In college, I came across more than a few ‘weed out courses.’ One in particular was a Calculus course that I struggled to get through – twice.
The struggle was real and it did a lot to weaken my self-confidence.
When I encountered the next ‘weed out course’, I just surrendered & changed my career path.
I wish, all the freely distributed digital learning resources available now, had been available when I came across those ‘weed out courses’ years ago.
I would have searched until I found a document, a video, or an online course to help me fill in the holes in my understanding.
I might be a Physiological Psychologist researching the effects of food & environment on behavior today, if I hadn’t concluded that it just wasn’t for me, because I struggled in Calculus & Statistics.
As a learning designer, my goal is always to empower people to take ownership of their learning. Organizations and schools specify standards, but we have many different options for how we meet those standards.
Here is my advice to my younger self: “You will encounter a lot of ‘weed out courses and experiences’ on the path to doing what you want to do & getting the things you want. Don’t get stuck in the weeds.”
All day, every day, we either purposefully design our environments, or unconsciously fall into someone else’s design.
We put on our favorite outfits to feel strong, capable, and in control or choose something very different to show a softer side that is open to being cared for.
We read inspirational articles & books, that give us the words to help us express our inner most thoughts.
We listen to music, that becomes the soundtrack for the episodes of our lives.
We design our homes & workspaces so that we are surrounded by our favorite colors, textures & smells.
We surround ourselves with family, friends, co-workers, and mentors that bring out the good, the bad, and the ugly that lies in all of us.
The #1 reason to become a learning designer, is recognizing that you possess an innate desire to design experiences that help people tap into the ‘designer’ or ‘creative energy’ that often lies dormant within them.
Some days, I wish we could just ban the word ‘training,’ as it relates to learning in the workplace. It kind of makes me think of ‘teaching an old dog a new trick.’ I’ve always embraced it, by thinking of it in terms of practicing & developing core skills required to ultimately excel in any field, but when it comes to ‘training,’ I think we have to be careful to avoid allowing the ‘teach me a new trick’ mentality to overshadow the ‘developing core skills’ mentality.
There are no ‘new tricks’ that will make it easy to thrive in the rapidly changing environments that have become the new norm for most forward thinking organizations. However, coming together to share knowledge, ideas, and best practices – now that’s the mentality we need to bring to ‘training.’ Don’t just come to consume, bring something to share.
In the workplace, for instructional design to result in changed behaviors and improved performance, it must be deeply embedded not only in the way we learn, but also in the way we work. The question is, how do we do this systematically? It is an age-old question, and the answer is…one step at a time.
One of the most common and well researched instructional design approaches is the ADDIE Model. ADDIE is an acronym that highlights 5 essential actions required to develop an effective instructional strategy: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.
#1 – Analysis reduces the temptation to develop one-size-fits-all learning resources
During analysis, the goal is to identify concepts and skills target audience(s) need to know, as well as discover how and why it matters to the audience. To add greater value, the analysis should be ongoing, documented, collaboratively authored, and updated as relevant information is revealed. In the workplace, we have the advantage of maintaining long-term relationships with team members and business units, therefore the analysis should evolve over time, become more and more detailed, and be readily accessible to various learning facilitators within your organization.
Most of what we need to know, we’ll learn by asking questions? Initially, we may not know the right questions to ask or even the right person to ask the questions. However, the more questions you ask, the more stories you hear. The more stories you hear (from different perspectives), the closer you get to the source of performance challenges, as opposed to just treating the symptoms.
#2 – Design, whether it is graphic design for marketing or instructional design for learning, has the same goal – evoke an emotional response
In the world of corporate training, evoking an emotional response may sound counter intuitive, but it’s not. In his article ‘If Content is King, Context is God‘ Gary Vaynerchuk explains the value of context as it relates to branding. The context is your story. Your story is your brand, values, vision, and strategy. It’s your story, that will resonate with your employees as well as your customers.
In his thought provoking article, “Storytelling that Moves People,” Bronwyn Fryer, communicates the same idea this way, ‘stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points.’ Just as marketing is more effective when it’s creatively designed to tell a story, the same is true of learning. When supporting a team or business unit, if the learning design team doesn’t know your story or doesn’t fully understand how your story fits into the big picture, the instruction designed – will be impotent.
