This column has an aggressive title, but a fairly stark realization has become apparent to me in my travels and when working with senior learning leaders. We aren’t tasked to deliver the same outcomes we once were. We’ve all heard the demands from our organizations about better alignment with business outcomes and performance measures. Yet, I continue to see the same deliverables, often packaged in a new wrapper. In our business, it’s not about the deliverable, it’s about the intent and outcome.
In our case, doing the same thing is defined as training. The format has changed from classroom to e-learning to virtual. Even with new modalities, the deliverables are still the same. The problem is today’s learner has to survive in a different world, one where change is a constant and the shelf life for learning content is minimal at best.
This circumstance reminds me of an experience I had in high school. I was a swimming instructor at a summer camp. It was early one Monday morning and we were about to start a week’s worth of lessons with little kids who couldn’t swim. I had all my lessons in my head. I was going to do my best to instruct these little guys on the fundamentals of rotary breathing and other required strokes. My colleague had other plans. Within minutes of starting he had one of the kids in the water flailing away desperately trying to get back to the side while he supported him under the water. Once the child arrived at the side, spitting and coughing, my colleague praised him and proceeded to try again. I stopped him and said, “Aren’t we here to teach these kids to swim?” He responded by saying, “We only have a week. My goal is to teach them not to drown.” Sound familiar?
Each week I’m asked to evaluate exhaustive and thorough development plans aimed at teaching employees how to swim when many are drowning in the real world of churn and change. It’s time we took a serious look at our charter and today’s realities. I’m not saying that some degree of training is not required. What I’m hearing from learners is that the methods and tools we arm them with to battle workflow are often dated, confusing and not consumable at their moments of need. Arriving at some measurable level of understanding is no longer the goal. Surviving and keeping one’s head above water is.
When preventing drowning, the first thing you do is search frantically for some form of life support that will help the individual stay afloat no matter what his or her swimming ability is. Much of this is due to the fact that, depending on the circumstance, swimming may not be an option. The individual may be hurt, or in waters too rough to navigate. A life preserver is key.
Our designs and programs need to lead with survival first and sustainment second. Every learning leader I speak with is challenged in supporting a turbulent work landscape. The waters are changing constantly, as are the learners who attempt to navigate them. Our role is shifting from one of preparing learners to survive to one of keeping them afloat while trying to perform effectively each day.
This involves a fundamental shift in design and delivery. We need to design from supporting the performance backward. We need to first consider the systems, or life preservers, we can design and help maintain, and then add any training that might be needed to prepare our learners to use, maintain and adapt those systems.
This is a significant change in how many of us are schooled in instruction and design. We need to stop teaching swimming and intentionally equip the enterprise to survive a turbulent and ever-changing work environment. This will involve an innovative redesign of our teams, deliverables and ways we evaluate our effectiveness.
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for Ontuitive and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 25 years. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.