Learning leaders care for individual and organizational development, whether that means managing performance, setting goals or devising learning solutions. But with that steady focus on helping those constituencies to reach their potential, do they give the same consideration to their own growth?
Are we as the caretakers of our organization’s development conducting the appropriate diagnosis and thereby writing the relevant prescriptions for ourselves to further our own performance and development?
The challenges that face workplace learning leaders are numerous. However, if we do not attend to and invest in our professional development and by extension the workforce learning profession at large, we risk suffering in the same way as that old fable about the cobbler’s children who have no shoes.
There are obstacles that learning professionals face when attempting to take their own developmental medicine. For instance, making time for one’s professional development is one problem that is well-researched in academic circles and well-understood by learning practitioners. The salient points about the research on this topic are exemplified in the following three papers.
Helen Bound, in her 2011 paper “Vocational Education and Training Teacher Professional Development: Tensions and Context,” concluded that the concept of flexible learning, or flexible delivery, is a cause for tension. In her research, flexible learning must be self-paced, focus on outcomes, provide support for learning, require a variety of resources and incorporate a variety of learning methods.
This research is further supported by Mark Waters and David Wall in their 2007 article, “Educational CPD: How UK GP Trainers Develop Themselves as Teachers.” The conclusions of their research showed that trainers had difficulty getting time for continuing professional development, access to ongoing development was important to them, they believed that good trainers were not born that way, but developed into the role, and dedicated time for educational CPD should be in addition to leave.
Michael Henderson’s 2012 research, “Professional Development Engagement and Motivation in VET Sector Teachers and Trainers,” expounds on needed CPD considerations for teachers and trainers. When questioning time adequacy and support for CPD, Henderson’s research found a significant theme regarding how busy people are. One teacher said, “I am over the limit in my commitment to the job at the moment.
Even this [survey] is being done during my annual leave.” The issue of organizations needing to commit extra resources of both time and effort was highlighted, along with conflicts between budget constraints and the value associated with professional development.
Building from the research to include the learning practitioners’ perspective, the challenges with ongoing development are consistent and can be summarized as time — making time for one’s own development; resources — access to a variety of developmental resources including in-person, self-paced or even on-the job; and support — obtaining and maintaining support to address the first two challenges.
“It’s easy to stay on the periphery of developing yourself as a workplace learning professional,” said Jean Larkin, vice president of talent management at security systems company Tyco International Ltd. “In our roles we identify critical capability needs for our organization’s talent, then design, develop and execute those solutions for others, but we are limited by serving as the teachers of these concepts and experiences.
“We are playing it safe in this capacity, and may never fully grow ourselves by not taking the time and risk in order to learn, immerse ourselves in new experiences and therefore challenge ourselves to the fullest like we expect from our learners.”
To address these challenges, business leaders would typically call on a framework such as a SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — or force-field analysis to analyze and develop an action plan that would lead to a resolution. Similarly, learning professionals rely on a trusted and well-established framework, the ADDIE model.
The five steps of the ADDIE model — analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation — find their roots in the learning theory and science that is the basis of instructional systems design. While a well-developed model to design courses and build performance support tools, learning professions can use the ADDIE model for themselves as a means to diagnose and prescribe self-development. The five phases of the ADDIE can be applied as follows:
- Analysis: The performance and developmental objectives. For example, learning professionals conduct their own self-analysis by defining the knowledge and skill gaps to be filled to enhance performance.
- Design: The systematic method to achieve the performance and developmental objectives. For example, learning professionals design their own short- and long-term development goals for the next one to five years.
- Development: The content and resources needed to achieve the performance and developmental objectives. For example, learning professionals define the options and resources needed for their own development.
- Implementation: Embarking on one’s development plan. For example, this may involve completing a course, attending a conference or working on project that enhances personal or professional development.
- Evaluation: Evaluating one’s development outcomes. For example, this could mean establishing checkpoints that include self-reflection, manager/employee check-ins and peer feedback.
Building from the ADDIE model, Michael Allen’s Successive Approximation Model of design and development also can support learning professionals’ focus on their own development. Taking ADDIE one step further, SAM interjects a flexible and agile model for design that can be applied to development planning.
The SAM model suggests that one creates, prototypes, evaluates efficacy and iterates during the design process to make adjustments as needed to develop the most relevant and effective solutions. For example, for learning professionals, this could mean creating a development plan, implementing it, but then finding the original objectives are no longer relevant. Therefore, it becomes necessary to adjust plans.
With the ADDIE and SAM models at hand and at work, learning professionals have a workable road map to follow to continuously grow and develop. The recommended prescription incorporates the following three elements, which can be customized based on an individual’s experience level and goals.
- Create an annual plan. Consistent with the business planning and objective setting process employed by organizations, learning professionals can document their annual development goals. These targets can span the range of teaching a new class, learning a new technology, attending a conference or even sharing a best practice through industry organizations. The key is the development goals should focus on acquiring new knowledge and skills that will create incremental value for both the individual and organization.
Learning leaders should determine where their workplace learning skills portfolio is today, and what they want to add this year.
- Enlist a personal board of directors. Whether one employs a formal mentor or learning industry colleagues, learning professionals can leverage each other to compare notes and learn from each other’s experiences. Stepping outside of one’s organization and industry can be validating. Other colleagues have similar challenges, and exposure to colleagues’ challenges could give rise to new thinking on how best to solve a business or learning issue.
Learning leaders should ask themselves who they are having lunch with once a month to compare notes.
- Look to adjacent disciplines. History tells us that whether it’s finance, human resources or information technology, different functions each have their own maturity cycles, and almost all have learned a thing or two from other fields. Learning professionals are well-served by looking outside of learning and development to adjacent fields in positive psychology and even gaming to inform their own development. For example, CLOs can learn about an individual’s propensity to learn and engage when overcoming obstacles when playing online, virtual games.
Learning leaders should identify non-obvious places where they can further develop their own craft as learning professionals.
While it is fulfilling to teach and prescribe solutions, the measure of one’s own self-awareness and openness lies in the ability to also take the medicine that we readily prescribe. To that end, as learning professionals, we owe it not only to ourselves but to our organizations to exemplify learning that leads to increased skill and performance, and to advance the workplace learning industry at large. The cobbler’s children may not have any shoes, so let’s lead by example to ensure our closets are overflowing.
Dave DeFilippo is the chief learning officer, and Jason L. James Jr. is a senior learning and development consultant at the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.