I teach a workshop with a colleague of mine, Dr. Conrad Gottfredson, on designing and implementing performance support. Many attendees come expecting to build cool digital coaches and paper-based job aids.
Inevitably they learn that, if done well, intentionally entering the world of performance support means much more and will dramatically change their overall approach to learning forever.
For years, training has been viewed as a stand-alone, value-add enterprise in many organizations. Few would argue its contribution, but many don’t understand its true impact. In fact, many learning professionals struggle to understand and defend it themselves. The journey to true competency for learners is not a series of scheduled events, online courses or calls to a local help desk. It is a much more complex experience made up of a living and breathing ecosystem that is highly interdependent and often inefficient.
I haven’t liked the phrase “informal learning” since we first started using it in our industry several years ago. I have since found that many others seem to agree. I understand why we originally went in this direction, since we’ve always called its counterpart “formal learning,” but, as is often the case in these early discussions, it just doesn’t seem to fit or isn’t robust enough.
I personally disagree with dividing the experience in the first place. This seems to be a situation where the learning industry is looking for a definition for its own purposes and not seeing this from our learners’ perspective. They don’t see learning as being divided into informal and formal domains. It’s all learning to them and should work together in a way that helps them become more competent and effective at their jobs, both when they are trying to master something new and apply knowledge they have gained.
It’s all one continuous journey. Every day, learners need both formal and informal learning. Every day, they need to learn new things as well as try to remember or apply things they have already learned. We seem to be the ones who try to separate the experience and want to bucket it into our terms so that we can design, deliver, track, buy or defend it.
The reality is that the entire experience is a learning ecosystem with many moving and dependent parts. An ecosystem is defined as “a localized group of interdependent organisms together with the environment that they inhabit and depend on.”
This is exactly what learning is like for those we support. The many learning assets that surround them are interdependent organisms that are integrated into the environment they inhabit and, my favorite part, depend on. Or are they? There are some key words in this definition that we need to take greater ownership for. Consider the following challenges:
• Localization: How localized are your learning assets and strategies? Do they live within the environment learners face every day? Do they make sense in the context in which employees have to learn, or are they a separate event or environment that learners have to visit, leaving their real work environment behind?
• Interdependence: Are your learning assets interdependent? Do they work together? Do you have intentional and complementary formal and informal assets? Do you understand all the assets a learner uses to survive, including those that the learning group doesn’t create or track, such as mentors, peers, job aids or communities of practice?
• Integration: Have you integrated your strategy and learning assets into the learner’s work environment in a way that he or she can understand and depend on? Do you understand all the dependencies? Are your learning group and its offerings viewed as vital to learners’ survival or as a nice-to-have that only takes them so far into their journey? When the rubber meets the road, do learners default to other more dependable and realistic approaches?
Understanding that learning is an integrated and vital part of the learner’s environment is key to surviving in the world we live in today. Today’s successful organizations have become lean and intentional about all that they do. Is your learning organization, and its offerings, an integral part of that?