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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Corporate Training

Jay Cross - father of the Informal Learning Flow has been doing some great writing recently that look at the future of corporate training. His recent posts make me really think (that's good) but also make me wonder ...

How many people really have the opportunity to pursue the
Future of Corporate Training?

More on this below ... But first some context.

Courseware and Broader eLearning

Jay's post eLearning is not the Answer:
Corporations are flocking to eLearning for all the wrong reasons. It’s cheaper: no travel, no facilities cost, no instructor salaries. This sort of fanciful thinking tripped up eLearning ten years ago.
Poorly implemented eLearning is a more expensive alternative to doing nothing at all, and often the results would be the same.

Great points Jay. It's a scary question to ask. If we did nothing at all, what would the result be as compared to what we do when we provide some bad eLearning? However, I'm not quite sure that bad classroom is not just as bad as bad eLearning. At least with eLearning you can skip right on by and get to your real learning.
If you want outcomes that are comparable or better than what you were getting from instructor-led workshops, you have to do more than just throw things online. You have to support electronic offerings with mentors, guides, help desks, FAQs, reinforcement, and organizational support.
I agree with Jay's sentiment here, but I'm not quite willing to go as far as Jay. You should be doing these other things whether the content is delivered instructor-led or via courseware. And I would argue that today all classroom or courseware should be questioned. Can you reduce it by 50%? Can you make it 5 minutes long and just teach them how to use the rest of the resources?

I would also caution that Jay appears to use the term eLearning to mean courseware. To me eLearning definitely includes all of these other electronic means of providing support. In fact, in eLearning Defined , Online Training vs eLearning - Jay and I somewhat agree that it's not all that important to have precise definitions of these terms. But we agreed that it should be a broader definition.

Push vs. Pull Learning

Now we get to the actual point of Jay's article ...
Well-executed eLearning makes learning more accessible but it’s rarely going to double or triple one’s return on investment. eLearning is an incremental improvement, not a game-changer.
Then Jay talks about Push learning vs. Pull Learning ...
Concepts at work in pull learning include:
  • Learning on demand, immediate reinforcement
  • Learning while working, not separate from working
  • Self-service, flexible delivery, convenience
  • Peer learning, communities of practice, collaboration
  • Small chunks, links for further discovery
  • Holistic, process orientation
I completely agree with Jay that we need to think about how to provide support that is more as-needed, on-demand, part of work, etc. A portion of this is still what I consider to be eLearning. I also certainly need to point out that

eLearning 2.0 is about Pull Learning

The Future Corporate Training Department

In Jay and Harold Jarche's Future of the Training Department - they talk in a bit more detail about how Pull Learning and complex environments move us towards a new kind of corporate training department:
The main objective of the new training department is to enable knowledge to flow in the organization. The primary function of learning professionals within this new work model is connecting and communicating, based on three core processes:

* Facilitating collaborative work and learning amongst workers, especially as peers.
* Sensing patterns and helping to develop emergent work and learning practices.
* Working with management to fund and develop appropriate tools and processes for workers.

Obviously, I'm a strong believer in getting involved in this way (see Work Literacy and Tool Set).

How do We Get There?

The challenge I've always put before Jay - and I'm never 100% confident that we have an answer is the question of how we get there.

In order for a corporate learning organization to get into the business of supporting pull learning and supporting work, we need to

1. Define the Patterns 2. Change the Focus of Corporate Training

I actually think this will be the harder part. So do Jay and Harold -

Will training departments survive to address these issues? The cards are still out. After all, we are in a global economic depression, and training is the perennial first sacrifice.

What would happen if you called for closing your training department in favor of a new function?
Imagine telling senior management that you were shuttering the classrooms in favor of peer-to-peer learning. You’re redeploying training staff as mentors, coaches, and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers, and cutting costs. You’re going to shift the focus to creativity, innovation, and helping people perform better, faster, cheaper.

