Transformation: in conclusion

Transforming l&d
In this series of posts, running throughout 2012, I have endeavoured to explain Onlignment’s ideas for a transformation in workplace learning and development. These are the ideas that shape our thinking and which we look to apply in all our client engagements.
I started the series by setting out the need for transformation.
I then set out a vision for workplace learning and development that is:

I moved on to look at some of the changes that can be made to realise this vision, expressed as six shifts:

In the posts that followed, I brought the series to a conclusion by focusing on the practical steps we can take to make transformation happen:

I hope you have found the series interesting and, above all, useful in your work.
As a summary of the principal ideas, you might like to watch this video:

Making transformation happen: building 21st century learning skills

Transforming l&d
In this series of posts I’ve set out a vision and strategies for transformation in workplace learning and development. I showed how this process must be clearly aligned to an organisation’s particular learning requirements (‘learning’), the characteristics of its people (‘learners’) and the constraints which govern its decision making (‘logistics’). The ‘three Ls’ inform and shape our transformation process starting with the creation of an overall learning architecture and a supportive infrastructure, and moving on, as I explained in my previous post, to include processes for performance needs analysis and blended solution design.
The final stage in the transformation process – and outer layer of the transformation wheel (see below) – is the development of the new skills required of the 21st century learning professional:

Thirty years ago, when a new teacher or trainer entered the profession, they would have a relatively easy task to familiarise themselves with the learning media then available: flip charts, whiteboards, overhead projectors, perhaps an early VHS player. It was achievable to learn how to use all these media, so everyone did. As the years have gone by, the pace of change has accelerated until now it seems that every year there is a slew of new technologies fighting for our attention. Quite simply, there’s now a major skills gap with many learning professionals inadequately equipped to use the latest tools of their trade. This may be because they have not been provided with adequate opportunities to acquire the necessary skills; in some cases it could also be a case of burying your head in the sand.

Creating digital learning content

Digital learning content takes a wide variety of forms, including tutorials, scenarios, podcasts, screencasts, videos, slideshows, quizzes and reference materials. In fact we are fast approaching a point at which all learning content will be digital and online.
The skills of digital learning content design are relevant to anyone with an interest in helping others to learn, whether that’s a teacher, trainer, lecturer or coach, a subject expert with knowledge they want to share, or an experienced practitioner who wants to pass on their tips.
Some will dedicate themselves to content design as their full-time speciality, but every learning professional should know the basics, just as in the past everyone would have been able to deliver a half-decent training session in a classroom.
Clive Shepherd’s book Digital learning content: A designer’s guide was published by Onlignment in 2012.

Delivering live online learning

Virtual classrooms provide a fantastic opportunity for any organisation that wants to get more training done more cheaply, particularly when participants are widely dispersed. Many of the skills of the classroom trainer can be transferred without difficulty to an online setting, but the experience can still be strange and sometimes a little daunting for those starting off as virtual classroom facilitators. Although formal training can be helpful, the main emphasis should probably be placed on lots of practice with the help of  a good coach.
Live online learning: A facilitator’s guide was published by Onlignment in 2010.

Facilitating connected learning

Since the advent of social media, hundreds of millions of people have been able to build and sustain their personal networks online. The emergence of smart phones and tablets has accelerated this trend by allowing us to stay connected wherever we are and at any time of day. Unsurprisingly, there is keen interest in bringing these advantages to the world of work, with obvious benefits in terms of learning and performance support.
Connected learning takes advantage of online networks and simple collaborative tools such as forums, wikis, blogs and social networks. It has its place in formal learning, within new blends that extend well beyond the classroom. But its major benefits will occur informally, as a means for on-going support and collaboration.
In some cases, learning professionals can just sit back and allow connected learning to occur naturally on a peer-to-peer basis, but there are situations where their skills in facilitation and coaching could prove really valuable. And novices will appreciate their help as curators who identify useful resources and put people in touch with others who can help them. But before they can do this, learning professionals must themselves become connected.
Coming next: A conclusion to the series

