What was it like when you learned the hardest thing in your life? Was it pleasant? Was there pressure? Did you fail first and often? What environmental factors inspired you to succeed no matter what the cost? Was there a single moment or series of moments that collectively added up to you learning and succeeding?
I call these moments “the moments of apply.” Based on Dr. Conrad Gottfredson’s work related to the five moments of need, these moments drive and inspire us. They determine whether we get paid, advance in our careers, feel good about ourselves and use our talents to contribute to the common good of both our company and society.
It’s heady stuff, though these moments aren’t necessarily life-changing or heroic events. They can be, but for most of us these moments occur over and over on any given day. They are when we are most ready to learn, internalize, adapt, adopt and grow.
So, here’s the challenge: Do your learning programs target this critical time for learning? Are these the moments where your deliverables are most effective for your learners? Is this where you spend the majority of your training dollars? If not, if your programs drift from the moment of apply, you are moving farther and farther away from the impact you need most.
Here’s what amazes me about our industry. We spend billions of dollars annually preparing learners for the moment of apply and a fraction of that supporting them during it. I’m not saying there isn’t some preparation, but for many of the learning programs, universities and certification programs I have examined during the past 30 years, most target preparation first and the moment of apply second, if at all.
This approach sets off a chain of events and learning deliverables that underserve our lines of business, undervalue our efforts and ultimately leave our learners exposed to costly performance failures. Even more frustrating, these results eventually circle back around, and learning programs get the blame for not delivering the necessary return on investment, which is unfair.
To avoid this, we have to reverse the design model and related deliverables. We begin by designing for apply first and backfill with preparation, or training, where needed. This is a very different way of looking at instructional design. Rather than using ADDIE and our traditional task analysis around what learners need to know, the emphasis becomes what they need to do to survive, and then what’s needed to support that. You may ask “How do we make room for this type of approach when our classrooms and e-learning are already overburdened with content?” Start with how you look at content.
Groundbreaking research was recently published by Dr. Betsy Sparrow at Columbia University titled “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips.” This research dramatically changes the way we look at organizational learning and how we design content throughout the learning process. Sparrow shows that when learners are confident they know where to find something, they intentionally learn less, freeing up cognitive memory for critical thinking, creativity and innovation.
Bottom line, our learners depend less and less on preparation training and more on in-the-moment-of-apply support. In a world of rapid change and volatility, we need to design less for knowing and more around helping learners intentionally survive and keep up when doing. We need to create support systems that guide and inform at the movement of apply, and teach learners the fundamental things they need to know to use these environments when we have them in training events.
With all the technologies and knowledge repositories at learners’ fingertips, we can intentionally design from apply back knowing we can create and maintain fingertip deliverables. Training will continue to have its day, but it’s time we let it take a back seat to the moment of apply when learners are most prepared to learn and perform. That’s true ROI.
Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist at APPLY Synergies, a learning consulting firm, and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 25 years. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.