Are You Ready to Move Beyond the Classroom?

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The learning organization of the last century focused on the classroom. That was challenge enough.

Today, the canvas of the learning organization expands to include the classroom and the world of work. With humility about the influence of scheduled training events, learning leaders now move to deliver experiences, resources and relationships on demand, where and when needed.

Why? Learning leaders do this because they must. Transfer from classes to work is iffy. There is much to know and remember. As soon as people are trained, new products, markets and competitors emerge. No learning organization endears itself to the line by repeatedly summoning people to classes.

And they do it because they can. Learning organizations today have access to technologies for delivery of lessons, coaching, community, advice, and tracking, no matter where employees are, no matter when needs arise.

Thus learning moves beyond the classroom, way beyond, into realms characterized by words like blended, mobile, independent, informal and connected.

So Many Choices, so Little Certainty

When the classroom was automatic, attention was focused on the strategies. What ice-breaker would be best? How do we build role-playing into the flow? What problems should groups tackle? What support do we give them as they work the problems? What standards do we set for good practice? How do we de-brief their efforts?

Today, with expansive options, the questions grow in complexity and urgency. Which medium? Which combinations? What of the classroom and instructors? How much independence? How much guidance? How shall we guide choices? Where and when do we set them free? How do we assure engagement when they are everywhere, all the time?

The figure below presents some options, in light of decisions about the forms our programs might take. On the Y axis learning professionals consider two basic options: instruction and support.

Must our people know the material by heart or may they refer to resources or colleagues for help? Which aspects of the matter must be remembered? Which can be aided?

On the X axis, we are asked to think about the value of groups, peers and connections, as well as the benefits of independent initiative. For this program, will we ask our people to go it on their own or to team up with others? Might the initiative involve both and in what proportions?

Let’s walk through an example. Meg, an instructional designer, has been asked by the VP of Sales to "develop a dynamic, digital training program to help sales guys and gals do a better job at being trusted advisors." She is discussing the initiative with Erun, Chief Global Learning Officer.

Erun says, "At least they came to us. You remember that last year they just went out and hired a vendor to do workshops on The Trusted Advisor? This is an opportunity to turn that investment into something meaningful."

Meg: True….but….

Erun: But what?

Meg: Well, he said dynamic and digital. I’m a bit stumped on what to do.

Erun: Let’s not worry about the digital aspect now. Instead, let’s look at what we know about sellers’ performance as trusted advisors since the workshop.

Did our sales people "get" the trusted advisor approach? What do they do that reflects the approach? What do they skip? Those who are doing it…. Why? And those who are not… What is getting in the way?

Meg: I asked those questions. Sales leaders said they get the relationship part. Most do it well. Where they fall down is in offering high value advice to potential clients.

I asked why and the execs said that it was new for sellers, that most sellers admit that they weren’t sure what advice to offer. I also called some reps, randomly chosen, and asked their views.

Most said they didn’t know how to stay up to date on their customers’ priorities. They weren’t confident at serving as advisors. One executive said four reps mentioned feeling isolated and wondering if somewhere somebody has articles and presentations that might be useful to them.

Erun: All right. I am beginning to see how we might proceed. What about you? What are you thinking?

Meg: We have to give them more access to sellers who are successful advisors. The execs pointed to a few and we need to feature their habits and successes, so they can see what it looks like here-- and see that it is indeed possible.

I also want to start providing sellers with updates and articles about our customers, their needs, with links to our services and products. We can take the 6-8 most likely concerns mentioned by customers and create streams on our social network devoted to them.

We’ll also use RSS to sign them up for constant updates and encourage conversations around these topics on the network. They can’t do the advisor thing if they don’t know enough to contribute to their customers’ thinking on pressing matters.

Erun: Exactly. And I’d also schedule a handful of webinars on those high value topics. Include top notch thinking on these matters with strategic pointers to our technologies.

Meg: What do you think about this? I’d like to post a series of challenges for sellers to tackle. I’ll create typical customers and ask our sellers to identify opportunities to serve a trusted advisor. Once the opportunity is identified, we’ll ask them to dig into their new sources to construct responses. We can offer feedback, ask them to comment on each other’s efforts and provide some incentives for their efforts.

Erun: Love it. Remember, they wanted a digital approach— now they’re getting it, for the right reasons.

More Questions Than Answers

A few years ago, a learning executive called for advice regarding a mandate he had just received from an executive in his company. It went something like this: We must, in one year, have moved 80% of our courses online. Have you got some ideas about the right vendor for us?

After offering a few comforting words, I got down to business. Why? How would this contribute to business results? Why 80%, not half or all? How would things be better afterwards? When he said "online," what did he mean? To webinars or scenarios or what? What is the current use of technology for learning and support? Successes? Glitches? Habits? Installed base?

When learning leaders and organizations step beyond the familiar, contained classroom, they are faced with tasty opportunities and daunting challenges. That learning leader, the one with the 80% mandate, it was time for him to dive into matters highlighted in the table below. He must do strategic work that goes beyond selecting a vendor.