You might want to give it a try.

 Perhaps the time has come.

I'm a fairly low-risk kind of guy, and as such, I guess I don't feel very comfortable sending you forth with the direction of "closing your training department ... redeploying staff" ... you may get only half of what you are asking for - especially right now. Oh, and I think you know which half they would take you up on (see Dilbert strip below).

But I do think that each and everyone one of us should be out understanding the ways in which you can support concept workers to be better at their work and learning. We should be looking to shift some resources within our corporate training department in that direction.

Will We Get to Do This?

I was just having a conversation about What Clients Really Want and the common lament among learning professionals that their clients come to get training. And by training they mean content collected, formed into something that resembles training and pushed to a specific audience. Training is seen as being in the business of push. The client then gets to check the box that they provided training.

Offering to try to help solve real business issues, get in and work with concept workers on their work practices, set up coaching/mentoring, etc. should be asked about by any learning professional in conversations with clients. But, often these questions are unwelcome and you must be prepared to quickly retreat and provide them what they say they want.

I personally am a little lucky because I'm most often being asked about solutions that are a little more innovative and sometimes focus on real results (see Data Driven).

But for the average learning professional, my guess is that 80%+ of what everyone experiences is a continuous stream of requests for push learning with little to no opportunity to do something else.

Am I wrong? Will you be able to shift your Corporate Training?


Harold Jarche said...

The silos between Training-OD-HR-HPT and even marketing are part of the problem in supporting workplace learning & performance. There's good stuff from all of these fields but they don't talk to other, or even speak the same language. For knowledge-creation workplaces, the old silos don't work anymore. So yes, I think we should close the training department and all the other departments and re-work the models that are supposed to support the organization.

John said...

"Am I wrong?" I don't think so at all.

"Will you be able to shift your Corporate Training?" As an outside consultant, probably not. You are right about customers wanting "training". In fact, what I am hearing now is "I want some elearning". All too often this means PowerPoint slides with audio. Sigh.

Hugh Greenway said...

As someone from the other side of the fence (an outsourced learning provider) I can say from my own experience that this doesn't seem to be happening yet. I think things need to get worse, which they will, before organisations are prepared to take this risk.

I, too, agree with Jay and Harold that we would be better off closing most training departments and many training providers should and will also go to the wall.

The shift needs to be from "training provision" to "learning facilitation" which should by definition be more efficient.

The problem with 1st gen e-learning is that it was all hard wired. So I entirely concur with Jay that bad elearning is worse than doing nothing (I dont think bad classroom training is much better but it should at least be marginally more responsive to those present).

My understanding of e-learning 2.0 is that it is not hard-wired. The value is in the network which is ultimately human rather than binary and can therefore respond and react in an evolutionary way rather than relying on an omisicient designer...

cim said...

One technique we use (informally) at my company to shift management's conception of training is to leverage our failures. When we're compelled to produce training when another solution would be more effective, we track just how unsuccessful it is, explain why and offer an alternative. We're now considered L&D Consultants rather than Trainers in more than name alone. We'll see where our strategy takes us next (and let's hope it doesn't take us into the street. .. )

Nancy Devine said...

What about best practices as they relate to teaching and learning? In other words, what are the optimum conditions for learning?
I like how the tenets of "Flow" by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi have made their way into the sphere I know best: public education. People experience flow when what they are doing presents a challenge but is still within their reach. People experience flow when they get immediate feedback on their learning.
What is better in terms of people achieving flow in their learning experiences, informal or formal learning?
Here's another term from public education: differentiated instruction. Learners enter into the content to be learned in different ways and experiences, depending on the way they think and learn. So we should be teaching in a number of ways if we want studens to learn. What gets at differentiated instruction better, informal or formal learning?
And what about scaffolding? Scaffolding is the instructional support someone needs to do something he or she can't do alone. Where someone needs scaffolding is the zone of proximal development. (Vygotskian learning theory) With the right scaffolding, a person learns to do what is in her/his zone of proximal development and thus moves forward. (The zone of actual development supplants the zone of proximal development.)What allows for more and better scaffolding, informal or formal learning?
Though these ideas I've presented might be familiar to you, I offer them as ways to think about how people learn. I suggest that maybe the choice isn't between formal and informal learning/training. Maybe the choices have to do with flow, differentiated instruction and instructional scaffolding.
As I try to teach, I think about how I learned what I know and how I can make the processes that got me to my knowing manifest for my students. I suppose what I'm suggesting is a kind of metacognitive teaching.
Does any or all of this make sense for the private sector?