Making transformation happen: analysis and design

Transforming l&d
In this series of posts I’ve set out a vision and strategies for transformation in workplace learning and development. I showed how this process must be clearly aligned to an organisation’s learning requirements, the characteristics of its people and the constraints which govern its decision making. These factors inform and shape our transformation process starting, as I explained in my previous post, with the overall learning architecture and the creation of a supportive infrastructure.
Architecture and infrastructure form the inner layers of our transformation wheel. We need to build on these by establishing new policies for performance needs analysis and blended solution design:

Performance needs analysis

An effective needs analysis process identifies gaps in performance which can be realistically addressed by learning interventions. It aligns these interventions with business needs and ensures that the right people are trained at the right time, in the right way and to the right extent.
That’s the theory. In practice a lot can go wrong, for example:

  • You fail to understand the underlying performance issue, making it harder to establish goals or evaluate results.
  • You jump to the conclusion that training is the right solution, when in practice there is no underlying problem knowledge or skills.
  • You misunderstand the nature of the learning requirement and, as a result, make inappropriate design decisions.
  • You fail to clarify the exact nature and composition of the audience, with the risk that the wrong people are targeted and efforts misplaced.
  • You don’t get a handle on the logistical constraints, with the danger that your solution will fail to meet your client’s needs.
You can’t design a learning solution without a thorough performance needs analysis and this takes time, care and good consulting skills. Your starting point should be a clearly-documented process that ensures all the right questions get answered.

Blended solution design

It’s hard to achieve the outcomes and the efficiencies you require using a single learning method or medium. Today’s most powerful and scalable solutions employ a careful mix of social contexts (learning alone, one-to-one or in a group) and exploit the latest technologies. Making choices which satisfy the three Ls (the learning, the learner and the logistics) for the particular situation requires skill and balance.
We may consider ourselves lucky to have so many new choices in terms of learning technologies, and so many ways of combining these with traditional approaches. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that, when we’re faced with a huge range of options, we revert to the old familiar solutions. In other words, we carry on doing what we’ve always done. If we’re more adventurous there’s another danger – that we follow the trends and look for ways to innovate at all costs. We have a bundle of solutions and we’re desperate to find problems to match.
Again, the answer is a simple and logical process for making decisions on learning strategies and delivery media; one that looks first and foremost to meet the client’s performance objectives, but which also delivers in terms of the efficiencies all organisations are demanding.
Clive Shepherd’s The Blended Learning Cookbook was published in 2008. It outlines a process for the design of blended solutions that is used by many hundreds of learning professionals. A third edition is planned for 2013.
Coming next: Building the skills of the 21st century learning professional

Making transformation happen: learning architecture and infrastructure

Transforming l&d
In this series of posts I’ve set out a vision and strategies for transformation in workplace learning and development. In the previous post, I showed how this process must be clearly aligned to an organisation’s particular learning requirements (‘learning’), the characteristics of its people (‘learners’) and the constraints which govern its decision making (‘logistics’). The ‘three Ls’ inform and shape our transformation process, starting with the overall learning architecture and the creation of a supportive infrastructure:
Learners, learning and logistics shape your transformation process

Learning architecture

We are all learning machines, constantly adapting to the ever-changing threats and opportunities with which we are confronted. We learn through experience, whether consciously or unconsciously; we learn by seeking out the knowledge and skills we need to carry out our day-to-day tasks; we learn by sharing experiences and best practice with our colleagues, and by taking advantage of opportunities for development, both formal and informal.
The learning architect designs environments that enable specific target populations to take maximum advantage of all these opportunities for learning. To do this they need to understand the unique characteristics of their clients and the business challenges they are facing; they need to find just the right balance between top-down and bottom-up learning initiatives, between the formal and informal.
A learning architecture provides a blueprint for a working environment that supports and encourages learning. Just like the plans for a building, it looks to the long term, providing strength and stability while also providing plenty of scope for adaptation as needs change.
Clive Shepherd’s book The New Learning Architect was published by Onlignment in 2011.

