Tag: performance support

Do People Need to Learn, or Can They Look It All Up?

I have been part of several discussions recently that questioned the value of creating courses and delivering formal training. There’s a perception among some people (including some L&D folks) that as long as you have Google and a good network of resources that you can look up anything you need. The other, related idea is that everything can be learned on the job with performance support, without formal training. In this post, I’ll examine the first question.

Do People Really Need to Learn?

Question 1: Do People Need to Bother Learning?

The first argument asks if people need to bother learning anything at all, or if they can just look it up when they need it. Do you really need to remember if you have a mobile phone and a search engine always available?

For example, Bruce Graham started a lively conversation in the Articulate Heroes community by describing someone he met at a conference. She said she takes all the elearning in their organization, regardless of quality, but doesn’t bother to remember much because she knows she can always look it up later. Bruce explains that Henry Ford approached building cars the same way; he found ways to assemble a group of experts and made them available any time he had a question.

He did not need to learn, just have access to knowledge.

If this is how people are REALLY now using online learning, and using our product(s), do all our clever animations, graphics, interactions and so on actually matter any more?

Let’s just give out facts, because millennials know how to access it, and will go back when they need it.

Why do they need to bother learning?

Sometimes You Can Look It Up

I think plenty of things can just be looked up at the time of need. I don’t need to memorize the recipes for most of the dishes I cook; I can just read the recipe to get the exact amounts and steps. For those sorts of tasks, we should probably be creating job aids (recipes and hints for work tasks) rather than courses. At a minimum, we should be creating training plus job aids, or training that helps people learn how to use performance support.

I recently wrote a course where one of the main goals is for people to know where to find and how to use the resources. We don’t care if they can remember all 10 points and 50+ subpoints of this policy. We care that they’re aware that the policy exists and that they can navigate the website to look up the policy when they need it. Therefore, the content delivery is very light. The practice activities are questions like “look up in Table 1 what you need for this safety precaution” and “use this self-assessment to determine what components of the standard you’re currently meeting or not.”

Deeper, Internalized Expertise

Some tasks require a deeper expertise though. A musician can’t stop in the middle of a song to look up a fingering. A salesperson can’t ask a customer to “hold that thought” while he fires up the elearning on objection handling. A doctor can’t ask a patient to wait while she pulls up the example audio of what a heart murmur sounds like for comparison. A line manager can’t walk out in the middle of a meeting to review the online course about delegation. Those skills require internalizing knowledge deeply enough that you can use them at the time of need. You can’t have everything be “just in time.”

Finding Information Isn’t Learning

Steve Flowers argued that searching is fine for finding information, but that’s not the same as training.

We have unprecedented access to good and bad information. To perfectly valid facts and information that can help us get things done. To perfectly misleading and wrong information that can lead us down the wrong path.

This is the core problem with the way many view training and learning. This conflation of movement of information with the efficiency of a training solution is flat wrong. It’s not about storing information in our heads. It’s about being able to adapt and adapt quickly to whatever challenges the task you’ve trained for presents. This rarely hinges on our ability to recall information. Doesn’t mean information isn’t important. But that’s only one ingredient.

Cake != Flour. It’s more than that.

Information != Knowledge != Behavior != Task Success != Results

Work is more complicated than, “Let me Google that” for many types of things that we do. Adept search skills are great. Helpful. But that domain expertise does not transfer to all other domains equally.

I think Steve makes a really important point here. Training is more than just sharing information. It’s also providing people opportunities to practice skills and get feedback to improve performance.

Which Tasks Need to Be Trained?

Sometimes, looking things up (like a recipe or a table of standards) is enough. Sometimes, it’s not. So how do we figure out which tasks are skills that need to be trained and which ones just need a job aid or a searchable resource?

Julie Dirksen shared an idea in her Learning Solutions Conference presentation that I think helps make that distinction.

Think of a task or topic where you might create training or performance support. Is it reasonable to think that someone can be proficient without practice? If people can be proficient without practice, you don’t need training. If people need practice to be proficient, that’s a skill where training might be helpful.

Performance support might also be helpful, especially after the initial training when people are practicing on the job. If it’s something you need to practice, just searching for information won’t be enough though.

Should We Create Courses?

In my next post, I’ll expand more about whether or not we should create courses. (Hint: I think we should, at least sometimes.)

Review: Learning Everywhere by Chad Udell

Learning EverywhereI am still very much a novice in mobile learning. I’ve known for quite a while that mobile was a topic I’d have to learn more about eventually, but to be honest, it isn’t something most of my clients are talking about yet. I suspect I am one of the only instructional designers left in the world who doesn’t own a smartphone. I believe my current phone is what is called a “feature phone”; I can download some games and I am able to access the web (although I don’t have a data plan, so I don’t use it that way). I plan to upgrade within a few months, but my “retro” phone is one of the reasons I haven’t really invested much time in m-learning yet. However, when I was offered a copy of Chad Udell’s new book Learning Everywhere, I decided it was an opportunity to catch up with the rest of the world.

Even with my minimal background in mobile learning, Udell’s book was very helpful. There are parts of it that are more technical than I really need right now. However, when I have an actual mobile project to complete, I think I’ll be glad that information is there. The book covers the whole process of mobile content, from finding opportunities and initial strategy through development, prototypes and pilots, and deployment.

Udell categorizes mobile learning into four different types of content:

  • Converted Content: This is your existing content converted for mobile. That doesn’t mean entire e-learning courses simply delivered on a smaller screen, but it may be parts of courses, job aids, or other existing performance support materials.
  • Business Processes: This is the content for line of business and productivity, like SCM (supply chain management), contact lists, or specific applications for a company.
  • Social and User-Generated: “Mobile is intrinsically social.” This category includes informal social learning with tools like Twitter, Yammer, and Jive, as well as user-generated content in wikis and knowledge bases.
  • Uniquely Mobile: To be honest, this was the hardest category for me to really connect with and see uses for, mostly due to my lack of experience with the tools. This includes content that is only possible because of mobile tools–GPS, augmented reality, and using other sensors on phones.

The “converted content” category is what I’ve usually been thinking about as mobile learning. Udell explains that we shouldn’t just move all our whole course library to a small screen format; it should be reinvented. The book includes a number of practical tips about how exactly to do that reinventing, like including an easy search or query function. Mobile tools are used at the point of need, when learners often have a very specific task or problem in mind. They need to get right to the information they need, not go through a linear progression of 15 screens of prior information before they get there.

Throughout the book, Udell includes “before” and “after” images of interfaces. Even if you are like me and don’t have a smartphone, you can clearly see the problems with standard web, e-learning, and performance support interfaces once they are moved to a phone. There’s lots of concrete tips about how to reformat content for a smaller screen, like restructuring multiple columns into a single column for easier reading and hiding the navigation behind a single menu button rather than showing it all the time and taking up valuable screen real estate.

Overall, I think the book probably would have been more useful for me if I had an actual project to work on, rather than just reading this for my own knowledge. Udell does assume that you have specific organizational issues and resources in mind throughout the book, which isn’t the case for me with my freelance work right now. However, even with that caveat, I feel better prepared now. I know I have this resource available to guide me through the process if I need more of the specifics. I also have a much better idea what kinds of questions to ask if a client asks me about mobile learning. I won’t be blindsided when this comes up in conversations—and I know it will, even if it hasn’t yet. Mobile is an opportunity to expand the reach of what we do as learning professionals outside of the traditional formal training environment, and Learning Everywhere is a good place to start learning about those opportunities if you’re like me and don’t have much experience with mobile learning.