perspectives. Teachers are not just people, either. They are your systems, processes and culture.
Building strategy around teachable moments doesn’t just make pedagogical sense. Helping your people coach others and developing systems that allow them to do so is sound business, too. Change comes fast and furious. The right time for learning is all the time.