Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Corporate Training

Jay Cross - father of the Informal Learning Flow has been doing some great writing recently that look at the future of corporate training. His recent posts make me really think (that's good) but also make me wonder ...

How many people really have the opportunity to pursue the
Future of Corporate Training?

More on this below ... But first some context.

Courseware and Broader eLearning

Jay's post eLearning is not the Answer:
Corporations are flocking to eLearning for all the wrong reasons. It’s cheaper: no travel, no facilities cost, no instructor salaries. This sort of fanciful thinking tripped up eLearning ten years ago.
Poorly implemented eLearning is a more expensive alternative to doing nothing at all, and often the results would be the same.

Great points Jay. It's a scary question to ask. If we did nothing at all, what would the result be as compared to what we do when we provide some bad eLearning? However, I'm not quite sure that bad classroom is not just as bad as bad eLearning. At least with eLearning you can skip right on by and get to your real learning.
If you want outcomes that are comparable or better than what you were getting from instructor-led workshops, you have to do more than just throw things online. You have to support electronic offerings with mentors, guides, help desks, FAQs, reinforcement, and organizational support.
I agree with Jay's sentiment here, but I'm not quite willing to go as far as Jay. You should be doing these other things whether the content is delivered instructor-led or via courseware. And I would argue that today all classroom or courseware should be questioned. Can you reduce it by 50%? Can you make it 5 minutes long and just teach them how to use the rest of the resources?

I would also caution that Jay appears to use the term eLearning to mean courseware. To me eLearning definitely includes all of these other electronic means of providing support. In fact, in eLearning Defined , Online Training vs eLearning - Jay and I somewhat agree that it's not all that important to have precise definitions of these terms. But we agreed that it should be a broader definition.

Push vs. Pull Learning

Now we get to the actual point of Jay's article ...
Well-executed eLearning makes learning more accessible but it’s rarely going to double or triple one’s return on investment. eLearning is an incremental improvement, not a game-changer.
Then Jay talks about Push learning vs. Pull Learning ...
Concepts at work in pull learning include:
  • Learning on demand, immediate reinforcement
  • Learning while working, not separate from working
  • Self-service, flexible delivery, convenience
  • Peer learning, communities of practice, collaboration
  • Small chunks, links for further discovery
  • Holistic, process orientation
I completely agree with Jay that we need to think about how to provide support that is more as-needed, on-demand, part of work, etc. A portion of this is still what I consider to be eLearning. I also certainly need to point out that

eLearning 2.0 is about Pull Learning

The Future Corporate Training Department

In Jay and Harold Jarche's Future of the Training Department - they talk in a bit more detail about how Pull Learning and complex environments move us towards a new kind of corporate training department:
The main objective of the new training department is to enable knowledge to flow in the organization. The primary function of learning professionals within this new work model is connecting and communicating, based on three core processes:

* Facilitating collaborative work and learning amongst workers, especially as peers.
* Sensing patterns and helping to develop emergent work and learning practices.
* Working with management to fund and develop appropriate tools and processes for workers.

Obviously, I'm a strong believer in getting involved in this way (see Work Literacy and Tool Set).

How do We Get There?

The challenge I've always put before Jay - and I'm never 100% confident that we have an answer is the question of how we get there.

In order for a corporate learning organization to get into the business of supporting pull learning and supporting work, we need to

1. Define the Patterns 2. Change the Focus of Corporate Training

I actually think this will be the harder part. So do Jay and Harold -

Will training departments survive to address these issues? The cards are still out. After all, we are in a global economic depression, and training is the perennial first sacrifice.

What would happen if you called for closing your training department in favor of a new function?
Imagine telling senior management that you were shuttering the classrooms in favor of peer-to-peer learning. You’re redeploying training staff as mentors, coaches, and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers, and cutting costs. You’re going to shift the focus to creativity, innovation, and helping people perform better, faster, cheaper.

You might want to give it a try.

 Perhaps the time has come.

I'm a fairly low-risk kind of guy, and as such, I guess I don't feel very comfortable sending you forth with the direction of "closing your training department ... redeploying staff" ... you may get only half of what you are asking for - especially right now. Oh, and I think you know which half they would take you up on (see Dilbert strip below).


But I do think that each and everyone one of us should be out understanding the ways in which you can support concept workers to be better at their work and learning. We should be looking to shift some resources within our corporate training department in that direction.

Will We Get to Do This?

I was just having a conversation about What Clients Really Want and the common lament among learning professionals that their clients come to get training. And by training they mean content collected, formed into something that resembles training and pushed to a specific audience. Training is seen as being in the business of push. The client then gets to check the box that they provided training.

Offering to try to help solve real business issues, get in and work with concept workers on their work practices, set up coaching/mentoring, etc. should be asked about by any learning professional in conversations with clients. But, often these questions are unwelcome and you must be prepared to quickly retreat and provide them what they say they want.

I personally am a little lucky because I'm most often being asked about solutions that are a little more innovative and sometimes focus on real results (see Data Driven).

But for the average learning professional, my guess is that 80%+ of what everyone experiences is a continuous stream of requests for push learning with little to no opportunity to do something else.

Am I wrong? Will you be able to shift your Corporate Training?

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