As we are almost halfway through 2010, now is a good time to pause, take a step back and reflect on the direction of the field of learning. First, we’ll zoom out for the macro view and identify trends. Then, we’ll take those insights and zoom back in to concoct tasty “learning recipes” with them.
As our lives and organizations become more digital, there is a finite and microscopic exhaust that is created by almost every action. Make a phone call, do an intranet search, start and stop an online module, attend a meeting or spend a dollar and a digital blip is created. Look at these blips — “digital exhaust” — over time, and you will begin to notice patterns.
Analyzing this digital exhaust will become a growing opportunity in the learning world. We could data-mine this information, looking for intriguing patterns in how our next generation of leaders is working with knowledge assets. Zoom out further and we could look at the digital exhaust of all rising managers in all organizations around the globe. We would have a richer and wider picture of leadership learning. Think of using these digital exhaust patterns to address the following learning design questions:
- Following an on-boarding seminar, what are the patterns of interaction and accessing knowledge resources by our employees? Is there a difference when the seminar is done face to face vs. online or with an e-learning module?
- When one of our associates is searching for an answer, what is his or her pattern of drilling into internal resources vs. accessing external search engines and assets?
- How do collaboration patterns evolve over the life cycle of a project? Imagine correlating project management benchmarks with the digital exhaust of employee behavior.
The digital exhaust we create provides a wealth of opportunity for the knowledge profession. But how do we take advantage of it? To answer that question, we must narrow our perspective to focus on the single trainer, single course and single learning moment — and the “learning recipes” that make them happen.
In reality, our organizations use both awful and awesome learning recipes. The great ones are deployed by teachers, designers and learners. For example, we might teach sales employees about objection handling using a learning recipe with the following “ingredients:”
- Concepts to be presented.
- Context and stories to be told.
- Questions to ask the learner.
- Practice activities.
- Feedback and remediation.
- Field reinforcement from sales managers.
- Use of tools and performance support resources.
- Collaboration resources for peer-to-peer learning.
Each of the items above is associated with numbers, such as length and frequency, as well as details. However, while some of these details may be found in a learning design document, many of them are undocumented and even subconscious. Ask a trainer for his or her learning recipe for objection handling and the answer will probably sound like chef Bobby Flay recommending “a pinch of this and some of that,” followed by an eye-dazzling display of chopping and stir-frying: awe-inspiring but almost impossible to replicate.
Further, learners have their own learning recipes. They vary in terms of who they use as role models, what they read and which corporate steps they take and don’t take. And again, learners are usually unable to share the specifics of their recipes, including time spent on different tasks or the variable usefulness of available assets, because much of this is intrinsic.
However, there are opportunities to address this issue of learning recipes in benchmarking and design processes. I’d love to see some “cookbooks” that detail distinctly different design and teaching styles. It would be exciting to compare different learning recipes deployed in 10 organizations to achieve the same behavioral outcomes, tracking differences in cost, employee time and degree of mastery.