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Don’t Let Learners Prescribe Their Learning

It’s the learning leaders’ job to choose the correct learning strategy, not the audience.
Businessman holding out his hand to show 'stop!'

Have you ever heard these requests from the lines of business you support:

“I’d like you to create a five-day class on leadership.”

“I need a three-day workshop on our new
sales process.”

“My department would like you to build e-learning covering the features of the latest upgrade to our CRM.”

I’ve been through this scenario many times in my 30-plus-year career, and frankly this exchange has always bothered me. These requests are the equivalent of me walking into my doctor’s office and demanding, “I would like five Advil because my arm is killing me!”

I’m not a doctor; I’m usually the patient. I have symptoms. I am not qualified to prescribe the treatment. I don’t mean to sound like I’m belittling those whom we serve, but frankly, they are not qualified to do the same with the services we provide.

They are the patient; we are the doctor. We should prescribe the correct learning strategy to effectively solve the business problem. We should not be told the deliverable before we have been allowed to do the analysis.

Why do we find ourselves in this situation? It comes from two scenarios. The first is of our own doing. Those whom we serve only know enough to ask for what we’ve always given them. If we’re known as the training department, we will always be asked for training deliverables. If the solutions outlined in the aforementioned questions worked, or at least seemed to work, why would they come to us for anything different?

The second reason for this behavior is based on their own life context. We support a deliverable that our buyer has been intimately a part of. We teach people. We put them in classrooms. Yes, we’ve migrated to e-learning and virtual instruction, but these modalities aren’t all that different from the classroom. It’s still instruction, just online. When they see an e-learning module start with “In this lesson you will learn … ,” they’ve been there before. Neither of these scenarios bode well for us doing our jobs the way we should.

To correct this, we have to start by not feeding into it. We define how to best “cover” a learning need, even if clients feel certain time parameters and learning modalities are the best way to meet that need. For too long, “covering” content in class or online has equaled skill and the ability to perform. That is simply not the case. If we want to prescribe another option, we need to help our organizations understand why.

For far too long, “covering it” meant a trainer said it, a student practiced it in class, or it was taught independently online. In the end, we must show or track that the learner has mastered the content, and many of us struggle to equate learning with skill and performance.

We have many new and powerful learning options at our disposal: adaptive learning, electronic performance support, simulations, collaborative technologies and mobile learning, to name a few. If we want to be allowed to prescribe other deliverables, we need to understand how each covers material and the degree to which each solution helps a learner move beyond content mastery and enables performance.

We know people learn best through trial and error in the workflow, yet that workflow is often as far away from the classroom as it can get. Yes, we try experiential learning and other kinds of immersing activities in our classrooms, but these will never be as powerful and long lasting a teacher as the workflow itself.

To be allowed to switch the focus of our portfolio and introduce new tools, we need to prove how each covers content in a more meaningful way. The classroom and e-learning will still have their place, but they are not the tip of the sword when it comes to supporting workflow performance.

We need to be able to blend the correct learning solution, let classroom work begin the journey, and then use other options to enable our learners to transfer and sustain performance on the job.

Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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