Time for a rethink

The new learning architectThroughout 2011 we will be publishing extracts from The New Learning Architect. We now move on to the first part of chapter 2:
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
At the time of writing it is 2010. Around 32 years previously (a whopping 100000 years if you think in binary), I entered the learning and development profession. It wasn’t called learning and development then, of course, it was called training, but this appears to have been no more than a superficial re-branding.
In my first week as Finance Training Specialist, I attended a five-day residential classroom course at the seaside in Hove called Techniques of Instruction. It was run by an organisation called BACIE, now defunct. After a few preliminaries when we explored some of the pop-psychology theories about the way that people learn, we got straight down to the real action – learning how to instruct a group in a classroom setting, with the aid of a flip chart and, for the brave and more technologically-minded, some overhead projector transparencies. This course was sold on to a professional body when BACIE closed down and amazingly is still being run in almost exactly the same way today. True, it now lasts four days and PowerPoint has replaced the OHP, but essentially it’s the same.
As we shall confirm in a moment, the world as it affects the learning and development profession has changed dramatically in those 32 years. But in so many organisations (and I admit there are plenty of admirable and inspiring exceptions), training carries on regardless:

  • As a default option, formal training is conducted in the classroom, typically in substantial chunks (measured in days rather than hours).
  • Where the classroom is completely impractical or the subject matter of the training is less interesting to the classroom trainers, the remaining formal training is conducted in the form of interactive self-study lessons (mostly computer-assisted, but sometimes with the aid of videos or workbooks).
  • The rest (and that’s the major part) is entrusted to Nellie, who passes on her accumulated wisdom ‘on-the-job’.

Now it’s possible that this strategy (assuming, of course, that it has ever been consciously thought through) is as relevant now as it was all those years ago (assuming, again, that it ever was). Change for the sake of it benefits no-one. But even the most conservative l&d professionals would admit that it is at least worth checking to see. Has the situation changed sufficiently to warrant a rethink? Could we be doing better?
In 2006, in The Blended Learning Cookbook, I suggested a methodology for the design of blended learning solutions. The first stage in this methodology was a situation analysis, with three elements:

  • A definition of requirements, in terms of performance outcomes and learning objectives.
  • An analysis of the target audience – their preferences, prior knowledge, ability to learn independently, and so on.
  • A review of the practical constraints and opportunities – time, budget, skills, numbers, geographical dispersion, equipment, facilities, etc.

It occurs to me that these same three elements are as relevant when looking at the overall strategy as they are when designing a single intervention – after all, a learning and development strategy is the ultimate blended solution.
What has changed?
Coming next in chapter 2: Have requirements changed?
Return to Chapter 1
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