The training industry has spent many years attempting to capture the just-in-time (JIT) training promise. I’ve spent more than 15 years of my career with my colleagues trying to orchestrate and design learning strategies that live and thrive at the desktop.
It has long been believed that once bandwidth, authoring tools, instructional designs and other hurdles were tackled, we finally would optimize and realize this long-elusive promise. If you take a step back and look at the many efforts at this type of instruction, it’s interesting to note a few attributes still seem to be missing. It’s definitely not from a lack of trying or effort, though.
The problem lies in the fact that many traditional instruction and design methods never have had to live at the desktop, and therefore, they tend to leave out a few key areas.
Learning professionals have worked hard to implement learning management systems and other tools that help track, analyze and guide learners. The danger in many of these systems is they ignore the community aspect of learning.
Again, I’m not blaming the effort — I’m questioning the implementation. Working at the desktop rarely is done in isolation. Most knowledge workers today are involved in projects and outcomes that involve teams and other peers. Roles and responsibilities are shared across these projects, and a single learner is rarely asked to carry the entire load.
Communities of practice are emerging as key elements to learning. Technologies such as blogs, wikis and virtual, real-time conversations are emerging as crucial communities for gathering and sharing knowledge. Best practices and collaboration are keys to these types of interactions. They enable a level of sharing and learning across work areas — and even continents — as never seen before.
Conversations on learning, which were once the domain of the classroom, now can be shared, as well as experienced in real time and in the context of the workflow. As we design learning experiences, we no longer can view them as a one-to-one experience. Rather, we need to design them as one-to-many opportunities.
Learning organizations need to create structures, checkpoints and protocols that help manage these communities. As with the classroom, if these environments are left unstructured, they will be chaotic and unproductive. We learned years ago that adding structure to a learning environment helps maximize its potential.
We also learned most learning environments need to be taught and not just experienced. One thing I have seen done over and over again that jeopardizes the potential of any desktop solution is the lack of intentional instruction in these environments.
For years, we have assumed effective design combined with the maturity of an adult learner will be enough to empower and ignite learning at the desktop. This approach has been ineffective for most organizations. Just as we “learned how to learn” in the classroom after years of effective modeling and structure, we need to do the same with these environments. Learners need to understand how to effectively navigate, contribute to and learn from these communities and tools. As with any learning asset, if these environments are simply distributed and not instructed, they will end up ineffective and potentially more dangerous than they would have been if they were not used in the first place.
Context is a final aspect that blankets this entire domain. Both stand-alone and community learning environments need context to be truly effective. Without it, most learners rarely see the value of these approaches.
Again, learning communities can play a significant role in this area. If learners are allowed to discuss, share and question the content found in standard e-learning in the context of their projects and job roles, many of these offerings can become quite effective. Lacking context, many fail.
If desktop instruction is to be more effective, it has to reflect the world it intends to influence. Bringing communities of practice and context into standard e-learning often can change an ineffective strategy into one that is quite relevant and produces a high return.
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.