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The Paradigm Of Learning

We in corporate training have put ourselves squarely in front of the training paradigm by effectively selling the concept that training improves performance. Now before any training purists reading this blow a gasket, I offer that training may contribute to improved performance. Repeat, “ may contribute”. Training’s greater claim to fame is promoting the transfer of knowledge and skills—and we have Level 1 & 2 evaluations to prove that it does exactly that.

This begs the question, “Why is performance back on the job not sustainable after training delivery that clearly shows ‘proof’ of successful delivery?”

I have consistently seen this in each of my last corporate training roles—business unit stakeholders equate successful training with sustainable workforce capacity. If that is not the result of the training class/course, then the trainers did not do their job. I have taken my lumps in that regard despite solid evaluations and satisfied graduates. I am now convinced after seeing this repeat before my eyes that training, as positioned today, is never going to produce that outcome. Why? Because workforce capacity, agility, and sustainability do not manifest in the training environment—they are manifest in a larger domain—an “edge-to-edge” learning environment. The need to learn is continuous. Work demands are continuous. Change is continuous. Why would we settle for a learning environment where the opportunity to learn is any less continuous?

The training paradigm we ascribe to today, not to mention training’s scope and charter, focuses on the 5% or so of the work year where the workforce is engaged in some form of formal learning [training]. What about the other 95%? What about those moments occurring downstream in the post-training work context? The work context represents the “other edge” of the learning environment. This is where the workforce is at work and performance ties directly to the very real potential to create tangible business value…or lose it. Close real business…or lose it. Resolve a customer complaint and retain their business…or lose it. Eliminate the generation of material waste…or create it. Avoid business risk and liability…or cause it. Now I ask you, “Which ‘edge’ gets the greater attention from training?

Dr. Conrad Gottfredson of BYU identified five moments of learning need a couple years ago that are foundational to evolving the training paradigm, and they validate my assertion that our scope and charter are too narrow. Those moments include:

  1. Learning something new or for the first time
  2. Learning more of something
  3. Trying to remember of apply something learned earlier
  4. What to do when things change
  5. What to do when things break or fail

In order for these five moments of need to resonate, it is essential for us to consider not only “what” they are, but “where” and “when” they manifest. The first two align with that 5% I mentioned earlier. The last three are squarely in the volatile, high-risk domain of the other 95%, the downstream, post-training work context.

The last three moments of learning need represent three drivers for a phenomenon we see happening now where the need to learn is converging with work. Where is the learner when confronted by a critical moment of need? Are they about to meet with a six-figure prospect? Are they on the factory floor production line? Are they on the phone with a disgruntled customer? Does your current training paradigm have a prayer of addressing these moments? I would wager they cannot—these moments are out of scope.

Back to the original question—I think the scope must change and training must walk the talk. The rules of learning engagement have changed. The fully functional learning ecosystem is dynamic, and the structure that would satisfy mine would likely be different from yours. Twenty years ago, heck, even ten years ago, this was not such a significant issue because the velocity of business was not nearly as ramped up as it is now. Our stakeholders are not calling us. They are going to specialists outside for help. Training budgets continue to shrink. If the rules of engagement have changes, then we have a call to action to change our engagement.

Seems rather simple in concept, but remember we are sneaking up on the “C” word and Change can be a scary thing when the 5% world training works in (and am just fine, thank you very much) just blossomed by an additional 95%. Stakeholders I have worked with and shared a learning solution based on using a Learning Continuum and the five moments of learning need consistently get it. Those stakeholders have their success measured by those things we rarely measure at all (Levels 3 and above). Until we are impacting the things the drive their success metrics, we are pushing a rope called training. When we equip ourselves to be in a position to inquire about those performance indicators and identify what is preventing them from being sustainable, we will get their ear and we will earn their engagement. Our business stakeholder clients are not asking for graduates of our training to know that they need a shovel to dig a hole; they need somebody who can get down in the dirt a dig the perfect hole.

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