The Mind of a Performance Specialist

I’ve written before that in this new era of learning that believing is seeing.  The more we connect, read, reflect and engage in practices that challenge our paradigms how, where and when learning takes place the more we see things from a different perspective… even everyday things.

Take for example my attendance at a recent running race.  A group of onlookers noticed that some runners were getting tripped up as they crested a small incline in the final turn in the race. The culprit was a small berm near the end of the 5K route. It was inconspicuous but damaging to many as the elevated road was just high enough to catch an exhausted runner’s foot and cause them to stumble. This stumble could simply be a small glitch that throws the runner off for a few seconds or could have led to severe foot or knee damage that could have ended their race or even careers a mere 100 yards from the finish. Either way performance was being negatively impacted for many.

One onlooker (we’ll equate him to a Training Professional) took immediate action to weave his way through the runners and stand on the curb near the berm. Once there he pointing the hazard out to each passing runner, shouting instructions [sage on the stage] to the bewildered, inattentive, and tired athletes to go around the relatively unnoticeable spot in the pavement [knowledge dump]. Many ignored this intrusion due to their focused state and the fact that having someone shouting anything other than cheers was just plain incomprehensible in the heat of the moment [contextually abnormal]. Although well intentioned, the effort to improve performance was an intervention that was labor intensive for the onlooker, caused more of a distraction at a critical point in performance, and in effect had very little impact as still many runners clipped the berm resulting in stumbles. The runners who did safely avoided the hazard really only did so by watching their peers fail and quickly make an adjustment [social learning].

After several minutes, and the passing of numerous runners, another onlooker  (We’ll equate him to a Performance Specialist) grabbed a nearby traffic cone, being used to mark the race route, and placed it upon the berm [performance aid].  The runners approaching saw the cone well in advance, made slight adjustments in their paths and finished the race without a damaging spill.

Our Performance Specialist  was pragmatic, respected the workflow, the context, and the “workers” themselves. He drew upon familiar resources and used significant less energy than the Training Professional to have a greater impact on performance. 

The shift to Performance Specialist  is less about acquiring a new set of skills then about embracing a new mindset.  

Context, Content and Online training

Recently I had the pleasure of attending an Elliott Masie learning lab/seminar in Saratoga Springs. The lab focused exclusively on the role of Social Learning (SL) in training. Although I had many eye-opening experiences over the 3 day seminar and confirmation of other ideas and practice I already engage in I was struck by the role SL plays in learning context.

The way I understood Elliott Masie described it was that learners need the context of newly acquired knowledge; the gray and fuzzy areas. Context was the story that supported the facts. A good example would be if you remember the old history textbooks in Middle School days. The main part of the page presented the facts about say, steam power during the industrial revolution – the who’s-who and the where’s-where. Off on the side was a short story, excerpt, poem, etc that gave the facts a human face and placed the information into relevant and real situations. Today, Masie argued, adult learners still want and need the context but seek it through less formal channels, not only from experts and trainers.

I have pondered this and have done my best to reiterate it to my peers who are a bit reluctant to embrace the concept. I needed an authentic example… and then it happened! I got context for my content!

Recently my wife, Cindy, attended a Database ILT completely online. The training was a brutal 4 day / 10am-5pm schedule. Headsets, chat and participants were all accessible. She was in her own office, alone over the entire time period. She text messaged me yesterday and here is the transcript:

CB @ 11:25:59 – “Zzzzzzzzz”
MB @ 11:28:05 – “That bad eh?”
CB @ 11:29:10 – “It’s helpful. But this format of learning is not my cup of tea”
MB @ 11:48:23 – “Interesting. I’d like to know why.”
CB @ 11:50:45 – It is boring. Less interaction with participants. During breaks no one is hanging out on computer to chat. Face to Face seems to invite more sharing”
MB @ 12:03:49 – “Proper implementation not happening. Poor Design”
CB @ 12:07:03 – “Changing Design is not going to make me sit at computer during break to talk with other participants and that is where you can get good ideas.”

So, a poorly implemented Online ILT experience has tainted her desire to EVER attend one again? here’s a few “what ifs”

  • What if the instructor had participants share profiles containing professional interests?
  • What if the program allotted time for “get to know me” prompts and avenues for off-line communication?

Basically there was no water-cooler placed in the design. Later we chatted at home and she stated that when she went to a live database related conference a few years back it was fantastic, stating: “… [They] actually had a panel of average users available, not experts but people like me who I could bounce ideas off and learn what they are doing at their organization.”

As my organization explores Online ILT I am hungry to avoid the pitfalls of my wife’s experience. What needs to be considered in terms of program design, technology, and instructor training? How do we best provide avenues for context support to thrive?