Learning about learning
As an elearning manager, I have reviewed a lot of elearning during my career. Much of it dumps content out there followed by multiple choice questions. If training is learning new skills, then why aren't we testing the skills they are supposed to learn in our programs? What is the difference between what we do and what marketers do in content marketing? As Harold Stolovich would say, "Tellin' ain't trainin' and trainin' ain't performance."
After considerable noodling, I've come up with four reasons why we assess learning so poorly.
Guild master? Me?
Then the feed started congratulating me. For what? All day long people were congratulating me for who knows what. It wasn't until late in the day that David Kelly presented me with my award as 2016 Guild Master. Apparently he handled that great awkward silence when I didn't pop up by asking everyone to have some fun with me and congratulate me without sharing what as they saw me throughout the day. That was fun. I suppose there is some irony in having the two 2016 Guild Masters presented in absentia this year. After all, we are about the virtual thing in elearning.
I was astounded, humbled and honored to be included with the likes of those who have taught ME so much: Clark Quinn, Jane Bozarth, Chad Udell, Michael Allen, Mark Rosenberg, Allison Rossett, Joe Ganci, Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher. All I know in this business I have learned from those who have been willing to share what they know with others.
So what does a guild Master do, anyway?
Today is the first day back to work after receiving this award, and I'm sitting here wondering what the heck a Guild Master is supposed to do, anyway, when it hit me. More of the same. For me, that's sharing what I know with others. It's not about being the professorial sage on the stage. It's about learning together. Noodling with others on the best way to do things. Mentoring other IDs on dealing with the SME who can't meet deadlines, who don't get this learning thing at all and want to dump more content than any human can absorb in a few days into a 15 minute elearning module. I have loved developing the IDs on my teams, watching the lightbulbs go off, and seeing them move into better learning for their clients. I've also watched them carry that mission forward. (My husband calls that the cult of Jean Marrapodi. )
It's reminding people that the goal of your learning must be able to be encapsulated in one high level sentence. In the end, what do you want them to KNOW and DO? then finding a way to assess that. It's about assessing the right things. Not vocabulary. It's about making things look good so people aren't distracted and the information is organized. It's about listening and learning from others. It's about tweeting new ideas. Retweeting great ideas of others. Taking scissors to red tape. Documenting processes to see how convoluted they are. Challenging "because we've always done it that way".
It's about always learning. Not just what we do for a living, but applying tangential thinking to what we do to make it better. This year I've been working on human computer interface design and learned a ton from the world of design thinking, and interface design, and the way they explore people's needs to solve problems. We don't do that enough.
It's about attending conferences, sharing workshops and learning from others. I leave on such a high from a conference and can't wait to try out the new discoveries. It's also about connecting with those who are in the trenches making a difference to continue to learn from them.
I'm a rebel. There. I've said it. I admit it. And it gets me into all kinds of trouble trying to fit into Corporate America. Tracy Goodwin (aka The Red Sweater Lady) of Captivate the Room asked to interview me and titled the conversation When Speaking Your Truth Becomes a Threat and More. Yes, indeed, I have stories. How about this?
Me: There is a major problem here and we need to fix it. We could....
A Little Knowledge is a dangerous Thing
When we were in high school, many of us had the experience of participating in theatre. Perhaps it was on stage, perhaps it was behind stage. We had fun, and got a taste of what goes into making theatre. For those of us who have seen shows on Broadway, or other professional productions, there is no comparison to what is produced in the auditorium of XYZ High, a community players group and a show produced by professionals. They have mastered the craft and execute it well. Those of us with the beginners' taste of show business understand some of what goes on, but only a small fragment of what it really takes. I never realized how much behind-the-scenes thinking and analysis goes on, or the painstaking detail to get just the right prop or costume or flooring for the set. Heck, in high school, we memorized our lines, helped with costumes and makeup, and spent a month or two after school practicing, thenTA-DA! there was a show. In the professional realms there is thinking and trying and tweaking and tech rehearsals and blocking and lots of conversation. I've loved the glimpse into this world these activities around Trinity's shows afforded me to gain a better understanding of it all, but this certainly does not make me a theatre expert.