Tony Karrer said...

Wow, great responses.

@Harold - I'm going to be curious what you and Jay call the new department and what it does in practice.

@John - You are quite right about "I want some eLearning" being the request right now.

@Hugh - Like the "learning facilitation" phrase. I'd be curious if Jay and Harold agree that's the business that the new X department is in?

And yes, eLearning 2.0, is exactly about facilitation (and aggregation). That's part of the reason I like the phrase so much.

@cim - It's a somewhat unique culture that really does welcome discussion of failure.

@Nancy - great stuff. "what they are doing presents a challenge" - and I think even more so if it's something they are facing right now or know they will face very soon.

I would be very curious to hear the response from Harold and Jay to "Maybe the choices have to do with flow, differentiated instruction and instructional scaffolding."

I'm not sure I quite get what is implied when you intersect learning facilitation with these terms and particularly when you mean it in an informal, self-directed learning model. What does any of this mean in practice?

Nancy - this very much applies to corporate learning. A big part of the struggle is understand what this all looks like.

dons_mind said...

I agree with Cross and Jarche and Nancy and you! I believe what you all are referring to is known as Knowledge Management; not eLearning. And I don’t believe it’s particularly a corporate problem but it’s also relative to our educational system as a whole.

I think the complete education paradigm is due for a shift. We have become very good at determining what knowledge is – we can identify it, we can categorize it - - but then we attempt to pass it along using the same old techniques. We either put it on a website, teach it from a podium, or put it in a cbt/wbt/elt/imi (pick your own acronym).

And in most cases, we do not accomplish our desired goal of effectively getting that knowledge passed to the person that needs it right now in order to complete their task; or, in a manner in which that person can use the knowledge to complete that task. (big difference)

We need to, as Jay and Harold and Tony and others are saying, find that next level of Knowledge Management that will allow us as educators, and also those we are working to pass our knowledge to, envision the medium(s) that will best pass that bit of knowledge along so that it can be instantly put to use.

Imagine yourself in a fast food environment. These places are arranged today in what they call work stations. Each person assigned to that station has a particular job to do. There’s a grill station where the burgers are cooked and put into a tray and moved over to another station where the sandwiches are put together. There’s a supply station who’s job it is to make sure that ketchup and mustard and sauce machines are always full. And there’s a fryer station where the fries are done.

Each of these stations require a particular skill in order to make the whole store flow smoothly. Imagine the new person; tossed into the mix. Now what if each station had a small, unobtrusive screen and speaker/mic setup which could provide knowledge to that person instantly. And record the fact in their training record (maybe by employee number or something) that they successfully worked that station. And the manager could (at will) check that training information whenever needed to see how the employees were performing.

Imagine you’re literally inside the guts of a jet engine attempting to replace a module. What if there was a portable screen right there with you – camera attached even – and you could talk to it and ask your questions and it would ‘see’ where you are and help you to find exactly the connector you’re hunting for to attached that module. Live training, happening precisely at the moment it is needed.

Those are examples and probably already happen – but if not, could they? Is it training? Is it outside our comfort zone? You betcha! Knowledge Management at its best!

Anonymous said...

All very interesting comments. In a time of great financial crisis, it is often futile to debate the effectiveness of training, eLearning, etc. Unless of course, it is ultimately tied to the existence of a corporation and that is the maximization of profits.

