Smaller, Faster Training is Not Going to Move Us Forward

The world of work is rapidly changing. New technology, new competition, new strategies demand workers stay current, adaptable and responsive to this change. Organized learning, historically the course factory, has a solution and frankly it’s just more of the same in smaller packages. L&Ds latest answer to this growing complexity is faster, smaller training. This has really been building for some time as the data drawn was pointing to workers being opposed to lengthy courses with bells and whistles; multiple paths, and animated characters.

Was what workers wanted, what was needed? The scenario sure reminds one of Henry Ford’s quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

So, courses are being broken up, pieces floated into the workflow at best or still something to login to the LMS to access at worst. A new name appeared called “micro-learning”. Say What? Sometimes these are mini-courses, video vignettes, or quick quizzes, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 30 minutes… alas the definition is in the eye of the vendor and it reeks of desperation. Many a vendor have pitched it as a way to address the shorter attention span myth or millennial expectation nonsense, all claims that the way we learn has changed. Nonsense. How we get information has certainly changed but the wiring of our brains?? Marketing drivel.

Sadly L&D continues to rest on its laurels, its golden era behind it and yet only capable of doing what they know best with the tools they know best vs. what is needed most. The industry has taken a page right out of big pharma’s playbook; convince people there’s a widespread illness and provide the cure.

So what is needed most? The most effective learning tool is and has always been conversation – humans are built for it. And although it’s not the only way to improve performance, it is the place where the solutions should start. Nothing is smaller and faster than conversation, sharing, and collaboration. And if organizations reframed to enable more free flow of information, then L&D should shift to enabling this and pause all the creation. The job is and has always been about outcomes not outputs… no matter how small.

Yes You Will

I was recently listening to Gary Vaynerchuk on his Gary Vee Audio Experience Podcast. He talked about Alexa and how people will use it to buy stuff unseen and untouched. He used an example of raincoats. Wake up, ask Alexa to share today’s weather, learn that the forecast calls for a week of rain and then tell Alexa to buy you a raincoat.

Not for you?

One would argue that people want to see and touch a coat before they buy it. Well, yes, today they do but you’re forgetting some other technologies such as VR, AI, and Big Data getting in the mix.

Today we give so much of ourselves away with every Tweet, Facebook post, purchase and Google search and we do all this readily and thoughtlessly. All that data, along with everyone else’s, builds a pretty complete picture of “us” and our wants and needs. Alexa, with AI, will know your size and taste, and you will love it! Soon Virtual Reality will tie in and conveniently turn your bathroom into a private holodeck where VIOLA! That raincoat will appear on you, to spec! You’ll ask Alexa to show it in long or short or blue or red. Finally, in a whisper, you will share this image with your “friends” as easily you do your new manicure or haircut today. You’ll get the feedback you crave and make the purchase. Now all that purchasing data is stored and combined for the future for even faster, more accurate service you will want, love and expect. Machines will create that coat, machines will package it and machines will deliver it.

No you won’t?

Yes, you will… because this is the new normal.

 

The 702010 Interplay

One barrier that often presents itself when moving an organization towards a 702010 framework is that the natural interplay between all is overlooked, weakening the whole proposition. Informal, Social and Formal are wrongly dissected and discussed independently. The reality though is that all three 1. exist. 2. exist at varying levels and 3. work together constantly…  especially when we are conscious of it. All we can really do then is make it work together more easily and that’s done through a framework consisting of mindset changes, individual behaviors, organizational structures and technology augmentation.

I scrabbled together the image here in an effort to make this interplay more apparent. It’s important that I note that Informal Learning to me is less about learning in our work than learning through work. Meaning that yes, we can inject resources, “micro-learning” and search capabilities into the work context but it’s more about reflection and experiential learning; extracting learning as Charles Jennings has noted.  

  1. Social improves Formal Learning – social interaction works as a feedback loop for training efforts and should be encouraged. Outside of actual performance data – open, honest conversation about new knowledge and skills obtained in training situations is critical for improving formal learning efforts.
  2. Social informs Informal Learning – this relationship is very blurry as there is much overlap between social and informal learning. Conversation between people, and observations of one another’s behaviors leads to new application, ideas and reflection in the workflow.
  3. Informal inspires Social Learning – doing our actually work leads to new ideas about the work. Sometimes through eureka moments, sometimes through frustration. Work undoubtedly drives the most workplace conversation.
  4. Formal influences Informal Learning– training has a direct impact on doing (or ideally it does). Work-learning (informal) is greatly influenced by becoming faster or more efficient because of formal efforts. It’s also in the work itself that we can best reflect on new ideas and skills.
  5. Informal (through social) informs Formal Learning – here again, the blur between social and informal learning. Training can be positively modified due to both effective and ineffective work practices shared through social interaction.
  6. Formal inspires Social Learning – A great part of organizational Social Learning is in overtly sharing what works and what doesn’t with others. When training presents us with new ideas or skills we put them into practice and through conversation and modeling we can create greater contextual understanding for others.