We All Know How to Learn, Right?
Similarly, we've all been to school in some form or another. Many of us have advanced through college and completed a degree or two, labeling us experts in something-or-other. This does not make us experts in learning or how people learn or creating materials to facilitate that process. Many people I've worked with over the years as subject matter experts (SMEs) would disagree with that. They are experts in a computer system or company product or algebra or biology or whatever it is that we have been tasked to create learning for others about. As a team, it's the SME and me. (Doesn't that sound like a TV show?) I don't challenge the SME on his or her expertise on the subject, yet we play tug of war for hours on how to help learners grasp it. If most SMEs had their way all training or elearning pieces or college courses would be
LONG verbose treatises
filled with jargon, zillions of minute details and tons of irrelevant material
that would take you days and days and days to read,
yet we are somehow supposed to condense this into a one hour elearning or some other impossible task.
So we fight. I skinny it down, and they puff it back up again. It gets even worse when you have a committee working on the review as they agonize whether the word should be validate or authorize or the color of the shirt on the person in the photograph.
I always work with my SMEs to come up with a single sentence goal for the course about what the learner should know and do at the end. I push them to get this down to that high level overview, then use it like a mantra to help them focus on the goal. Will knowing every exception to the rule helps us achieve said goal? No. So we shelve the exceptions for another course, or an addendum after the learner has gained what we wanted them to.
Lessons from the Learner
I've just finished six days of intentional learning. From the time my feet hit the floor till I collapsed on my pillow, I was engaged in discovery about learning. I'm pooped! Most of that time I was in Orlando at the Association for Talent Development International Conference and Exposition learning with and from 10,000 people who work building learning for others. I've been at this for twenty years when I made the move from teaching to training. I've seen the name of what we do evolve over the years. Now we call it talent development. Whatever you call it, it's about designing learning to solve business problems.
I learned a ton over the last few days. Here's a recap of the highlights.
Solving Business Problems
Training is often viewed as a cost center in business because we don't generate revenue. However, if we do our job the right way, we become a valued business partner, enabling employees to do their job better and learn new skills. Foundational to that is linking the goals of what we do to the problems businesses need to solve.
Performance Consulting is the process of uncovering business problems at the root of what is presented as a training need. It's about examining things systemically, to look for the causes of the problem, which may be related to coaching and feedback issues, process problems, or even a problematic environment. The key is that the business needs inform the performance needs the individuals must do. We uncover those needs through questioning. Dick Handshaw provides an excellent listing of questions on his website. Aligning our training to those uncovered needs ensures we solve the right problem that impacts business results.
Dick Hanshaw elaborated on the role of instructional design to create the learning solution for the problem. One concept that he has that I've not seen in other models is the blueprint, where everything is laid out prior to production. There is great wisdom in this.
Building Strategic Linkages: Map and Measure Your Learning Strategy
Ajay Pangarkar Handout Link
In this workshop we also talked about meeting business goals but by looking at things strategically. We looked at how business maps things out:
Then we looked at how this is measured, using a balanced scorecard approach:
My takeaway from this session was to look for the metrics being used to measure in the business and see how we might leverage them in training, and to focus on more alignment of learning goals with business goals.
Innovating Learning Through Design Thinking Interview Techniques
Amanda Chavez and Katarzyna Siedlecki Handout Link
Depending on the model, you'll get pictures like these to depict design thinking. The one on the top is the model used at Stanford, and the one on the bottom is the model used at Booz Allen Hamilton presented in the workshop. The principles are similar in the world of instructional design, but with design thinking the ideate process is a bit more fluid and creative. I loved the idea of doing this with the subject matter experts that I work with to toss around ideas to generate a better end product. In this workshop and a similar one I attended during the week, we used mindmapping, post-it notes, and brainstorming techniques as part of the problem definition, and solution generating process. I definitely want to experiment more with this.
If you want to know more, there's a great infographic at the Design Management Institute.
I came, I Learned, I presented.