One must always adhere to that bottom line. One may want to think in terms of education and learning on possibly an academic level or as a benefit to employees, but only if that benefit increases their productive capabilities.

If the learning or corporate training in question is not going to increase their productive capabilities and the subsequent maximization of profits, executives will likely see training as a liability and not an asset.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony,

I hate to be called a dinosaur, only, I understand that dinosaurs reigned on Earth for far longer than humans have been here. I have to agree wholeheartedly with Nancy (sorry Nancy :-) up to, but not quite including, the part about metagonitive type of teaching.

Possibly metagognitive learning may make it easier for me to concur, but even that strikes me that there are assumptions made that suggest elearning needs metacognitive skills before it has a degree of usefulness.

(-: I'll keep this brief :-)

And I then have to ask, how do we teach metacognitive skills through elearning - chicken and egg? Hmm.

Catchya later

Benjamin Duffy said...

I believe it is imperative that I help to usher this change into my 9000+ semiconductor company.

Change is in the air, and as a business it is being stressed to think in progressive ways and stop doing things that don't make sense. I'm siezing this opportunity in careful ways to shift focus from push to pull and am currently reshaping how I inform and consult with internal clients to be an advocate for this movement. Internal customers that I've approached are very open and interested and have the capacity to see the inherent value in pull based learning.

They are also willing to differentiate between knowledge and training.

I'm confident that I can chart this course. If my organization can weather the storm we're in, I'll survive and emerge successful.

Unknown said...

As long as there is learning function, there will be lot of push learning, I reckon. Maybe learning staff (just like me:)instead training staff would disappear. Connecting and communicating would be part of work of every employee.

Archana Narayan said...

"Companies are flocking to eLearning for all the wrong reasons." This is true. There was a time when none of the companies believed in elearning as a learning solution. People were still keen on classroom training at that point in time. Now, when we are talking about elearning2.0, companies want eLearning. I still think this is progressive. :) I agree with you Tony, bad elearning is surely better than bad classroon training.

Is the controvercial article by Rob Chapman making everyone think about the fallouts of elearning? I don't understand why it has to be this or that. It should be a combination of effective learning solutions (based on the organizational goals and learner needs). I may sound idealistic but even if clients want PPT slides, we can add value to it.

Sreya Dutta said...

A very thoughtful and real article Tony. It is true that corporate training is very mechanized and somehow a low priority on the list of To Do's. Organizations just want to quickly convert their training to online and no one seems to be interested in going the informal learning way. I have noted how the learners are given dead lines after joining the organization to just finish some mandatory stuff.

No one seems to be interested in doing something more as the focus is on getting the job done with minimal effort. Even when it comes to customer training it is very difficult to get large organizations to change their strategy. They often want to stick to the available options that they have been practicing from donkey's years. I am not in a position where i can influence such decisions and that can get really frustrating sometimes.

Thanks for sharing this post. Given all its always good to know where the world is going and know how far behind we are.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, many people and groups with "training" in their title are doing what they've always done.

Sometimes that hasn't worked too badly--when those people and groups have paid attention to things we've know a long time. Mager and Pipe wrote "Preparing Instructional Objectives" forty years ago; Gilbert wrote "Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance" in the 1970s.

The "common lament" you mention (that clients come to learning professionals "to get training") might actually be a critical-to-quality element for the client. The voice of the customer is saying "I think people don't know this stuff, and I think they need to." If someone's asking for something, that's hardly "push," even if you don't think what they're asking for will do what they want.

One reason that getting in and working with concept workers isn't all that popular is that nobody outside of a very small and self-selected group knows what "concept worker" means. With scarce financial resources the client is understandably wary of yet another bandwagon.

Underneath all the e-stuff is a move away from what Harold calls the factory model of learning. Closing the departments, though, is kind of like eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in government. The problem lies in the processes that run across parts of any organization.

