this is “how we do”

My current project has me looking at a rather large curriculum to determine how we can improve the learner’s speed to competency.  The ying and the yang of this project are the SME and the business – the SME insists that all of the current learning is valuable and necessary and the business insists that we are not competitive if all this learning is necessary and the learner’s ability to ‘produce’ is delayed.

We began by looking at the current state of affairs.  There are three classes equaling 34 modules resulting in just over 100 hours of learning before the learner is “ready”.  This is not, however, 2-3 weeks of training – this is months of training – scheduled modules requiring feedback and self-study.  This is complicated by part-timers and their schedules or the routines of the business, and took no account of previous experience, situational cognition, or large turnover of staff in some regions.

But all the information had to stay.  We needed a plan.

So we sat down and asked ourselves:  “what do they need to know and when?”  because it made sense that we could make more than three classes out of this much information and that while someone may need to take all of this training – there had to be milestones or touch points along the way where “some of the information” was still useful to the business.    Surely it was not so black and white as “you know nothing” and “you know everything”.

The result was a fairly robust learning plan.  34 modules over 3 classes was redesigned into 27 modules over 7 classes.   Any information that did not require an instructor (e.g. static information, simple product knowledge, etc.) was pulled out of the modules and turned into small web-based classes.

At first glance you may be thinking, “so what?  that’s not that big of a change”.  Well, it’s removing over 20 hours of instruction time.  That’s huge in and of itself.  But that’s not the win, here.  The win is that when we asked, “what do they need to know and when?” we found that we could get learners “useful” or “trained” more quickly by chunking out what they need to know by how long they’ve been in position.  Obviously, someone in position 60 days will be expected to be performing differently than someone in position 150 days or 240 days.  And our training reflects this.  Instead of having to take EVERYTHING to be “finished”, learners will take their training in bite sized chunks that can be easily applied and used on the floor to cement their comprehension.

And if we get a new hire who knows some of this but not all of it – they are no longer forced to re-learn what they already know.

An instructional designer’s job is simple:  take the information and make it palatable for the learner.  Make it make sense, make it relevant to their job, and turn it into engaging learning.

In a former position, we used to ask learners:  How do you eat an elephant?

The answer also applies to designing learning:  One bite at a time.

collaboration

Or, the lack of it.

Sometimes, Learning departments can be order takers or order makers – instead of the collaborative partners that the business really needs.  Imagine this scenario:

A man runs into a doctor’s office and tells the doctor he has a headache.  The doctor prescribes Tylenol and the man leaves.

In this situation – Tylenol may be a good solution.  It is probably the most likely solution.  But without a proper diagnosis or analysis, it’s a dangerous and potentially costly solution.  What if the man had a tumour, or was stressed out, or was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning?  The Tylenol might still work – but it wouldn’t fix the problem, it would only mask it.

Learning is one of those solutions.  Typically, a good and most likely solution – but a potentially dangerous and costly one if we guess wrong.  Without the proper collaboration and analysis, it’s a potential mask of the real issue instead of a sustainable solution.  So how do we fix this?

In a session I attended last week we talked about the eight factors for performance:

  • skills and knowledge
  • capacity
  • attitude
  • conditions
  • incentive/motivation
  • standards
  • measurement
  • feedback

And of those eight factors, Learning Professionals are usually asked to contribute to the first one, Skills and Knowledge.  The truth is, though, that unless we influence all eight, the work we do with the first will never amount to much.

The question is, how do we influence all eight?  Well, obviously, we need to be at the strategic table a lot earlier – and to do that we need to convince the business that we understand the business.  We need to move from being order takers and makers to being collaborative partners.

Easily said but how?  Maybe it’s by proving our value as order takers and makers to earn the business’ trust and being forward thinkers.

Here’s another example:  The business tells you that we need training to improve customer service.  As a Learning Professional, let’s prove our value by putting that into performance language and ask  what the employees would do or demonstrate as they “improved customer service”?  (or, what do you mean by that?).  Once you’ve nailed down the performance need, we can ask what employees need to learn to be able to do that and how can the systems or processes support this?

More on this, I’m sure.

designing with no content

This week, I attended a 90 minute workshop on designing with no content.  The premise was that instructional designers usually get held up waiting for content from SMEs and getting blamed for missed deadlines because of late content.  The blurb to the session (as part of the CSTD conference) was about being able to deliver the storyboard/design without having the content.

And – as I’ve said before – I think content is king.  So this session intrigued me.  Both at the audacity of the claim but also from a “how can I deliver things faster?” perspective.

The session was less about working with no content and more about managing your SME relationships and using ADDIE more effectively.  And so, for me, it was preaching to the choir (as this is stuff I already do on a regular basis) but a good reminder.  And excellent information for new IDs who maybe do not feel as confident handling relationships and the ADDIE process.