Learning infrastructure

An architect’s plans go well beyond a specification for materials and dimensions; they also have to take account of the systems that need to be in place for the building to fulfil its purpose – the electrics, plumbing, lighting, security and so on. Similarly a learning architecture is just the starting point. To function properly, careful thought needs to be given to the learning infrastructure:

  • the computing devices available to employees, whether desktop, laptop or handheld;
  • the networks linking these devices;
  • the tools provided to support communication and collaboration, including intranets and extranets, social networks, email, instant messaging, web conferencing systems, forums, blogs and wikis;
  • tools to support the orderly management of documents and other forms of digital content;
  • tools that allow for quick access to information on-demand;
  • tools to track learning where this is required for compliance purposes;
  • tools, equipment and facilities for creating digital learning content.

Thought must also be given to the governance of organisational learning, bringing together learning professionals, senior managers and representative learners to review and approve strategic plans and to monitor progress. And implementing this strategy is likely to demand a rethink of the way in which l&d responsibilities are organised and distributed throughout the organisation.

The inner core

Architecture and infrastructure form the inner core of our transformation wheel:
Architecture and infrastructure form the inner core of the transformation wheel.
In coming posts, we will continue to add layers of detail, starting with the processes that need to be put in place for improved performance needs analysis and blended solution design.
Coming next: A process for analysis and design

Making transformation happen: how organisations differ

Transforming l&d
So far in this series of posts, I’ve set out a vision and strategies for transformation in workplace learning and development as they would apply to some generic organisation. Needless to say, that organisation only exists in abstract. If you’ve been following the series, then hopefully you’ll have bought into some of the ideas (otherwise why would you still be reading?), but you’ll also probably have encountered recommendations which make little or no sense in the environment in which you work. Clearly every organisation needs its own vision and strategy for transformation, shaped around its own unique characteristics.
So what are the characteristics that make the most difference? In our experience, they can be summarised under three headings: the requirements in terms of learning, the characteristics of the employee population, and the particular opportunities and constraints that shape decision making. My colleague, Phil Green, calls these the three Ls – learning, learners and logistics.

Learning

Each organisation (and each department, division and horizontal slice within this) has particular requirements for learning. Strictly speaking these requirements are actually for improved performance because, unless the organisation is a school or college, it is only indirectly measured in terms of the learning it manages to bring about. And if, as learning professionals, we focus our efforts on improving performance, then we have to take a broad view of what ‘learning’ actually encompasses. Increasingly it is not just learning (evidenced as knowledge, skill or attitude) that is required to support performance, but access to just-in-time information. This cannot strictly be regarded as learning, because the information just needs to be used rather than memorised, but that does not diminish its importance in our overall strategy for transformation.
An organisation’s requirements for learning (and just-in-time information) should be directly aligned to its goals and strategy (if you remember, in an earlier post, I presented alignment as one of the six key elements in our vision for a transformed l&d). An organisation’s requirements are likely to be many and varied, but one or more of the following types of learning is likely to be of particular importance:

  • Understanding and committing to the organisation’s mission, values, policies and strategies.
  • Understanding the organisation’s work processes.
  • Keeping up-to-date with inevitable changes and developments in what we need to know and be able to do.
  • Performing routine administrative tasks.
  • Solving problems and making judgements.
  • Communicating using electronic media.
  • Interacting person-to-person with peers, direct reports, customers, suppliers and other third parties.
  • Interacting with the physical world, with vehicles and with equipment.