Corporate training had its biggest rise around World War II, responding to a tremendous need to pass on essential skill and knowledge. But if you think that before the 1940s, everybody was learning in some collaborative, prelapsarian way, free from the meddling of The Training Department, I have huge blocks of CDOs to sell you.

The Training Department might be the first thing cut (along with the most recently opened branches, the least-profitable product line, the oldest facility -- "training" is rarely a major cost center, other than for travel and time off the clock). At the same time, though, economic stress will...push, if you the direction of back-to-basics.

In that sense, a productive approach could involve agreeing to help the client do two things:

First, confirm the scope and extent of genuine learning problems. Where are the skill/knowledge gaps? What's the effect? What does the learning professional know about how best to tackle them? What'll it cost to do that?

Second, consult, in Peter Block's terms, with the goal of having the client agree that not all problems can be solved by classroom sessions, online courseware, or walls of framed completion certificates.

I think in most cases you have to start with the problem the client says he has. That's where he's feeling the pain. I've had very few clients call me to say, "You know, I'm just not getting enough out of my concept workers."

Anonymous said...

One of your posters said "it will have to get worse before it gets better"...or in so many words. Sad as it is, I have to agree.

A good start may be to abolish the word "training" and for grins throw in "e-learning" too. Leadership and stakeholders are still clinging to the old paradigm of train-to-fix. That's the part that has to get worse before it gets better...but we'll never get there because all the training departments will get budgets slashed into non-existence, and we'll never get to that ultimate outcome.

So...start by trying to shift the thinking. It's not training and it's not e-learning that is the solution source. It's "performer support".

Re-deploy the "trainers" to focus on determining root cause(s) of performance gaps and develop the tools necessary to overcome them...then bring the workers into simulations to apply the tools in a work context. Yeah, it might look like a training class, but don't call it that. Remember you don't have a training budget.

Think about it...we can still have the creature comforts of rosters and level 1 evals, and maybe even an assessment or two, but never, never call it a training class. Instead, it's a performer enhancement workshop. It's a "simulation environment", either real physical space or virtual, where workers lay hands on informal learning assets like job aids, Learning 2.0 tools and they find out how to do things like SEARCH...using social networking tools.

What? You don't have a social network in your organization? Somebody referred to knowledge management as the solution. I partially agree, but am reminded of hearing Larry Pruzak speak at a Masie event where he said, "You can't manage knowledge - but you CAN manage the environment where knowledge is shared." Social networking was at best a bulletin board at the time. Knowledge is an asset that is manifest in flesh and blood, not technology and databases. If we are not enabled to FIND one another what good is collective intelligence?

Wow...maybe it really is time to "hide the pill in the cheese" and sell leadership on performer support rather than defend budget allocations for a rapidly failing training and e-learning model. Effective performer that produce sustainable results drive teh business, not stellar training programs.

Sounds amazingly similar to the practice of following a tradition of bad decisions illustrated so vividly by the largest industry in the US. Hmmm, wonder if Obama would be willing to bail-out training departments in crisis?

Great post, Tony and awesome responses by all! It truly is time to rethink our role and mission toward facilitating the work context support for our performers.

...and you can blame this rant on Starbucks!


Tony Karrer said...

The responses here have been truly fantastic. I'm still trying to process it all and figure out what it really means.

Harold Jarche said...

Tony asks: What would we call the training department and what would it do?

I can't speak for Jay, but I see the new training department more closely aligned with what we would consider an internal performance consultant. The primary role, as we mentioned in the article, is that of Connecting & Communicating. That means getting out and talking to people and observing what is going on. It's connecting the dots between how things are done and how they could be done better. It's also coaching and facilitating.

Some of the necessary skills for a person in this new department:

Be an active & continuous learner yourself.
Be a lurker (passive participant).
Communicate what you observe.
Continuously collect feedback, 
not just after formal training (yes there's still a place for some of this).
Make it easy to share information by 
Simplifying & Synthesizing.
Use Networks as research tools.

