Monday, June 18, 2018

Alignment and Authenticity in Learning

When it comes to designing learning experiences for the 21st century learner, two factors seem critical: Alignment and Authenticity. 

1) Alignment - Most people associate alignment with a connection between the course goals, learning objectives, instructional activities and assessment. While that is alignment, it is only one part of alignment. The other (and perhaps the more important) part of alignment is to ensure a connection between learning, real work demands and business needs. It is important that learning and training tie into the requirements and goals of the business. One way to think about business alignment is to identify the business needs, assess the tasks to be performed to meet those needs, review the existing knowledge and skills that are available to perform those tasks and then identify the gaps in the knowledge and skills that can be addressed by training.

Once training is linked with job tasks, it is easier to establish its connection with the overall business because the tasks that people do at work are done in the context of the business. This way, the goals of the business and the training practices that support it are aligned  organically. We often talk about the importance of connecting strategy to learning. In my view, it is this alignment with job tasks that makes this connection with business and aids in transfer of learning and improved performance on the job.

Besides, a constant focus on task and work performance is critical to meet real demands and business realities. In the absence of such a focus, we tend to design training that has little or no value - to the business and to the users - and ends up in what is often known as the 'content' pile'. In the absence of alignment with business, there is a wastage of effort, resources and dollars.

2) Authenticity – The second important factor is staying true to the context in which people work and design learning interventions that are appropriate for the intended use and the target users. 

One way to ensure that we stay authentic to the context of work is to do an audience analysis to find out information about people and their work setting. We must know very clearly what tasks need to be performed, who performs those tasks and under what work conditions those tasks are performed. Based on this information, we can use the right instructional approach(s) and methods and design and embed appropriate learning activities and exercises including personal learning, social and collaborative learning and project-based learning, etc.

Authentic learning is defined as learning that is seamlessly integrated or implanted into meaningful, “real-life” situations (Jonassen, Howland, Marra, & Crismond, 2008). So, in order to be authentic, we must ground the learning experiences in relevant occupational context using genuine workplace materials and resources that people have access to in real life. The ideal way to do this is to embed learning into work so that there is no separation between the two. But when there is training outside of work, we must design for transfer. Once we ensure that the learning context and training environment mimic the work context closely, we can be hopeful that people will stay engaged and will be able to transfer the new skills to the job. 

If the learning experience lacks alignment with the business and authentic "real-life" connection, we can't expect a leap from learning to transfer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Aligning L&D with Business

The traditional focus for L&D has been training-centric. It is slowly moving towards being learning-centric. But it is important to not stop there and continue to make it business-centric.

In trying to align itself with the business, at times, L&D tends to feel isolated. There can be many reasons for the same. Sometimes, it may be the mindset more than the structure that prevents us from making the shift. As L&D, if we consider our role as tactical rather than strategic, then we get caught up in the details of 'what training to build' and don't feel the need to see the bigger picture of 'what will help the business perform better'. When L&D thinks about performance as the main objective, the alignment with the business is not forced; it is natural. The view becomes more long term rather than short term.

I hear people and businesses talking about performance consulting as L&D merging into OD (Organizational Development) initiatives. If such is the transition, L&D needs a broader range of skills including wearing several hats including business, marketing, HR, and OD. It is also important that when L&D wears these hats, it also uses the right vocabulary. If L&D cannot talk business with folks who understand that language, partnership becomes tricky. Sometimes, vocabulary does really get in the way.

Before L&D makes an attempt to demonstrate their value to the business, we need to evaluate where our time, effort and resources have been invested. Perhaps, reviewing all the work that we are currently engaged in and identifying the degree of alignment with the business is a good place to start.

It is important that we re-prioritize, re-align and re-focus on questions like:
  • What is the challenge that the business is facing or is likely to face in the near future?
  • What can L&D do to meet the challenge? 
  • Can training/improving performance address the challenge partially/completely? If yes, what skills are important to address the challenge?
  • How can L&D create opportunities for gaining those skills - both the underlying knowledge and the overarching experiences - to meet the challenge?
  • How can L&D communicate more effectively with all its stakeholders including employees, managers and leaders?
  • How can L&D articulate its impact on the business and communicate how a challenge was met successfully? 
  • How can L&D run like a business and build its value and credibility?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Challenging Our Assumptions

Our underlying assumptions constitute our points of view and unknown to us, they guide many decisions that we make on a daily basis including the ones that we make as learning designers. To add to the challenge, assumptions are not always stated explicitly. There are many implicit assumptions that effect how we see, think, feel and act. Challenging these assumptions means questioning the everyday things we take for granted. It is tough to do but worth the effort. Here's a story from my life where I challenged one of my underlying assumptions.

When I started out in this profession, there was one particular area about adult learning that I had not thought about deeply. That was the role of spirituality in the way we approach self-development and learning. And when I say spirituality, I speak of meaning-making and not religion per se.

As I was learning about learning, I started to explore my own view of spirituality and my assumptions around learning, growth and self-development. That’s when I realized that my view was being predominantly filtered by the eastern philosophy having been born and brought up in that community. It was only a decade ago when I started working closely with folks who were born and brought up in a western philosophy that this assumption truly became explicit and I started to challenge it more consciously.

After questioning my own assumptions and uncovering some of the underlying beliefs, I now spend a lot of time learning about different cultures and practices. I think it helps me refine my own beliefs about learning and offers one of the many guiding posts in my practice as an adult educator. As a facilitator, learning more about the underlying beliefs about different cultures and the related learning practices helps me appreciate where everyone is coming from. I am able to then engage with them at a level they feel most comfortable.

I read somewhere that "there is no fixed understanding of self because it is socially and historically constituted and that it varies across time and cultures".  I find this statement to be very true for my own experience of trying to understand my self; this journey is always evolving.