One of my favorite parts of my job is working with learning teams. Trainers and developers are the front line of our profession. They get up every day to fight the good fight and help enable learners and the organizations they support to succeed. Each isequipped with tools that they believe enable this mission.
Lately, I have started all of my talks by asking theaudience how it learns best every day. Whatapproaches have been the most meaningful and had the greatest impact over time? Not just teaching about something, but actually teaching how to do something. Unanimously, experience wins. Classroom and e-learning typically don’t score in the top five as far as effectiveness and impact. Yet these two modalitiesremain two of our most dominant deliverables inresources and spending.
I’m not saying our profession intentionally tries to mislead or underserve, but we have been taught to support an outdated and challenged approach to instruction. Now, before you send me a nasty gram, hear me out. I’m anything but anti-classroom/e-learning. I have spent a good part of my 30-plus years in this profession designing and delivering both. I don’t see either going away, nor should they. We have come to a point where we need to realign our resources, spending, deliverables, competencies and technologies around a modality that has always ruled the roost, and is finally a supportable domain: experiential learning.
We have thrown the term informal learning around for years, but few truly design for it. We have confused informal learning with a time and place, not a behavior that needs to be supported. For instance, e-learning has been associated with the informal domain for years because it can be consumed anytime and anywhere, but I’m sure many learners would argue that doesn’t meet their definition of informal learning.
Designing to support experience is very different from taking formal assets and making them available outside the classroom. This shift starts with how we prioritize our deliverables. If we innately think we are designing for an event first, then the design process — starting with how we are perceived through what we deliver — will remain event-based.
Many learning professionals tell me they are highly frustrated by the fact that their teams aren’t seen beyond event-based learning. They argue they’re notinvolved early enough in the process, or they can’t get the lines of business to stop coming to them for training first.
This all begins with how we are perceived and the deliverables our stakeholders feel we build. We have to learn how to design and engage our organizations from an experience-first approach. We need to start designing solutions and tools that support experiential learning first, supported by event-based instruction if it’s needed at all. Again, this is not to say classroom or e-learning doesn’t play an important part in this journey. I don’t want my pilot flying me home having learned exclusively through experiential-based practice. Clearly, a degree of foundational learning needs tooccur, but in today’s world of churn and change, the classroom has become overburdened, ill-equipped and often outdated compared with what our learners need to keep up every day.
If we flip the paradigm and design to teach and sustain in the workflow first, and support that with the appropriate amount of event-based instruction, we have finally found the perfect blend. We live in a world where experience can be a highly supported and structured experience, measured through technology and other modalities that surround our learners.
We need to begin using performance support and other emerging tools/approaches as the dominant tools of our trade, supported by formal instruction that finds itself in a different but still powerful place in the learning landscape. I have seen it done brilliantly and intentionally. I’ve seen it done in high-risk environments and with abstract principles such as leadership. It’s not easy, but it is doable and will change the way our industry is perceived in the effect it is having on the organizations we support.