Tony Karrer said...

Harold - this sounds a lot like Dave Pollard's description of how KM should really operate. Get out and look at specific performance needs and figure out how to help. Dave's question has always been how scalable this is.

Harold Jarche said...

I've been reading Dave's blog for so long that I'm sure some of it has rubbed off on me ;-)

Unknown said...

I'm going to make a prediction here, and that is that in twenty years, training will look very much like it does now, and did 10 years ago.

My feeling is that much of the elearning tech. stuff is WAY overhyped, and denies much of what we know about human beings as social animals.

I also should stress one of the flaws or misfocuses of the TECH ED. movement and that is that training is NOT just about learning "stuff". It's a lot more. It's NOT about straight measurable efficiency. THere are other payoffs.

Anyway I'll probably use this as a jumping off point to blog on it myself, but I'll leave you with a final thought.

Despite what the "new" gurus (as in "new" money) suggest, very little will change because there are good reasons why people have learned they have for the last centuries, and good reasons why we have taught people the way we have for the last centuries.

The NEW must BUILD on what we know about people, and build on the old foundations, or it ain't happenin. TV never did as an ed. tool.

Cheers. @rbacal

Tony Karrer said...

@rbacal - Going back to what Jay and Harold originally were saying - eLearning (as in traditional content creation / push) is not that much of a leap for a training department.

I would completely disagree about the impact that technology is having on the traditional training organization. It's fairly profound. I agree that we shouldn't forget other aspects (especially social aspects) of what happens via F2F training. Still, suggesting that eLearning is overhyped is pretty well refuted by survey data showing what companies are doing.

All that said, I pretty much agree that likely most Training Departments will still exist in 10 years and will fundamentally be doing the same thing they are today Push Learning. I believe the point being made is that:

a. Some portion of a Training Department's effort and budget will be allocated to support for Pull Learning / Informal Learning / eLearning 2.0 / self-directed learning / KM - whatever you want to call it. The percentages will vary greatly.

b. There will be some new kind of department created (Performance Improvement) that will have a very high percentage allocation to these kinds of solutions.

Anonymous said...

I understand some of the skeptism in these posts, but I think most folks are missing the bigger issue here. Jay and Harold aren't describing the future, they are describing today. The problem is that the social learning initiatives that are already happening are being run by IT, Marketing, Product and a bunch of other groups while most elearning folks are still asking what Twitter is. Ace Hardware, Caterpillar, Cisco, Cienna, Ford, Best Buy are all well down the road in rethinking their learning function. It's just that learning professionals aren't part of the mix. We need to open our eyes a bit or one day we're going to wake up and find that most of the real important learning is being delivered by other depts and we're stuck doing nothing but compliance and certifications. I went into this more deeply in my last blog post and also provided a pretty good listing of companies who are already "there." It's a longer list than most people realize.

LisaMeece said...

I agree with Dave, and I also think that often the business has a lot of power to drive how the training function can operate. To be able to support effective organizational learning, the business needs to be able to identify things like best practices and a vision for the future. When businesses or management won't or can't agree on these things, creating learning in support of them is a particular challenge.

The key, as with so much else in business, is the partnership approach. How can learning professionals serve the business?

Anonymous said...

Great post Tony! I agree with you on ‘bad eLearning is better than bad classroom training’ and ‘client want push training and simply tick in a checkbox to comply with a process’.
However, I would tend to agree with what Harold says in his post about the future. Important question there is how soon can we see that materialize? Not very soon I think. Not at least for majority of corporate. For example - while early adopters are experimenting/adopting eLearning 2.0, some others are still trying to implement eLearning 1.0 (if I may call it so).
I would imagine in about 10 - 15 years we would see most corporate having learning professionals working as described by Harold. Time will tell.