I was able to share some of my expertise with people in my session on Ubiquitous Learning: Leveraging the Strengths of Online Learning. Having done all of the development work I did for the college over the past five years, I've seen some things that work well, and that really don't in online learning, and was able to show some examples of things that I've used with great success. Online learning is everywhere, and we miss out on a great opportunity not to leverage it. I had several international folks come up to me after the session to inquire if I'd fly to their company to present my workshop. We shall see where that goes. For now, we continue to learn. I spent several hours this evening going through the handouts for the sessions I was unable to attend. That's one of the benefits of online learning and access: I was able to extend the learning another day, and through mediums like this blog, share ideas with others to continue to learn. I love that. Don't you?
Musings from ATD2015
I'm in Orlando at the Association for Talent Development International Conference and Exposition, fondly known in the industry as ATD ICE. This is my second year, and I'm still amazed by the mammoth size of this event. I forgot from last time that I should have prepared for the Boston Marathon prior to coming here. This place is HUGE and I'm convinced that I am walking several miles between the parking lot and between sessions.
It's also an interesting thing to see the family gathering atmosphere that occurs here as people who have made connections over the years reconnect at the conference. There's lots of catching up, and I suspect that there are some job connections that come from this event as people build their PLN. One the flip side, if you come alone, things can be daunting and feel clique-ish. It's important to realize that things are not like that at all. Everyone is welcome and often invited.
The discoveries so far have been rather unexpected.
Reflection is important
I've been tweeting up a storm at this conference. It's been great meeting people, and sharing the nuggets that I've been discovering in workshops. I really appreciate having the handouts available and online so I can go back to them and add them to my notes. I'm not convinced I appreciate the long trek from one end of the building to another between workshops and from parking to the conference, but I have appreciated having quiet time to reflect like this.
I've learned a lot so far. How about you?
Lessons From Learning Solutions
I'm at Learning Solutions 2015, in Orlando, Florida. It's big conference #2 of 3 for me for this year. I just love this stuff. I presented a program this year on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which was a new topic to many. UDL is about making learning accessible and equivalent for all learners. Most elearning designers generate a transcript for audio portions of video, select colors that are color-blind friendly, and may even write tags for pictures that are screen reader friendly. UDL goes beyond that and considers the remedial learner, the gifted learner, the ESL learner, the dyslexic learner and any other learner who may take the program, and provides avenues that consider varied ways to present the WHAT of learning (representation) the HOW of learning (activities and expressions) and the WHY of learning (engagement). Thinking through and planning for these learners makes for a richer experience that benefits all. I'll write more about that another time.
I've been coming to this conference nearly every year since 2002 during the early years of the eLearning Guild. This is such a great conference! I love being able to present, I love attending with sessions, I love the learning, but most of all, I love connecting with the people that I meet. I have learned so much over the past 13 years from my colleagues as we have wrestled together over issues, and learned from one another. The Guild truly is a community of practice, and has been a catapult for my career. I've had the opportunity to introduce my colleagues to the Guild and this year had the privilege of watching two people from my former team present for the first time. Now I get to watch them grow as they connect the dots from the people they have met and the workshops they attended.
This year I got to meet some new friends whose workshops took me in directions I've never considered before, despite working in eLearning for 18 years.
New Faces, New Discoveries
One Day to Go!
If we weren't full enough, there's yet another half day tomorrow, ending with a keynote on Design Thinking. I'm looking forward to topping off my learning tank for the week with some new inspiration. Thank you eLearning Guild for the hard work to pull this off year after year.
So.... if you're here, what did you learn this week?
I love conferences, and my friends might consider me a conference junkie. During this event, I've been struck by the fact that most of the workshops I've attended have been lectures with PowerPoint slides, one of the things that people lament about as being the dreadful part of training. I've been totally engaged by the content, and left making connections to my world. What is it about conferences that make them engaging that is such a contrast to much of our training that puts people to sleep?
What does all this mean for us? How can we create right-sized learning that learners are invested in?
Impossible, you say? I'm not so sure. We do it with conferences all the time.
Are Your Learners Leaving at Intermission?
