Trainers and facilitators employ a range of methods and techniques to embed what they want employees to “learn” so that, when employees return to the workplace, enough of what was delivered remains to influence performance. In this respect, “learning” is a tool for knowledge and skill retention—and recall—in anticipation of a range of situations that a person may face on the job.
Technology has now changed the conversation and provided learning and development (L&D) with the ability to support and influence everyday performance by capitalising on the habits, preferences, and motivations of people today. With constant connectivity and the proliferation of smart mobile devices, we are all used to getting the information and know-how we need, on demand and on the go. So, rather than embedding the learning into people via courses, it can be embedded into the workflow with digital resources.
Traditional L&D touch points are too few and infrequent, so workers are turning to web search, articles, blogs, and videos to support their everyday performance and development needs. However, L&D can capitalise by appealing to people who are going online anyway by providing digital resources that work like an online “tap on the shoulder” of a colleague, getting the expertise required to do the job at hand—and like a virtual mentor for their growth.
Courses and classrooms seem to have confused the job of L&D with education. At school and at college, the aim is to instill knowledge. At work, the aim of L&D is to improve performance and build capability to deliver on operational and strategic goals. But L&D professionals have become fixated on better “learning” rather than performance and capability—and this is an important factor in designing for performance every day.
There are two important factors to consider in design: that learning is not linear (“I tell you this and you now know it and know how to apply it”) and that L&D only needs to employ learning methodology when there is a gap between a learning event andapplication. Modern design principles mean that we can design for the moments of need, not the moments of learning.
It is less about content and more about the work that employees are doing and (perhaps more importantly) the work they want to be doing.
So that workers want to engage in the activity that L&D has designed, L&D must understand the jobs that people are doing and what they want to do—not just what L&D practitioners want them to do. In contrast to a simple broadcast, workers need to see the value to them; otherwise, they will not engage. If L&D wants workers to do something differently, it needs to engage them in dialogue (not training) to understand whether what is being proposed will help them to do their jobs. If not, then it is not a capability issue; it is about “will” (on the Skill/Will matrix). With dialogue rather than delivery, it is not about throwing content at poorly defined problems but rather providing support for the work they are doing or want to do.
Online rapid-creation tools mean that L&D can turn expertise and know-how (that already resides within an organisation) into digital resources in minutes—and iterate them over time so that they become even more useful. Recognising, again, that development is not linear, L&D can offer a range of different resources designed to inform, instruct, or inspire—just as workers are accessing online for themselves—but from their organisation’s knowledge and know-how, thus building capability online rather than in people to influence performance every day.
When learning is “delivered,” it arrives in a format already prescribed and requires the learner to take it back to the workplace to apply it. When you replace delivery with dialogue, you understand what people need in order to do their jobs better and evaluate to what extent resources are useful—and how they can be more useful. The true measurement is that workers can actually do what they want to do, better—and you discover this with continued dialogue.
Clearly, there is an opportunity to influence day-to-day performance and increase capability—not just on an individual level but on an organisational level.
Imagine, rather than letting workers loose on the web for what they need, L&D can gather together resources that share what it means to be successful in that organisation, capturing what the most successful people know and do. This is not instructional design—this approach respects that development is not linear (“I tell you, now you know”) but that the closer the support is to the challenges workers face, the greater chance that it will influence and enhance performance.
David James is Chief Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.
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