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A Practical Script on How to Transform Training for Technical Talent

Change is rarely easy. We get stuck in ruts. We fall into patterns, and the learning industry is no different than any other. But we can still create the change our learners need. In part one of this two-part series, I discussed the danger of learning becoming irrelevant and we had the following list:

  1. Too much information is floating around at any given time.
  2. There are multiple sources and ways to get information.
  3. There is a difference between facts/data/information and knowledge.
  4. Knowledge needs to be curated and focused on maximum accessibility and usability.
  5. Knowledge needs to be made readily and easily available in multiple ways.
  6. Knowledge and performance must be connected.

Barriers to Training Transformation

In this part two, let’s take a deeper look at each point to understand how one can transform learning and development by adding a skill to the learning leader’s toolkit: curating and providing, or C&P.

    1. Too much information is floating around at any given time. Trying to find out how to do something can feel like trying to drink from a firehose. The next time you do a Google search for best practices for using a JavaScript tool, take a look at the little number in the left corner that shows the amount of info related to your query.
    2. There are multiple sources and ways to get information. These days if I want to know something or learn to do something I can read it in a long or condensed version, watch it, listen to it, call someone to talk about it, take an actual or virtual course alone or with other people, go to a chat, watch a webinar—and more. If I speak a language other than English, I can find it in my native tongue. There are many roads leading to what people need to know.
    3. There is a difference between facts/data/information and knowledge. We live in the Knowledge Era, which is driven by data; yet data by itself is useless. It takes time to transform data into facts, then facts into information and finally information into know-how.
    4. Knowledge needs to be curated and focused on maximum accessibility and usability. We need human intervention and time to transform data into facts, facts into information, and information into usable knowledge. Even then, there’s often too much knowledge to be useful. Curation can refine knowledge to produce what I call Maximum Value-Added Knowledge (MVAK). Focusing it makes knowledge useful and powerful, like when you concentrate a beam of sunlight with a magnifying glass and use it to start a fire.
    5. Knowledge needs to be made readily and easily available in different ways. There are many ways to present knowledge, and some of them work better than others. If I’m going to be responsible for my own learning, I don’t want someone else telling me how to learn; I want to decide. That is common thinking among developers and software engineers who prefer a hands-on learning approach.
    6. Knowledge and performance must be connected. Some kinds of learning really do need a push. There are times when all employees must get the same knowledge at the same time. This is often true regarding legal, regulatory and compliance knowledge, for HR, safety, etc. It’s also useful when a team of developers is learning something new.

Push training can provide a baseline of common language and definitions for conversations, communication, and collaboration. What is often missing is the ability to determine whether everyone understood the information, that everyone is using the same language, and that people can use what they learned.

To provide that missing piece, training will have to change—and quickly. Learning professionals have a lot of work to do to ensure they will be relevant and effective in the Knowledge Era, and they may need a vendor’s help to get what their learners need.

The Focus on Curating and Providing

The role of C&P will be more important to anticipate what employees might need, and ensure that employees can source knowledge at any time. Knowledge should also be available in multiple formats to accommodate different learning styles and preferences.

C&P skills learning professionals may need to develop or acquire include the ability to:

  • Treat developers as knowledge consumers; listen to what they want to learn
  • Help developers find the unknown—answer to skills gaps they didn’t know they had
  • Parse and curate knowledge to provide maximum value-added knowledge
  • Use push training to easily pivot to meet pull learning needs when self-learners are back at work
  • Ensure that knowledge is always available, accessible and useful. This includes choosing formats and languages, etc.
  • Constantly update knowledge to ensure it’s accurate, timely, relevant
  • Monitor employees to ensure they find, understand and apply knowledge on the job
  • Change or improve information as soon as necessary based on new information, learner feedback, or changes in business and employee needs

The new focus for C&P requires customization and accessibility. Learning partners need to keep an ear to the ground to find out what developers want. Invest the time to determine how busy developers need to learn.

Be creative. Stop depending on the LMS to do all the knowledge transfer work. Create a community of learners in every class, and turn those into ongoing communities of practice. Customize learning as much as possible, don’t forget to add labs, and remember different roles require different knowledge. Forget the one-size-fits-all push training model.

When employees are enabled and empowered to learn what they want and need to know, they’re happier, employee turnover drops, and the organization becomes more successful. C&P may be the next important piece in the learning leader’s role, but the mission to help people learn remains the same.

David Grebow is an author, speaker and workshop leader who, with his co-author Stephen J. Gill, wrote the bestselling “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy.”

Fair warning: I think the learning and development industry needs to go in another direction to make itself relevant to the organizations of the future.

Imagine the following learning scenarios:

  1. Someone in a position of authority tells you to learn a new technology they think you should know and informs you how you need to learn it.
  2. You realize you need to know something about how to use a new technology for an upcoming project, find the information on your own, and learn it yourself.

One of these two scenarios should be familiar. It starts when you’re born, continues through your college-level schooling and on into the workplace where you attend training programs. It’s often called “push” training because what you need to learn is pushed at you. It’s the default for how we learn almost everything.

In the second scenario, “pull” learning, you find the information—in any form and from any person—whenever you can locate, access and use it. You “pull” the specific knowledge and then move on to the next thing you need to do.

L&D Lives in Push Mode, The Rest of Us Are In Pull Mode

Someone else decides what they think employees should know, then designs, develops, and manages a classroom or online course or program delivery. It’s usually a scheduled event with a sage-on-the-stage. The model is traditional one-size-fits-all training, and sometimes, some effort is made to see if training improved performance.

