Why L&D needs to stop thinking “how big is it?” and worry more about “it’s what you do with it that counts”

I pondered previously if ‘Corporate University’ branding was killing Learning and Development departments by keeping their focus on formal learning events or, in other words, the ’10’ of 70/20/10.

A new post from Elliott Masie made me think again.  The “administrative realities” (as he calls them) of CPE requirements, busy calendars, day-to-day work requirements, etc. have contributed to the creation of the webinar/classroom/self-study hybrid he identifies.  However, there have been admin advantages for L&D to keep a less varied service going than, say, what you might see in a coffee shop.  The problem is, more relevantly, that L&D service offerings often appear less varied than what you would see outside of the corporate environment.

MOOCs may have re-exposed workplace professionals to what is happening in the delivery of university, and other, courses.  Unfortunately these have largely been based around video lectures, reading text and discussion boards, again limiting expectations.  The buzz around MOOCs only helps perpetuate the focus on the ‘C’ourse rather than the wider issue of workplace learning (for example as mapped out by Jane Hart here).

A colleague queried recently if classroom learning is ultimately better than self study and webinars due to the loss of attention that can happen with those mediums, i.e. classroom may cost more but is more efficient in the long run.  My response was that an individual’s ability to pick out what is relevant for them should not be underestimated.  Just because we now have video, audio, ebooks, infographics, webinars, virtual classrooms and other media to deliver the messages does not mean that dipping in and out is any worse than when someone would skim read a book or just read the bits they had recommended to them.  Indeed Masie points out that the model of books was influenced more by the economics of publishing than learning outcomes.

The Masie article’s proposed venti/grande model goes some way to solving the problems.  However, we should not forget that a coffee shop can be a disorientating place for the uninitiated.  Even relatively simple menus can be confusing, and if you know your Starbucks terminology you may be out your depth at, for example, Taylor St (been there done that).  In my opinion, the sensible approach to take is for topic-centric construction of learning support (I’m deliberately avoiding ‘module’ there).  In deploying the kind of ideas Masie outlines we need to present it in a way where learning leads from one item/topic to another, not deploying a series of standalone events.  This is about user interface design but, I would argue, this can not be separated from instructional design in the modern age.  For example, a topic (say ‘Leading a Team’) might be:

  1. Self diagnostic quick quiz (help them recognize previous understanding)
  2. Introduction to topic > Advance understanding (increasing complexity around the topic delivered via different media so people can choose how they pick up, this might involve an in-person course if it can be used in a cost effective manner)
  3. Around all of the content covered in 2 add some level of appropriate social/sharing
  4. Around all topics add self-reflection (ePorfolio?)
  5. Coaching elements to support points 3 & 4.

There is, of course, an argument for implementing a structure such as this in a fairly consistent manner to avoid user burn out and confusion.  However, none of the above lends itself to forced sizing purely for the sake of consistency.  The layout of the material to the user can overcome any confusion from a lack of consistent sizing.  This is perfectly possible via the hues of Moodle that are used in corporate environments, not to mention many other Learning Management Systems (or an ecosystem of different online tools one of which may be LMS-like to enable any required tracking).  After all, do you avoid watching YouTube videos because they are not all consistently 5 minutes long?

A LinkedIn contact recently reminded me of one of my old presentations.  Looking back at it, there was a certain suggestion in the model of set numbers of weeks, lectures and seminars – the advantage corporate learning teams have is that this should not have to be the case and we need to realize and enjoy this flexibility.  Masie suggests it can start in K-12 and move through to corporate, I would instead argue that as co-location is not a restriction on L&D (unlike the laws governing most schools) we (learning and development teams) instead have flexibility to contribute to learning organizations.  ‘Schools’ (in their different formats for 4-22 year old formal education) will instead remain learning providers only really fully engaging the learner in a complete learning environment if they move onto teaching as part of a wider masters or PHd program.  Corporate L&D may have been slower than, some in, Higher Education to adopt new ways of learning (via the Web 2.0 movement) but the potential going forward can be greater in having no restriction in how long it takes to achieve a learning outcome – its not the size of the learning intervention/program/model that counts but the ultimate delivered change and outcome.

Overall, let’s embrace the diversity we can offer learners, embed it in an appropriate user interface (which may well not be a traditional LMS/VLE and may well be what most would call Knowledge Management) and make the most of our learning (not worrying about trying to measure size/length).

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader (I.gardner.gb) and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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