#3 – Develop a library of targeted resources that are fully aligned to your story
Learners are taking charge of their learning experiences by utilizing a variety of open source resources: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), YouTube videos, blogs, etc. While learning and development professionals admire and encourage the initiative of the ‘entrepreneurial learner‘ it’s important that targeted learning resources are developed that clearly reinforce your organization’s unique messaging. Keep in mind that an excellent source of content required to create your most relevant learning resources will be your SMEs and your high performers.
#4 – Consider the consequences of how your LMS implements personalized learning strategies
In his article, Artificial Intelligence Comes to Learning, Zach Posner asks an intriguing question: can you thoroughly analyze, evaluate and create knowledge if you challenge yourself less and less by routinely outsourcing those functions to computer programs? If we allow ourselves to get lazier and lazier about building connections between information, facts, figures, people, and resources – will our creativity ultimately suffer?
The benefits of artificial intelligence are many, but we need to be careful that we don’t stifle creativity in our quest to make it easy to learn. Just as we are discovering the hazards of ‘social media filter bubbles‘, knowledge filter bubbles may produce similar consequences. Provide easy access to a variety of quality online learning resources (i.e. Lynda.com) to strengthen current skills while at the same time, developing new skillsets.
Empower employees by giving them the freedom to choose topics they want to learn that are not specifically aligned to their current role. The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report estimates that the half-life of a learned skill is approximately 5 years, therefore the goal of a comprehensive learning strategy is not just to meet the current needs of an organization, but also to address future needs – many of which are currently a mystery.
#5 – Evaluation is the life blood of learning strategies
It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. In the absence of open, honest, and continual feedback of your learning strategies, it’s very easy to get in the habit of doing just that. Thorough evaluation demands more than just a survey conducted immediately following a learning experience. Because the majority of learning is the result of blended learning experiences, evaluating training programs should be conducted over a designated time frame in order to measure: the initial reaction (to a specific learning experience), recall of concepts or skills (generally being reinforced by a variety of learning experiences), observed application of concepts or skills (in traditional or novel ways), and ultimately the impact to your business’s bottom line. This feedback loop is critical to designing relevant and engaging learning experiences.
Evaluation takes the design team back full circle. It’s by no means the end of the design process. A combination of formative evaluation (performance tasks, quizzes, or surveys given throughout a learning unit or activity) and summative evaluation (follow up performance assessments or surveys given to evaluate the compound effect of a series of blended learning activities) is required. Consequently, evaluation generally needs to be conducted over a designated period (i.e. quarterly or semi-annually) to provide useful feedback – particularly if the goal is performance enhancement.
The instructional design team will need to take into consideration: feedback from the learners, feedback from those who evaluate the learners’ performance, and reports that quantify the impact of performance on the business’s bottom line. In turn, the feedback needs to be integrated into the design. For example, perhaps in hind sight, now we see that despite our initial analysis, our evaluation results indicate several learning exercises treated the symptoms of the problem, but not the source. If an exercise or an activity results in no significant change in behaviors or performance, it’s back to the drawing board, and the design process continues…
Ok, so suddenly I’m getting lots of revelations during my yoga class that apply to challenges I face in my daily life! Today, my instructor urged us to ’embrace the wobbles.’ She commented that the challenge of balance in yoga is not solely about how we show mastery of poses, but how we react to and recover from the ‘wobbles’ when we encounter something (i.e. a person, a distraction, a threat) that throws us off balance. Understanding the value in practicing how to recover from the ‘wobbles,’ helps us to welcome them instead of seeing them as obstacles to be avoided at all costs.
By no means should we ‘give in’ to the ‘wobbles.’ However, it is essential that we not be totally caught off guard by them. As it relates to career goals, embracing ‘wobbles’ requires you to take initiative. ‘Push the envelope’ in situations where if you make a mistake, the result is not likely to cause irreparable damage to your reputation or business relationships. The keyword here is ‘initiative.’ Choose your battles! Embrace opportunities to push yourself…but do it strategically.
The ultimate goal in career performance management should be to position yourself in such a way that you ‘play to your strengths.’ If you find yourself stretching or being stretched in a direction that is not in alignment with your career goals, take a step back and re-evaluate how you got in that position. This may involve ‘initiating’ a one-on-one conversation with your manager and/or co-workers to discuss what you perceive to be your strengths, as well as how they add value to your team.
While your career goals should align with the needs of the organization, more than likely, that is not what drives you. If your goals are not ‘driving’ you to take a step outside your comfort zone, they may not sincerely be your goals. Discovering what drives you will require some trial and error. This discovery process is a personal journey that must be initiated by you, and along the way, you must learn to embrace the ‘wobbles!’
