Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Planning for Transfer

When I reflect about the goal of all learning and education, it is primarily to cause individual, organizational or community-level change. However, it is this aspect of planning for change using specific transfer plans where we often tend to fail in our role as program planners. I guess, the greatest disservice to planning programs is to plan and execute programs that stay on budget, meet all stakeholder requirements, are designed and delivered smoothly BUT fail to transfer any learning to the job. In that sense, I view planning for transfer as an integral responsibility of my role as a program planner.

As I reflect about my own work experience, I can differentiate the programs I have planned for folks in an IT organization trying to sell new software versus foremen at the waterfront working with containers and gantry cranes all day. There is so much that's different about the culture of selling in a global organization versus the culture of safety at the waterfront especially in a unionized environment. While my IT adult learners did short bursts of 'training' on their mobile phones, the foremen were coached and mentored one-on-one, in an intense program, on the dock. The transfer context of a sales pitch versus a ship to be loaded or unloaded on time is so strikingly different that program planning including evaluation and transfer approaches for the two cannot be the same.

For me, the key insight is to be aware of the learners' context because without it, there can be no learning or transfer. As a program planner, I tend to immerse myself in 'a day in the life' of my audience to make these key decisions. I like how Connie (@elearningcoach) describes the need for participating in such a discovery before the analysis. I love her concept of 'customer safaris' as a discovery tool and in my work at the waterfront, such a safari also includes climbing container vessels! I engage in needs analysis and participate in job work shadowing/observation to understand more about the audience. I continue to educate myself and my clients including key program sponsors and other stakeholders to systematically think about evaluation and transfer as key components of planning. All along the way, I ask myself two key questions:
  • How will the participants apply what they are learning when they get back to their workplace?
  • How will we know if we met the desired goals of individual learning leading to enhanced organizational performance?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Designing Blended Learning Experiences

If I'd ask you to select your preferred method of learning among all possible options, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I bet you, classroom training isn't it! 

When it comes to designing learning experiences for others, as L&D we tend to ignore or not pay attention to how we like to learn ourselves. 

If given a choice, we don't always enjoy learning in only one way. We usually like to learn by exploring (reading, google search, YouTube videos), talking to others (asking questions), working with others (learning by observation), hands-on (by applying), by practicing (and making mistakes), etc. We certainly don't like to learn (and we don't learn) simply by sitting in a classroom with one-way information flow (or dump) from an instructor. But when it comes to designing learning experiences for others, I wonder why we don't design more blended experiences that are more natural

Blended learning is:
  • Not a new thing. 
  • Not a radical concept. 
  • Not a new-age way of thinking about learning. 

As Elliott Masie puts it, “We are, as a species, blended learners.” 

Designing more blended experiences speaks to the diversity in the room because not everyone likes to or can learn in the same way. And I am not talking about the cliche of learning styles aka visual, auditory, reading/writing, kinesthetic styles. That is a myth. What is true is that: "Cognitive science has identified a number of methods to enhance knowledge acquisition, and these techniques have fairly universal benefit. Students are more successful when they experience the material in multiple modalities."

Blended learning experiences put the participants in control making them feel more engaged and responsible for their own learning. Designing blended learning experiences also means being respectful of adult learners and adult learning. It fosters the acknowledgment of the knowledge and experience that participants bring to the table by giving them the flexibility to choose how and what they'd like to learn. Based on my experience, the more autonomous and flexible the program, the more successful the learning experience and its application. Autonomy is also a critical success factor in promoting self-directed learning and helping people become continuous, lifelong learners. And that's a key skill that we desperately need for the future of work.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What is learning?

A few months ago, as a part of a course that I was undertaking, the facilitator posed a simple question in the online discussion forum: What is learning? 
I have been working in the learning and performance industry for the last 20 years; surely, I can answer this question, I thought. But as I was formulating my answer, I realized how deceptively complex the question was. What does learning mean? generally? specifically? academically? theoretically? socially? personally?

When you think of learning, what comes to your mind?

Is it the formal education that happens in schools and universities?
Is it the structured activity that happens inside of training rooms?
Is it the informal process that happens at homes, workplaces and within the community?
Is it the unstructured activity that happens online in collaboration with others?

The fact is that this simple question has many layers. Learning is complicated and learning is messy.

An idea that adds to the challenge of defining learning is that learning is understood both as a process and a product. As a process, when I think of learning, I imagine several aspects such as if learning is driven by self or others, if the context is work or life, if it is an event or something ongoing, if it results in a change in behaviour or not, etc. When learning is treated like a product, I hear terms like classroom learning, online learning, elearning, digital learning, blended learning, social learning, mobile learning, micro learning, etc.

Furthermore, learning tends to be implicit but the output of learning may be explicit. But even when the output may indicate a change in behaviour, attitude or skills, one can't be certain that these changes happened because of or only due to learning.

Finally, each learning theory including behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism has its own set of assumptions about learning which makes defining learning even more challenging. Perhaps this is why most textbooks and papers hesitate from defining learning and rather describe the subtexts around learning or discuss the 'types of learning'.

In all of this I have realized that instead of focusing on trying to come up with a universally acceptable definition of learning, the goal should be to develop a shared understanding of what learning means to each of us within our current contexts. 

In my work context and for me personally, learning is an active process and is situated within a real-life context. It leverages the prior knowledge and experience of people and engages them in cognitive, constructive and reflective activities. Learning may happen at an individual level but may also be collaborative and social. And it is definitely not a single, isolated event but more like an ongoing, continuous process. 

Perhaps the best way for me to summarize what learning means to me is how Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) highlight that "Learning involves ongoing, active processes of inquiry, engagement and participation in the world around us."

What is your personal take on learning? What does learning mean to you?

If you need some ideas, here is a curation of 10 Definitions of Learning by Connie Malamed @elearningcoach