As far as the components of a Framework I mentioned earlier, it starts with Mindsets where we help others realize the existence of 702010 and more see training as an expensive last resort, not the first option. Next it requires Individual Behaviors, If L&D, then serving as performance consultants not order takers and sniffing out then amplifying and enhancing where and when collaborative work is working. Additionally, we must examine Organizational Structures or systems. Many systems actually work against the efforts to enhance social and informal learning. In particular rewards, communication flow and management concepts need to be addressed. Finally,  Technology. Tech really only serves to augments this natural occurring system, it’s not a requirement. All social technology is primarily the same, working to support community, collaboration and sharing. Social is at the center of 702010 and social technology is the catalyst that really gets it moving.

Wherever you are in the 702010 discussion, it’s important to remember that 702010 is a principle and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Strengthening Our Social Supporting Muscles

I hurt my shoulder swimming (yes, you can get hurt swimming). Apparently I have a labrum abrasions (see picture) causing me to have painful movement, too painful to swim. Surgery on my shoulder is an option but may be unnecessary. So physical therapy has been my course of action and as I’ve learned it’s not my shoulder joint that needs to be fixed, rather it’s the small, little known muscle system around the shoulder that were too weak all along. This weakness caused me to alter my swim stroke and thus damage my shoulder. So of course this got me to thinking…

Approaches to performance improvement efforts are similarly surgical in nature. We directly attack the problem itself. But when the performance issue is say less tangible, like improving organization communication (collaboration, cooperation, openness, or transparency), we initially target individual or group behaviors and begin working on the people directly.

Typically it goes like this:

– We need to be more agile, adaptable, innovative…

– We need to collaborate more, open up and be more transparent

– Let’s buy Yammer… or Slack… or Jive. Or

– Let’s “create” a CoP so people will talk and share and innovate more… or

– Let’s revisit our knowledge management approach… or

– Let’s have the c-suite blog more… or

This approach is a mistake. At worst it is an expensive, morale killing failure and at best it is so slow it stumbles on for months or years with weak support.

Communication, collaboration, cooperation, etc. in the organization, like my shoulder, are really supported by little, unseen systems:

– Who gets to talk to whom and when?
– What gets rewarded and recognized?
– Is management leadership or overseer?

Just think, if I have surgery on my shoulder but return to swimming with the same underdeveloped system (muscles) that supports the movement (shoulder), it remains weak and I will eventually fail again.

Similarly, if we just implement a new technology or target individual/group behavior change and the system that supports the new behavior remains unchanged (weak) the new behavior too will eventually fail again.

Address the system which will alter the behavior and change the culture.

The Role of Social Networks in the Rise of Christianity

Christianity after the death of Jesus was just a small movement under scrutiny and attack in the Roman Empire. Yet in less than 500 years it was their official religion. Devine intervention? Perhaps.

According to author Rodney Stark, in his 1997 book The Rise of Christianity, the faith spread not by formal means or force but in great measure through conversations that led to conversions.

Social forms around an object and for Christianity, the object was “hope” and the social agents spreading the message were women. But these were not desperate and destitute women, rather they were the wealthy women, those married into Roman aristocracy.

Women of means had the time and connections to commune and influence their fellow women and eventually their men participating in government affairs. Like most women of their time they were greatly impacted by paternal decisions related to child-birth, infanticide, and abortion. Furthermore, Christianity provided hope in times of trouble like when natural disasters struck – pagan gods had no answer. Christianity was a new message ALL Romans could connect with.

Women then were the key nodes in the network, they influenced the influencers and slowly the faith spread to ultimately integrate with all elements of Roman society.

What can we take away from this?

First, change doesn’t always come from the top and as the case maybe, sustainable change is bottom up driven. Additionally, community forms it is not created or built and it’s best supported from within. And finally, (most importantly) change – the kind of change that can influence the world for thousands of years begins in the same way that can transform an organization today… one conversation at a time.

To all my Christian friends, Happy Easter.