I wrote earlier about the elearning that caused me to bail on getting my PMP certification because of the vocabulary spouting talking head. (Yup, I left at intermission on that one.) Last week, I was asked to take a technical training course to be able to access a software application at the office. The training consisted of 10 modules, with directions telling me I had to complete two mandatory sections and an elective. There were two mandatory items and eight optional ones. There were also two labeled advanced and eight labeled beginner. I suppose you can guess which of the ten the mandatory ones were. My goal is to be able to set up a shared resource site You'd think this would be easy, right?
There is no seeming order to the modules. Each covers a different topic, with well designed how-to instructions and practice exercises. The production values were great. However, as a learner, I feel like I have no idea WHY I need to learn these things because I have no idea WHAT I'm going to do with the software so far. I have an idea of what I WANT it do do, and I suspect going to this repository to ask HOW to do these things would be a much more efficient way to access the knowledge repository of all of these skills. There is no Table of Contents of the modules. If you search the repository for the software name, you get 87 modules with titles and descriptions, but nothing that seems to overview the software or its purpose.
So now I know how to mark a post Employee of the Month. Yay?
Granted, there are nine other modules I need to work through, so perhaps I'll find something to meet my goals. I've found myself being baffled by the first module because I didn't have any context. I imagine that be it will the same with other modules, unless I can find something that sequences this.
The best way I can explain this is to imagine yourself being dropped into the help section of a piece of software, picking random items and pretending this is the way to learn how to use it.
There's a Difference Between Learning Something New And Finding an Answer
The point of all of this is that we need to understand the learner need when we are creating training. If someone has experience and needs specific answers, send them to the repository. If they have no foundation, sending them to a knowledge repository without a curriculum plan or sequence of activities is like sending someone to the librarian to learn calculus. A librarian knows how to find specific information, and is a resource to be used thusly. When you need to learn something from the beginning, you need a teacher, or a curriculum set up by one who teaches. A teacher plans the activity and breaks things into bite sized, sequenced lessons. A librarian finds resources to find answers.
Big difference. Remember what role you play when you provide learning to your learners.
names and priorities
Over the years, we have watched the names change for those of us who deal with people in the business world. In the 60s it was Personnel, and the function was primarily administrative. Then in the 80s it was Human Resources, and we managed human capital with better alignment to the business. Today it's Talent Management. Whatever we call ourselves, we're focused on the people side of the business, allowing the business to focus on the business operations and growth.
In the arena I work in, we've been training, learning & development, something or other university, and lately, Talent Development. We're about teaching people to do their jobs and improve their skill sets. Most of the time, we fall under the umbrella of Talent Management, though sometimes we report to operational lines of business.
I was at the ASTD conference in 2014 where the American Society for Training and Development changed its name to ATD, the Association for Talent Development. It was a pretty slick transformation as the reveal occurred overnight and all the branding throughout the enormous conference center changed from the old to the new, supported by a giant announcement meeting pep rally type forum. I would expect people who teach about change management do it well.
I initially resisted the name change, but I'm growing to like it, since it better reflects what we are trying to do for people. We are learning that training may not be the best way to develop skills. We've also seen that some of the training we've created has been pretty useless. Dan Pontefract makes a great point in his article Talent Development Isn't Just About Training:
Talent is developed inside and outside of ‘training and development’. It comes in the form of coaching, mentoring, job shadowing, wiki’s, blogs, rotations, lectures, books, articles, job aids, leadership models … the list literally goes on and on. -Don Pontefract
For the people in the learning world, things have changed. People have been sharing these models for almost 20 years. It's time to start implementing them.
We need to function like a concierge for much of what we do. We need to be equipping learners to find the resources that they need to support them to do their jobs. We may be creating classroom experiences, but it is no longer the primary vehicle for learning. We need to be listening for needs, rooting out problems and offering solutions. If we are going to be developing talent, we need to examine what needs developing and provide ways to develop skills. We want learners to see their learning partners as allies and resources. For some of us, that means a paradigm shift to adapt to the needs of the 21st century workforce.
After all, we're no longer personnel paperwork administrators.
Teacher by training, learner by design.