I thought the March Learning Circuits Big Question was a great way to start blogging. It hits on some of the subjects I have had time to think about over the past few months. In reading the blogs from people who have already written their responses, I find I agree with a lot of them. Also I attended the free-to-members ASTD Webex session, "Future Trends in Training and Development" in which Marc Rosenberg discussed how learning will move beyond training and several other trends he sees. Pat McLagen discussed making sure that the training field and learners are ready for learners to be more in charge of learning. Janet Clarey had blogged about the session and in my comments to her blog, I touched on some the ideas I have had about where we fit in and how we stay relevant. I do think we need to go beyond creating courses and curriculum and, like many of the other bloggers have said, figure out ways to encourage learners to learn on their own and find the information they need when they need it.
The reason I think we are more than qualified to do this is because an analysis needs to take place first. How should the information be organized? We are usually pretty good at this. Does a behavior change need to take place? Then at least parts of the solution may involve some type of training. How can we make all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together so that learners can make sense of the information and know when they want to use what type of information? Can we provide tools and information that fit into what they are already doing so they don't have to learn a whole new system? Can we facilitate more informal conversations and discussions to help people learn on their own? Again, I think we already have the strengths to do these things well.
In my last position in a training department, we had already started to do this for our division. (In fact we changed our department name so people didn’t just associate us with training classes.) We were in charge of our intranet which was based on a Sharepoint site, so we organized the documents according to how the users said they needed to access them. We got involved in all kinds of projects to ensure that the communication and information that went to our employees and customers was high quality and just what they needed and how they needed it. This included job aids, quick references, training tips, PowerPoint presentations for big meetings, etc. We became so ingrained in the division that we got invited to be in most projects right from the start because everyone relied on us to make sure things were communicated well. (Then they canned our whole division because of the mortgage mess, but that is another blog entirely!)
But after Tony Karrer reviewed what others had said, he had this to say:
"What's interesting is that there seems to be a disconnect from what is being said in these posts and the reality of what is going on out in various worlds, corporate, education, etc. Or is it just me? Is this happening all over the place and I don't see it? If these kinds of things fall into the responsibility of learning professionals, then why isn't this commonly understood and ACTED upon?
Likely a few different sources of this disconnect:
- Rest of the world doesn't expect (or look to) learning professionals for anything other than formal learning interventions. When you offer something different, they tell you they just wanted a course.
- Can you push bottom-up learning from an L&D organization?
- What does this mean in practice?"
He has a point. I think this is where we should head, but I don't know how many people are doing this - or getting the chance to do this even though they can see that this would help their organizations. When I mentioned what we did at my last position there were seven of us in the learning and performance department in a division of about 400+ people - definitely a smaller scale than most organizations. And we had a lot of buy-in from all levels of management up to the head of our division (seriously - it was a great place to be). I think we will need to really work to make people see that we are the best ones to do this. And I truly believe we are. So maybe that means networking within our organizations to help them understand what we can do when we work with them on projects. And ensuring we understand how we can help with the company's objectives, not just course objectives. I think one place to start to show that the training organization can be flexible is to add some other options to current training courses. I know this may seem like it isn't that big of a change, but in a lot of corporations it is evolution, not revolution (I have to acknowledge that this saying is one of my former manager's mantras, I cannot claim credit for it!)
For example, let's say that people have floated the idea of trying to tap into the knowledge of experts in the organization on certain subjects, so the solution involves developing discussion lists, communities of practice, wikis, etc. Maybe the way to pilot the first one is actually through a training class. As the learners go through the class, they might develop their own wiki like Janet described for a workshop/class she is conducting. Then you see how that goes. An instructional designer may need to help edit the wiki to ensure all the answers are complete and don't leave out details an expert might assume someone knows. The ID also might be able to add links to other sources of information on the corporate intranet or courses in the LMS (if you can link to them). After the class, as people add more information and maybe reference different resources, the ID may need to look at the resources to make sure the information is credible, accurate, and applicable to the situation. The ID who designed the course may also need to look at the information generated and determine if the materials for the course need to be revised for the next go-around, if there is one, to include more information, etc. Depending on what happens, the ID may end up changing the way the course is designed. Then, if it goes well, you market the crap out of it within your organization. And if it doesn't work well, you can also go back to the learners to see why they think it didn't work and try it again in a different way.
That doesn’t mean that I think these tools should only be linked to a training course. I don’t. I just think this could be a way to try them out at a company and also let others know that if they want to do this in other areas of the organization, the training area can help. Because we have a user-centered perspective on what we do, we should be able to guide others to provide useful tools to their employees. In a situation like this, I would see the training department having a consulting role – helping another area introduce some type of tool to their group. (Hmmm, the training department as consultants – sounds like the title for my next blog…)