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.