Blog Carnival: Work at Learning – Learning at Work

Warning: Opinions Follow…
Work at Learning Overview
I am taking this to mean (for me and this post) – working at “learning more” about learning and the training methods to make learning better, faster cheaper for the individual Learner and Management and other Enterprise Stakeholders.

Learning at Work Overview
I’m taking this to mean (again- for me and this post) – the workplace learning environment that Learners find themselves in and that their management contends with while they attempt to make Learning happen that is meaningful to the Learners’ function in the Enterprise. And the Learning (some still call it Training like me) solutions/products to create/enable learning.

Work at Learning
As a manager of a team of consultants for 25 years in an external consulting firm and more recently a manager of managers and individual contributors for Learning & Development function for the past 18 months inside the type of organizations I used to consult with – I have always believed in professional development. I disliked the notion that the cobbler’s children had no shoes.

I have used membership AND participation in local professional groups for my staff as a vehicle as one component in my staff development efforts. My choice was always the local ISPI chapter – but ASTD and other affinity groups’ local chapters might have been fine as well.

In my first job my manager took her team to the local NSPI chapter meeting (as ISPI was known back in 1979) and signed us up for committees. Back in the day managers did things like that. Today – not so much. That was my model. So I encouraged my consulting staff to belong and participate – and I paid for their membership and meeting fees. I did that for 25 years in my consulting firms.

For the past 18 months I have been unable to make those kinds of calls – actively encouraging membership and participation AND then putting some money where my mouth was. I still encourage but I cannot pay.

I cannot insist – a stronger type of encouragement than suggest – as I used to as I saw it as both a learning opportunity and a marketing opportunity. Funny thing, now that many of my former employees are out on their own as single shingle consultants and small consultancies – I see that they’ve upped their game in local and national membership AND participation significantly.

Nowadays there are many additional avenues to development of ones professional knowledge and skills. The promise of IT of the 1970s has really arrived with the tools of web 2.0. Blogs, Wikis, Social Networks, Webinars, Audio and Video Podcasts, and on and on.

But as the Romans said in Latin: caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

Nowadays the trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff – the good stuff from the bad on your own. Whereas I used to trust the wisdom of the crowd at a local and national ISPI venue for proactively doing that so that I only saw valid content – that’s not so true in today web 2.0 spaces. Anybody, just like me, with an opinion can share that opinion online and potentially reach millions. Yikes!

There are still too many instances of web 2.0 spreading “garbage as science” that I worry about my staff learning things not true. Things that have pretty much been invalidated by research despite the “controversies on the net“ that go on and on. Invalid things such as designing learning for different learning styles (which is different from learning styles themselves). Designing learning differently for multi-generational differences. Or that retention myth: “People remember 50% of what they see and hear and only 10% of what they read.” Or use of MBTI and other like approaches. Or having the audio track read the screen text to the Learners in WBT.

Of course, garbage as science isn’t limited to web 2.0. I had a disagreement with a large consultant firm’s e-Learning expert about the demo module that they shared with us. When I questioned their audio reading the screen text – they responded with some gobbledy-gook about what research says about that – and also noted that the Learner could turn the audio track off. I sent them some real research findings about THAT nonsense the next day. They still call on me looking for business.

So what is a Professional seeking to develop themselves to do nowadays? Should they seek a blend of the old and the new? The traditional approach of using affinity groups in combination with the new fangled web 2.0 resources? I think so. I myself have recently joined WLP – a SN site started by Will Thalheimer, whom I trust as a research-type guy, and whom I first met at ISPI about a decade ago.

Maybe you should join too. The site is here. It is for independents – which I still am in my spare time.

Learning at Work
My focus here will be Formal Learning – as Informal happens anyway – and web 2.0 tools are more EPSS than the Learning/Training tools as often touted. If you look it up on your EPSS or paper job aid while “in the workflow” and then get on with it – was that “learning” or was that simply sourcing? If you use a SN to seek an answer to your question in the moment – is that learning? Leading to recall later? I think not. At least, most often not.

As always, it depends.

And of course web 2.0 tools can be and should be used in Formal Learning – as appropriate to the “what is to be learned” and the “whom is to do the learning” situation.

Is Formal Learning always Social Learning? No. Read the instructions for your wood router and then rout some wood. All by yourself. No real need to join a wood routers affinity group online or down the street at the DIY-Lumberyard.

Is Social Learning “often” a better way to learn most things?


We are after all, social creatures. Really tricky things to learn might require some coaching with feedback. Even real tricky wood router-ing. I think it’s why traditional classroom training is often preferred by many. To socialize with your peers. Too bad so much of traditional classroom training was and is bad. Gives it a bad rep.

Same thing happening to eLearning. Hurried development sans analysis and design – just do it – guess at some objectives and make up some text and throw in some gratuitous graphics while managing the screen’s white space. Oh and don’t forget the stupid multiple choice and matching “tests for understanding.” Oh wait – am I writing about eLearning or traditional classroom training? Hmmm.

Poor Learners. What we subject them to, to help them learn to perform better.

Poor Managers. What we arm them with to help them develop their people to perform better, arriving at performance competence faster and cheaper.

Poor Enterprise Stakeholders. What we undertake for significant investments in time and dollars for the too-often too-little or even negative returns that result – resulting in them not really trusting us and sometimes cutting our budgets and staff in tough economic times.

How to improve the “learning at work?”

Do the analysis of the terminal performance competence and the enabling Knowledge/Skills required before using valid design approaches that will lead to “recall when needed” – and before using cool tools for rapid prototyping and development.

Without the clear understanding of that context – of “the ability to perform tasks to produce outputs to stakeholder requirements” – how can you reasonably expect your Formal Learning solutions/products to hit the mark, hit a home run, hit a decent ROI?

With that performance competence context insight you can better determine whether that Learning should/could occur in the workflow and/or prior to the moment of need. Then you can chose which modes and media make sense given the Learners’ work-place context and their learning-place context – which may or may not be different – with the conditions and constraints of their reality.

Is the manager’s job really designed to be the coach – or they too often being very busy at other parts of their job which will always win out in the battle for limited time and attention? And have they learned how to be a coach? Or is the Learner really on their own – like it or not?

Is rapid development inappropriate? No. As long as it includes analysis and design on the front end. Involving more than one SME/Master Performer can bring that insight into the hurried efforts – and having a developer who knows good design approaches that really leads to learning (recall) will lead to better Learning solutions – and having them working in collaboration is the ticket to better, faster, cheaper routs to Performance Competence.

In my opinion.

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