The purposes?

80% doesn't inspire. But more practice does, and more opportunity to self-assess, more community, and more access to worked examples. How about more opportunities to develop and refer just-in-time, as opposed to waiting patiently for a scheduled class?

It's important to work with organizational leadership to establish strategic reasons to shift beyond the classroom. Could it be money? Yes. But it can’t only be money. How will employees, their performance and their experience be improved by this move beyond the classroom?

The materials?

Here is our chance to build assets and systems that deliver lessons, community and information closer to where they are needed. The world beyond the classroom can happen via a mobile device or a strategic conversation with a supervisor or peer.

Not every learning professional knows when and how to do this. When is it appropriate to invest in education that, through practice, moves messages into the hearts, minds and bellies? When is it better to rely on references, checklists, coaching, and community? What of both? And how do we develop materials that compel attention, in new and familiar media, and that yield great value for time invested?

The employees?

We talk about career self-reliance. Now we can make it real by producing programs that wrap around employees and enable them to assess, grow in targeted ways, connect with others, contribute and perform at work, not just in the classroom.

Are they ready to go beyond the classroom? Will they reach for lessons and guidance as they need it? On what matters? Do they know enough to do so? Care enough? Are they ready to continuously engage in activities that will drive their development and results?

The choices?

This new world provides employees with choices about when and how to learn and perform. Fortunately, most scholars believe that choice in learning situations is motivating.

But too much choice… heaps of unstructured choices… that is not motivating. That overwhelms. Where to start? How? What’s constitutes good performance? What constitutes completion? What else can be done to stay up to date?

The guidance?

David Rock talks about the importance of certainty. Our minds crave it. Effective learning programs serve up suitable guardrails (not too much, not too little, but just right) to help people decide what first, what next, when and how much.

While learning organization can see their way to build scenarios, coaching experiences, references and communities, the assets themselves are not sufficient. Too many, too little structure, the wrong connections to the tasks at hand, an interface fails to speak to users.. that will not work. An employee who is flopping around will not stick with the program. And they won’t like it.

The instructors?

In the new world, instrucgtors can be more be influential, influential where it matters most—at work. Here is the moment when the instructor’s voice and arms can reach into sales settings, service interactions, and the manufacturing floor.

Not all instructors are ready to move beyond the podium. Some prefer to control the classroom. Some are not comfortable in the field as coaches or online, as facilitators. Others are concerned about allowing their expertise to be captured for access wherever, whenever. And some doubt their students’ ability to work independently. Where are your instructors and how will you work with them?

The supervisors?

There is nothing new about wishing and hoping that supervisors will be active in workplace-based learning. What is new is technology to provide resources and to track their efforts. Now we can move beyond aspirations to defined expectations.

Will they? Why? How will the organization redefine roles and responsibilities to assure they will play roles in learning and development at work? How to make heroes of those who do? How to improve those who do not?

The metrics?

What better way to capture data than to inquire about performance and progress at work, during tasks, in small, inconspicuous and authentic bites?

That we can do it does not mean that we are doing it. Thus far, metrics and the new world of workplace-based learning/support are not yet happily married. There is much to be done here.

The developers?

What a great opportunity to develop inside talent and partnerships with external expertise.

A dozen years ago, I reviewed a bad e-learning program that had taken two instructional designers nearly a year to develop. Although adept at design and development for the classroom, they had no clue about scenario-based e-learning and had lost themselves in animated gifs. Don’t assume they know, develop. Learn from vendors.


It's Not About Shiny Pennies

A few months ago, I asked a dozen learning leaders about mobile learning and performance. Their comments are relevant here because mobile is one, not the only, obvious way to deliver messages and support beyond the classroom.

Rita Smith, Ingersoll Rand’s CLO, expressed concern about too much fascination with any delivery technology, "Becoming enamored with a technology and then finding a learning need that fits... needs to be in the reverse order."

Rob Lauber, CLO at YUM, Inc., wrote: "It (mobile) is another delivery channel, so I expect them to understand how it can be used most effectively and where it wouldn’t be. As with most new bright, shiny objects, our profession has a tendency to over use and over play what is new. I want to avoid that. Not everything related to training/learning can now be solved because we have a tablet or a smart phone."

Amway’s learning leader, Brian Heath, emphasized blocking and tackling for learning professionals, "We don’t see anything dropping off their plates or any other current competency not being needed as much."

Let’s give Yum’s Rob Lauber the final word, "We [learning professionals] feel attracted to the "latest and greatest" without carefully examining it for what its real potential is.

Examples include elearning, social, and now mobile. We need to be smarter this time around to get it right–and more performance focused than ever."
As these learning executives made clear, it isn’t about technology. And it is not about bidding farewell to the classroom either.

It's about tackling hard questions in order to execute on the opportunities and challenges that accompany our move beyond the classroom.