This is Standard Operating Procedure for L&D. What I call the D4M2 model—Define, Design, Develop, Deliver, Manage and Measure—was developed around 100 years ago to help workers and companies meet Industrial Era employees’ needs. The old approach was often “you should pay attention because you may need to know this someday.” Unfortunately, if “someday” arrived more than 2 or 3 days after the training, everyone’s brains had already forgotten the new information.

When D4M2 was developed, the world wasn’t computerized or mobile. Things didn’t change at today’s frenzied pace. No one even imagined your job description. There was time to learn. That’s no longer true. So, we need to retire the model and metaphorically blow out 100 candles on the birthday cake.

In the pull model, you’re in charge of figuring out what you need to know and how to learn it. You’re a “self-learner.” The pull model relies on your personal motivation to learn—and it allows you to quickly respond to Knowledge Era needs. These needs make a critical difference in knowing how to do what needs to be done and doing it before your competitor does. When it comes to learning with the intent to apply on the job, motivation is not a problem for developers and other technical talent who often view learning as a key piece of their role; the pull model works just fine.

The question is: why continue to use the old push model?

It’s Time for a Change

A critical discussion is going on now about the future of learning professionals and providers, especially those course developers and instructional designers who work with SME’s and instructors who are the actual or virtual “sages on the stages.” These professionals are all wondering about their role in this changing dynamic.

The answer is simple. L&D, learning and development, needs to become C&P, curating and providing. Here’s how it works. Instead of all the D4M2 that goes into a training program, C&P understands the following six facts about self-learning:

  1. Too much information is floating around at any given time.
  2. There are multiple sources and ways to get information.
  3. There is a difference between facts/data/information and knowledge.
  4. Knowledge needs to be curated and focused on maximum accessibility and usability. Training programs should keep that in mind. Custom would be best.
  5. Knowledge needs to be made readily and easily available in multiple ways that suit talent needs. For instance, technical talent prefer classroom instruction with a strong lab component.
  6. Knowledge and performance must be connected and measured.

In the next article in this two-part series, I dig into each of the aforementioned barriers much deeper to illustrate what learning leaders must do to transform training.

David Grebow is an author, speaker and workshop leader who, with his co-author Stephen J. Gill, wrote the bestselling “Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy.”

With multiple generations in the workplace today, one size truly does not fit all in meeting the learning needs of your organization. Based on backgrounds and experiences, preferences for how people learn vary widely. While we must be careful not to draw stereotypes based on age or generation, we do need to use a variety of approaches to learning to address varying needs and preferences.

The Generations: Considerations for Learning

Most workforce experts recognize four generations represented in today’s workplace. Dan Levonius provides his perspective in the 2015 Association for Talent Development article “Generational Differences in the Classroom.” With many people working longer in the past, either by need or by choice, this is probably the widest span of generations in the workplace we have ever seen:

Silent Generation/Traditionalists

This generation is now of traditional retirement age or older, but many remain in the workplace. As the children of survivors of the Great Depression, they tend to have a strong respect for authority and loyalty to the organization. They typically view learning as something that happens on the job, and something that benefits the company rather than the individual.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers were born post-World War II and grew up in a more radical era. They tend to be quite ambitious and are more likely to challenge authority and the traditional norms of the workplace. Because they are more driven, they tend to work long hours and have less work/life balance. They view learning and skill building as ingredients for success, but not as important as time and energy invested in their work.

Generation X

Generation X individuals grew up in an era where the traditional nuclear family was less prevalent. Many were “latchkey” children as both parents found it financially necessary to work outside the home. Some watched their parents being laid off. They grew up having to take more responsibility for themselves in a less traditional environment. Their tendency is to see learning as a gateway to their next job. Although work ethic may be important, building their skills is critical.

Millennials

Millennials grew up in a more sheltered environment and with constant exposure to technology. They are the most highly educated generation in history. Although they are ambitious, they are also highly independent and can be impatient if not offered a substantial level of responsibility. They view learning as very important and they are motivated to constantly learn, but they also want to see immediate results.

Approaches to Technology and Adapting Learning Strategies

L.L. Cooney provides ideas about technology and learning strategies in the 2008 Kentucky Law Journal article “Giving Millennials a Leg Up: How to Avoid the ‘If I Knew Then What I Know Now’ Syndrome.”

Traditionalists and baby boomers did not grow up with technology and have had to adapt to the use of technology in the workplace. As “Digital Immigrants,” they can struggle with rapidly changing technology. They tend to prefer direct interpersonal communication but recognize the importance of adapting to technology developments.

Generation X and millennials grew up with technology and can be considered “Digital Natives.” They are quick to adapt to new technologies, and millennials particularly embrace technology changes quickly. Their preferred mode of communication tends to be using technology.

What does all this mean for designing and implementing learning strategies? A few important thoughts to keep in mind:

  • A blended approach is very important. With such a variety of learning styles in the workplace, don’t assume that a singular approach will meet the needs of your learners. Blending more traditional modes with technology will help your content appeal to all your learners.
  • You should not make assumptions based on your learners coming predominantly from one generation. Although your workforce may consist mostly of millennials, their learning preferences may be all across the board.
  • Embrace the benefits of a multi-generational workforce. Incorporate opportunities to interact and learn from each other’s experiences into your learning design.
  • Whether designing traditional instructor-led classroom learning or digital learning, sound instructional design fundamentals are still critical.