When executing change management in business, that space between ‘business-as-usual’ and a new way of working can be challenging to navigate. Roles and processes are ambiguous and the solid structure on which you previously stood strong, is crumbling beneath your feet. In the meantime…how do you juggle the new and the old?
Taking a lesson from my yoga practice, to maintain balance, I focus my line of sight on a person, place, or thing that is stable. In an organization going through significant transformation, stability can be hard to find. However, you can choose where you set your sights.
In the face of turbulence, focus on a high level view of the organization and ask yourself the following question: Are my values aligned with the values of this organization? Notice, that the question is not: Are my goals aligned with the goals of this organization? Strategic short-term goals are often necessarily unstable in a transforming organization as they are a result of responding in real-time to the unpredictable actions and reactions of the people within the organization.
On the other hand, authentic values, with-stand the test of time. At a high level view, either a company demonstrates the values that they give lip service to, or they don’t. The great thing about questioning the values that drive your organization is that in the process you begin to question the values that drive you. You can rest assured that you will not end up unconsciously moving to someplace you don’t want to be, if you make deliberate choices that ‘stand up’ for what you value. So, in the meantime…stay grounded by standing up for yourself.
As organizations and job roles are evolving at a rapid pace, colleagues are encouraged to aggressively seek learning opportunities. To support this initiative, many forward thinking organizations provide colleagues access to self-directed learning portals like lynda.com. However, we do learners a disservice, if we don’t make it clear that making progress towards learning goals is not, and should not be completely ‘self-paced.’
Here is where I see the parallel between self-directed learning in a business environment and CBE degree programs. To ensure satisfactory progress, milestones and deadlines should be negotiated and agreed upon. In the workplace, an agreement would be between a colleague and their manager. As indicated in the article, the timeline doesn’t need to be engraved in stone, however learners left to their own devices will be distracted. In the workplace, providing learning support such as a ‘success coach’ is not intrusive, it’s supportive.
The point is not for leadership within organizations to dictate exactly what is learned. Research has shown, that adult learners are more engaged when learning is self-directed. The point is to ensure that both the learning goal and a specified time frame for completion is agreed upon.
At every good job interview, there is at least one ‘nagging’ question that follows you home. One that has forever stayed with me is: ‘What do you bring to the table, that isn’t already here?’
Ok…what do you say that won’t come off as arrogant to a team that has decades of experience in an industry or field that you are just starting out in? Yeah, you know you have transferable skills, but which ones do they value? All these questions were racing through my head! Meanwhile, the hiring manager was waiting for a memorable response, especially after so much thought was put into it. Eventually, I simply said: ‘You’ve stumped me with this one.’ Despite fumbling that ball, I did get the job. Though my response was uninspired, the question has inspired me from that day on.
Whatever you do and wherever you go, you need to know what difference you make. However, if you are not sure what difference you make, don’t beat yourself up. It requires ongoing self-reflection. Just keep in mind that self-discovery is not all about internal reflection, it’s also about how you interact with other people. Be warned: It’s that interaction that often is a bit of a revelation to you and to others!
Organizations often give ‘lip service’ to the idea that what is important to the individuals that make it up, really matters. However, you won’t observe a high level of pride, dedication, and commitment to an organization’s mission and vision, unless that sentiment is more than just talk. Much time and money is invested trying to identify what behaviors demonstrate a high level of engagement within organizations. Should it require a lot of independent research to determine if someone you are in relationship with, is ‘just not into you?’
Mutually beneficial relationships are a two way street. In order for organizations to know if people are truly engaged, they need to ask them. Person to person, not survey to employee. The leadership in organizations must make it a priority to give, the same thing they want to receive: a high level of pride, dedication, and commitment to an individual’s mission and vision.
In recent years, there has been much talk about how to define an effective framework for ‘performance management.’ Showing genuine commitment to helping individuals develop and accomplish their personal goals may at first glance seem secondary when it comes to business. However, taking a ‘business comes first’ approach, may result in a huge missed opportunity. If the leadership in an organization determines the corporate goals, cascades them down, and then individuals are advised to ‘align’ their goals to the corporate goals, why would anyone be surprised to discover that there is a ‘disconnect’ which reveals itself as a ‘lukewarm’ commitment to the goals.
Showing genuine commitment to helping individuals develop and accomplish their personal goals as a primary rather than secondary objective of performance management will reveal the source of the ‘disconnect.’ If I’m ‘just not into you’ we both need to find that out… sooner rather than later.