Sunday, May 8, 2011

Addressing On-Demand Learning Needs

The #LCBQ for May is:

How do we need to change in what we do in order to address learning/performance needs that are on-demand?

In order to answer this question, I think it is important to first identify and understand the nature of learning and performance needs that are 'on-demand'. The way I look at it, only when we apply knowledge, we really learn. I don't think we would make an effort to learn anything, if we did not have the need to apply the knowledge at a specific time in a specific situation in the present or future. This basically means all learning/performance needs are on-demand. This demand may be current or in the future.

With this premise, here are the top 3 things that I think we should do in order to address the learning/performance needs:

1) Identify when, where and how the learning will be required and design it accordingly.

Consider a case where a learner is new to a particular software used for enterprise resource planning in the organization. Here is a situation where the learner is struggling with what option to select in a dialog box. Now, what kind of learning does the learner need at that time, sitting on the desk? What should be included in this learning? And how should this information or knowledge be made available?
The typical answer is that the learner should have been formally trained in using this software in perhaps a classroom training environment. This training should have prepared the learner with the typical features and benefits of the software and described various dialog boxes and options.

The truth is however, far from this. The learner is sitting on the desk, stuck in the middle of a task, and needs to know exactly which option to select in the dialog box – and the learner needs this information right now! At this time, the learner is not concerned about various features and benefits of the software. Perhaps, a better approach would be to provide a performance support tool in the form of a job-aid that lists what option needs to be selected in which particular situation. This job-aid can be pinned to the board and the learner can refer to it, when required.
Maybe this example is close to your life – maybe it is far. The bottom-line is that any learning solution we create must consider the work environment in which the learners realize they have a need for learning and need to apply the learning. It is in this environment that truly all learning should happen, which in most cases is the actual workplace or workflow.

As Gary Wise says, we need to understand and appreciate the learner’s context in terms of time, space, and media. In his article titled ‘The Continuous Learning Environment: Surviving Learning Solution Discovery’, Gary says:
“There are three categories of attributes within the learning environment:

· Space– a blend of physical location, workflow, risk, and urgency

· Media– the most compelling mix of mode and venue

· Systems– the most effective and efficient application of technology

All the attributes that fall under space, media, and systems combine to drive or restrain design decisions. It is essential to define these attributes to ensure the learning solution delivers on one global objective, which is to enable a sustained capability.”
In the same light, it is important to realize that our learning needs are not big chunks of knowledge and information. Perhaps, we need access to knowledge and background information in large amounts but we need the ‘learning’ in small chunks. Therefore, the design of learning should also be small, modular and bit-sized so that it can be provided in a format that allows us to give it just-in-time and just-enough.
2) Design continuous learning solutions not individual training programs.
All work is continuous, so should be all learning. Whether we realize it or not, we are learning all the time. A continuous learning solution, therefore explores various dimensions of the learner’s environment including formal, informal, and social learning contexts. We need to stop thinking that formal classroom training is the solution to all performance problems. We need to realize that we learn and retain our daily troubleshooting scenarios far more than any theoretical lectures that we attend in a classroom. We also need to realize that we are learn much more from being involved and active and by making mistakes and solving problems.

Therefore, when designing learning, we must move away from our tendency to think unidirectional and shy away from proposing only one form of training. We must explore other interventions such as coaching, mentoring, and blended learning. These solutions can be a blend of classroom, online, mobile learning, social learning and performance support tools. The idea is to explore and design learning interventions by exploiting various dimensions of the learner’s environment.

3) Focus training efforts and budgets into the 'informal learning' piece of the pie.

Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates from a July 2009 webinar, ‘Future of the Business of Learning’ explained that we have approximately 2080 work hours in a year. From this, we spend about 100 hours in some type of formal learning activity or training. This is approximately 5% of the total available work hours. We spend the remaining 95% of our time doing actual work and in informal learning activities. However, all training budgets continue to focus on the 5% slice of the pie. It is time to therefore consciously focus on this informal learning piece of the pie and design learning solutions by capitalizing on this environment.
Retaining theories after a 3-day classroom training is much tougher than recalling the best possible solution that was applied within a challenging work situation. When we go out to ‘attend’ a training event, we are unable to retain more than 10-20% of what we learnt after 30 days. However, if we learn and apply something within the work situation, we are more likely to recall the learning at a future date. Our learning solutions should therefore remove the barriers between formal and informal and let all interventions permeate and become an integral part of our daily work life and workflow. It is time to realize that work = learning and learning = work. Without learning, there is no work and without work, there is no learning.