It works like this:  ADDIE is sometimes thought of as linear when it should be seen as circular.  It needs to be agile and work more like SAM.  I’ve mentioned this before on this site.  The other big piece is that we need to manage our SME relationships differently.  Instead of using them for content, have them review the content.  What I mean is, instead of waiting for them to drop 30 pounds of powerpoint into your lap to sift through, source some other content while you wait.  Or, begin writing your framework.  I guess it depends what you’re writing.

But we used the idea of designing a 10 minute training on how to hold the sweeper when curling.  I don’t know that.  I had no content on it.  So instead I wrote my design without it.  I introduced the subject – vaguely – and opened up the lesson as a series of discussion questions.  “How do you hold the sweeper?” and “How much pressure do you put on it?” and “When do you sweep and why?” and then googled some quick answers and put them into the design.

On REVIEW, the SME is then able to say “no, that’s not right” and correct your answers or validate them and keep going.

Obviously, this isn’t an everyday every subject solution – but for those times that you’re waiting and your design is at risk because of the waiting – it’s a really good alternative to having nothing on offer when it comes to the deadline.

The idea, of course, is being a good designer with the confidence to provide a great framework for the learning while being unafraid to make mistakes.  So what if the reviewer says, “that’s now how you curl?”  Let’s face it – if they wanted the answer 100% correct and on time – they’d have sent you the content.

what does an instructional designer do?

Take a look at this video before continuing.

So a lot of people don’t really understand what I do.  And so I tell them this:  In between the “we need training” panic:

ArguingCoupleSilhouette

and the person taking training:

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several things happen.  These things include:

  • deciding if training is, actually, necessary
  • if it’s necessary, determining what the objectives are
  • and what the learners currently know
  • and determining who the subject matter experts are
  • and sourcing any of the content
  • and verifying the content
  • and curating the content
  • and determining what the best way of delivering that content is
  • and reviewing the content
  • and making sure anyone who needs to train the content can do so

I’m the person that does that.

learning is not a game

So much has been made, recently, about the concept of gamification.  This article does a pretty good job of describing it and presenting the general arguments for and against.

I’ve read the article and I’ve had the arguments.  I don’t think a gamification skin on the LMS will provide the sustainable learning engagement we’re looking for.  And at the risk of sounding like a skipping record in a shag-rug-1070s-living-room, it’s not skins or graphics or any of that crap that will sustain our learning.

Now, I agree with some of this article – specifically the idea of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  The idea that external motivation comes from rewards and such, while internal motivation comes from happiness and enjoyment.   I’d even go so far as to say that I agree with the idea that some extrinsic motivation, when done consistently and well, can turn into intrinsic motivation.

Where we part ways is gamification.  I don’t think collecting points, badges or whatever is the answer.  And I’m sure no one that reads this blog is at all surprised to learn that I think well-designed content is the answer.   I think answering “what is in it for me?” is the answer.

Look at it this way:  Gamifiers tells us that learning must satisfy RAMP – an acronym for relatedness, autonomy, mastery and purpose.  Does it even make sense that gamification can do that or does it make more sense that content can?

I think we’re all just getting weary with the fact that we’re creating some awesome training that is not backed up operationally, or dismissed by learners as “boring” before they even give it a chance.  We’re accepting responsibility that should rightfully be on the learner:  this is your life, your career, your development and your safety.  We can’t make it ‘worthwhile’.  Only the learner can.

We can connect the dots.  We can make training meaningful.  We can connect it to the learner and assess them using realistic scenarios.

But if all we’re adding to the process is trophies and points and training doesn’t resonate with the learner – it’s lipstick on a pig.

what is interaction?

Merriam Webster defines interaction – as it pertains to learning, anyway – as something that requires the input of a user.

This is interesting in its simplicity and explains so much of what has the potential to be assumed in our industry.  Consider this.  You’re an ID working in a large office when your boss flips you a video and asks you to “make it interactive”.  What do you do?

Well, in the simplest of terms, you add some halts to the video that require the user to click “next” and voila – by this definition – the video is now interactive.

By definition, yes; but most of us know that mouse clicks on a button that reads NEXT does not an interactive learning experience make.  Which causes some problems.  Because when I’m asked to check out a video and it halts me and puts in some condescendingly stupid “interactions”, I don’t get all excited about it.

You may remember that I used an example about prostitutes to make my point that content was king.

So what does make a piece of learning interactive?  I’d argue that it’s whatever it is, design-wise, that connects the learning to the what’s-in-it-for-me of the learner in a meaningful way.  It’s that invisible piece that connects the learner to the learning and makes it stick.  It’s not Next buttons or matching games or bowling simulations on quizzes.

And I’d argue that it’s an important dimension that good designers bring to the table long before the developer gets a look at the storyboard.  Unless, like we’re beginning to see, developers are all your content has.

At which point, a nicely designed Next button may be what the learning is about.