Thoughts on Learning Objectives and Informal Learning

 Where do your learning objectives come from?

But first, are learning objectives still important, if they ever really were?

Are they important even in today’s – Internet speed era – with growing blends of traditional training and e-learning deployment methods needed RIGHT NOW… AND with some embracing Informal Learning – as if that wasn’t simply the default learning situation…the results of having done nothing…other than perhaps buying huge amounts of content and access to content to feed that so- natural Informal Learning animal.

We’ve all done it, experienced it. We know it’s true.

Informal Learning

It does have face validity when you read about this. We all have learned most things informally. Just as generic competencies have face validity. It all seems reasonable. It does seem to fit. But does it leverage anything?

Is it the way to go? Would you want your doctors, teachers, scientists, police and military to be trained this way?But follow the money on this one! No one benefits from promoting Informal Learning as a viable business-driven Training/Learning/Knowledge Management tactic except sellers of content and sellers of access to the world of content.

Or consultants showing you the way.

Formal But-Not-Performance-Based Learning

And when you think about what the research suggests regarding most learners non-ability to transfer many “learnings” to another performance context, you should rethink your approach to Learning Objectives.
So what on-the-job performance are you likely to see for most of the performers/learners most of the time after they have participated in your instructional offerings?
If those instructional offering aren’t performance-based they may be just an expensive cost with little chance of significant Returns for those Investments.
Unless you simply can’t get “ahead of the performance” to pin it down for use with others…such as in the case of leading edge performance and knowledge in any discipline, Informal Learning is acop out. And a sneaky marketing campaign to sell you a wardrobe full of “no clothes” to wear.In my ISD/HPT consulting work of 25+ years, I long ago started referring to what is now labeled “Informal Learning” as Unstructured On-the-Job Training (U-OJT).
After conducting a performance analysis (in a formal manner or informal manner) and systematically deriving the knowledge/skill enablers of the ideal performance, we would assess all existing training (and non-traditional-training) content for re-use purposes in our design-leading-to-development efforts.
When we find T&D (or learning or knowledge management content or directories and other real world references) we reuse them as is –AI, or after modification -AM.
All the remaining gaps are U-OJT even after we start the design process…until they are built/bought they remain U-OJT. Nothing but a title…and that’s a been a “value add” for clients who have gone from their default Informal Learning situation due to lack of resourcing and effort in the past… to this new development where their Informal Learning/U-OJT is no longer unnamed and unnumbered. It’s still a bit of Learning by Chance…but a little less chancy. Perhaps.
That visible performance-oriented structure AND me telling the clients that you don’t build-out or buy content to fill ALL of the gaps. Only those that will provide ROI, significant ROI. Otherwise there are probably better places in the Enterprise to make Investments for significant Returns than here. In a world of constrained resources that is. If your situation is different, well then … nevermind.

Performance-based Learning Objectives

Yes Learning Objectives are important. Having a measurable objective before starting anything, including instructional content development, is critical in many ways. The downselect of “critical content” versus “everything under the sun known about this topic” can only be done rationally IF guided by the learning objectives.

Which themselves should be guided by the performance objectives.

Repeat: Which themselves should be guided by the performance objectives.

Said another way:

Learning Objectives should be derived from Performance Objectives…not from generic competencies.

If you are trying to tackle the Learning/Instructional needs of your key Product Managers, or Engineers, or Sales staff, or any other critical target audience of performers in critical enterprise processes, Informal Learning won’t do. Learning by Chance won’t do.

Determining all of the derived Learning Objectives from all of the Performance Objectives will take more than a 15 minute exercise…the amount of time it might take on the front end of a quick design of creating a template design for a series of dozens and dozens of Product Knowledge modules for several intended Target Audiences.

But jumping into rapid e-learning (or other) development without the RIGHT objectives at several levels, will lead to content for your LMS/LCMS but won’t lead to improved or sustained performance by the learners.

Performance Objectives should be driving your Terminal Learning Objectives and your Enabling Learning Objectives…depending on your real world use of Objectives in your ISD-ADDIE methods.
And they should all be measurable. And that will make defining Evaluations Levels 2 , 3 and 4 (including ROI) a piece of cake.
The remaining hard work however, may be in creating the measurement process and mechanisms necessary to collect, manipulate, interpret and report out the data.
So be careful what you intend to collect over the long haul. It better be insightful, informative data that can lead to improvements as needed…or it is simply an exercise in data collection.
Something to be avoided. IMO.
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