imageIn my previous post, I mentioned how my role in workplace learning and development (L&D) had fundamentally changed this past year. I am now responsible for (gasp) face-to-face, instructor-led, sage-on-stage classes. These are the same classes I’d been complaining about for the previous year, saying they were ineffective, but expected. Yet I remain optimistic, because now I can actually make a difference, guiding the next generation of our technical training programs and influencing the evolution of existing classes that are taught by our highly specialized subject matter experts, some of whom are world reknown experts in their field.

My optimism ultimately derives from several sources, most profoundly my personal learning network of colleagues around the world. For this post, I highlight one person in particular: Jane Hart. I had the pleasure of lunching with Jane during a recent trip to Los Angeles and, while the conversation was mostly pleasure, we briefly got around to talking about workplace learning and how many organizations seemingly refuse to acknowledge or respond to the increasingly diverse ways employees learn without the help of L&D. Jane said she sees it all the time, and she’s increasingly convinced the only way for an “inside person” like me to be an agent of change is to focus on small changes that make a difference. She went on to write an excellent article on how this can be done here, and I encourage anyone working in L&D to read it.

Working as an agent of change can be frustrating in slowly changing organizations that use obsolete metrics to assess “success” by counting training hours or number of courses. I’ve found confidence and have met with success by focusing on these five areas:

1. Challenge the course

I can’t tell you how often I now hear, “We need a course…” in response to a perceived knowledge or skills gap. This is an immediate red flag, and every such statement needs to be swiftly and competently challenged, whether the course is face-to-face, virtual, or an e-course. What other ways can the gaps be addressed? How widespread is the gap? Are we looking to train a handful of people or will this touch every employee in the organization? Should we consider a performance support alternative? Are other organizations facing similar gaps, and how have they addressed them? Is this a mentoring opportunity? These are among the many questions that must be asked when someone presupposes a course as a solution.

2. Training isn’t learning

Training can be used as a noun. Learning is always a verb. Training is something that’s pushed. Learning is something an individual does, whether by engaging in a training opportunity or by any other means. Simply calling our programs, “learning programs” does not accomplish this.

3. Change the course

Then there’s the existing “legacy content.” Given that we’re delivering courses in much the same way we have for over a decade doesn’t mean we can’t infuse a little adult learning theory or after-the-fact instructional design. Being confident and competent is important here. I find starting with past evaluations helps me identify the weakest points of legacy content and I meet with the team of experts armed with solid ways to improve those weaker parts. It pays off with comments like, “Hey, that’s a great idea. How can we improve this other part?” And for new courses, once their need is verified, be an indispensable member of the team from the beginning, make relevant contributions, offer constructive feedback, and meet all your commitments on time. Respect will naturally follow.

4. Embrace 70:20:10

Charles Jennings (who will be speaking at the ASTD conference this week) has promoted a 70:20:10 framework for organizational learning, where on-the-job and informal learning represents the preponderance of each employee’s overall learning. Think about how we personally learn best. Yesterday I had to repair a noisy clothes dryer. Having never done it before, I turned to Google and watched a few YouTube videos. I ordered parts and started my task. It took about two hours, and I learned enough that I’m confident I could now effect the repair in less than a third the time – I learned that much by just doing the task and meeting the challenges as they arose. The same is true for our employees: they learn best by facing and overcoming challenges in the course of their work.

In the 70:20:10 framework, formal learning opportunities, such as those offered by the L&D organization, represent only 10% of an individual’s learning. This doesn’t mean the L&D function is marginalized. On the contrary, it means L&D must embrace this and recognize how formal learning fits in the overall picture. It’s the failure to do so that threatens to marginalize L&D.

5. Stay connected

We all face challenges in our work, whether working as a consultant, strategist, instructional designer, course developer, or learning facilitator. We can’t possibly be expert in all disciplines needed to succeed in today’s workplace. It’s increasingly important to engage with a personal learning network of peers who collectively make us all that much smarter and provide lots of good, new knowledge to bring back to the job. In my opinion, a personal learning network isn’t nice to have, it’s a vital part of becoming an indispensable contributor to organizational learning.

Thanks for reading!


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