The Future of Learning
The future of training will be based upon three facets: focusing upon the learners, empowering the learners, and building Best-of-Breed training programs.
Focusing Upon the Learners
Often, trainers do not realize that the consumers of most training programs are normally not the customers. The customers pay for the training (managers, supervisors, organization, etc.); while the consumers are the ones who actually show up for the training. Trainers who satisfy the customers get paid, while trainers who satisfy the consumers build GREAT learning programs... and you can do both, they are not mutually exclusive! For example, Boeing builds airplanes for its customers, that is why you the consumer find little leg and elbow room in its design — it was built to pack people into it, so that its customers can make greater profits. On the other hand, Penzoil first built the rectangle oil bottle. It was designed so that its customers, the stores, can pack a lot into a little shelf-space, and its consumers (you) can handle and pour it easily. It was a win-win situation from the old round bottles and cans. As a designer of learning programs, trainers must solve their customers' performance problems and build personalized systems of instruction for the consumers or learners (if we all learned at the same rate and the same way, then we all would have been equal in school).
Finding effective solutions is a four-step process:
- Analysis - Get the “who, what, when, and where” from the customers. Having them define it makes them part of the process. Your job is to facilitate the definition process while the customer's job is to define the problem. Although your job might be to analyze the process to determine the real cause of a problem, you need their buy-off. You need them to understand exactly what you are being paid for to fix.
- Build (design & develop) - Get the “how” from the consumers (learners). Let the consumers become part of the change process... it makes it much easier to implement. Also, when they are part of the building process, their culture will automatically be built into the solution, that is, it will be custom built for them.
- Evaluate - If you now know the “why,” you can then perform the required checks and balances, if not, go back to steps 1 and 2 and gather more “who, what, when, where, how” until you fully understand the “why.” You will understand the “why” once you fully understand your customers and consumers. You can not assess what you do not understand!
- Implement - This step can enter anywhere within this problem solving process as it is driven by the problem itself. For example, an urgent problem that requires a rapid solution might be implemented in the analysis part without any input from the consumers. It will then be refined (prototyping through the learners) as you do more analysis and solution building. Other solutions might not be implemented until you have fully built and evaluated them.
With the need to build viable Learning Organizations, Self Directed Learning Programs, etc.; thus the future lies with trainers giving learners the ability to self-assess their learning. Instead of asking about the validity of Kirkpatrick's Level-One evaluations, we should be asking how do we create learning environments that in turn create autonomous learners?
Also, the learner's failure should not be seen as a 4-letter word or as a moral problem. People and organizations that turn failure into moral issues have no real concepts of what real learning is about; they are more into the blame game. Failures are simply compasses that point to learning opportunities. And learning opportunities are the pathways that lead us to success.
The future is not a matter of if and when autonomy is going to happen, but a matter to the degree and means that it is already happening and will increase in future training environments. If you pick up any recent literature on training or learning you will see there is a considerable amount of effort, in both time and money, being expended by organizations to produce training and development programs that do place a value on the various degrees of learning autonomy in the workplace due to its effectiveness. This is because workers often know better than their supervisors and other professionals in what they require to be effective and efficient in the workplace.
In some training environments, the autonomy is task dependent, such as working through a computer wizard or reading a web article when needing help with a given task. If you think about it, when we develop any job-performance-aid, we are relying upon the worker to use some form of responsibility and judgment in its use while on the job. Many just-in-time training solutions are hybrids of job-performance-aids and self-training packages that raises the learner's responsibility and judgment up a few more notches as it requires a somewhat deeper form of autonomy as to when to best use the training device in the workplace.
In other training environments, the autonomy is much greater by allowing the workers to choose the classes that they believe they need. For example, this is a reality in my workplace and many others. And do not think this is just a white-collar professional thing as I work in a blue-collar environment. Although we do need our manager's buy-off on each class, I have never seen one refused, to include off-site classes that the business unit has to fully pay for itself.
A lot of learners are working their way through training modules and are being aided by tools that help them to assess their own performance, which in turn, helps them to select the next learning module. Many forms of self-study packages, such as computer-based-training, are prime examples of this.
And who should be the best judge of the needed learning objectives? The worker! In fact, which would be more efficient and effective
- to have workers who can assess their abilities and choose the training packages, modules, literature, etc., that keeps them informed and up to date in their field,
- or having performance issues arise and then bringing in a trainer or consultant to fix the problems?
If you believe in your workers, then give them the means and the tools to take charge of their learning. If you don't, then be prepared to wave to the competition as they pass you by because many fine organizations do see the value of the various forms of learning autonomy than can take place in the workplace.
When you rely exclusively on the training program to perform evaluations, then the learner is simply a product of training. In order to give the learners a chance of becoming producers of their learning environment, you must give the learners the ability to self direct their learning.
Best-of-Breed Training Programs (Blended)
Just as people use a variety of tones, pitches, rhythm, timbre, volume, inflections, gestures, sign language, etc. to communicate ideals to others; you should also use a variety of media to communicate learning to others. Although no one medium is better than other, each medium is best in certain environments. This is how you build great learning programs—take each learning objective on its own content, and build a medium that will best communicate and transfer it to the learners.
Three of the building blocks that will play an important part in designing programs are:
- Personalized System of Instruction (PSI)
- Blending informal learning with the formal
- Using social media to help learn
Its unique design allows learners to get immediate feedback of their performance. By focusing upon the consumers (learners) to determine their needs, building empowering tools into their environments, and then building best-of-breed programs, you are well on your way to defining the future of training.