You will undoubtedly think of more examples. These distinctions matter because each type of learning demands a different approach. It addresses a different form of knowledge, skill or attitude and impacts, therefore, on the extent to which you will want to make the six strategic shifts described in earlier posts. For example, in some organisations the prime consideration may be to keep its highly-educated professional workforce up-to-date with technological developments. This is going to support the shifts from synchronous to asynchronous, from courses to resources, from top-down to bottom-up and from face-to-face to online. For another organisation, a critical determinant of success may be the way they interact with their customers, as it would be in a retail environment. In this case the shifts away from traditional approaches will still be relevant, but are likely to be more measured, with a continuing reliance on face-to-face learning.

Learners

The second major way in which organisations differ is in the characteristics of their employees. Each of the following is going to have an impact on which sliders you push, how far and how fast:

  • Their prior knowledge.
  • Their motivation to learn.
  • Their confidence in using new technologies.
  • Their expectations in terms of learning at work.
  • Their independence as learners.
  • The discretion they have over how they allocate their time.
  • How long they tend to stay in the job.

Logistics

All decisions are made within the context of constraints and opportunities. Any of the following could make an important difference to your l&d strategy:

  • The attitudes and opinions of senior managers.
  • The availability of funds to support learning.
  • The speed with which the organisation must respond to change.
  • The availability of the necessary hardware, software and bandwidth.
  • The size of the organisation.
  • The geographic dispersion of employees.

Again, you will undoubtedly be able to add to this list.
Without a clear and detailed knowledge of the three Ls, it will be difficult to come up with a strategy for transforming l&d which will really work. If you are unprepared and ill-informed, there is a danger your efforts at change will be rejected as inappropriate or ahead of their time. If you tailor your transformation strategy to the needs of the organisation, you could find you are pushing against an open door.
Coming next: Putting in place a learning architecture and infrastructure

Transformation: Making it happen

Transforming l&d
In this series of posts, running throughout 2012, I have endeavoured to explain Onlignment’s ideas for a transformation in workplace learning and development. These are the ideas that shape our thinking and which we look to apply in all our client engagements.
I started the series by setting out the need for transformation.
I then set out a vision for workplace learning and development that is:

I moved on to look at some of the changes that can be made to realise this vision, expressed as six shifts:

In the posts that follow over the next few months, I will bring the series to a conclusion by focusing on the practical steps that we can take to make transformation happen:

  • Recognising the uniqueness of your particular organisation in terms of its requirements, the characteristics of its people and the constraints which govern its decision making.
  • Establishing a learning architecture and infrastructure that recognises these unique characteristics.
  • Putting in place processes for improved performance needs analysis and blended solution design.
  • Building capability in areas such as the design of digital learning content, learning live and online, and connected online learning.

Coming nextHow organisations differ

Strategies for transformation 6: from face-to-face to online

Transforming l&d
face-to-face to online
In this series of posts, I explore six ways in which learning professionals can realise a transformation in the way that learning and development occurs in their organisations. It builds on the series I posted earlier in the year, in which I set out the six major elements in a vision for change, i.e. learning that is alignedeconomicalscalableflexibleengaging and powerful.
The sixth and last step on the route to transformation is a shift from delivering learning face-to-face to delivery online. There are obvious benefits from learning online in terms of flexibility, as well as savings in terms of time, budget and emissions, but old habits die hard and many learning professionals are finding it hard to make the change.
Of course, not all learning can be brought online while maintaining quality, for example:

  • Some interpersonal skills courses require tutors and/or participants to be able to accurately monitor the body language of others.
  • Some practical courses require students to interact with equipment in ways that cannot feasibly be simulated online.
  • Some courses benefit from the opportunities provided for networking socially.
  • Some skills are more authentically practised in the real job environment.

But, as a whole, we tend to exaggerate the extent to which our face-to-face events really need to remain that way. It is worth reflecting on how we consume media in our personal lives. Of the music we listen to, only a small proportion is in a club or concert hall. Of the drama we consume, most is on the TV or in the cinema, not the theatre. Of the sport we watch, the overwhelming majority is on TV. When we do go to a theatre, concert hall or sports stadium, it is a very special event, often one we will remember for a very long time. But for most of us, this is not normal practice.

The benefits

So what effect does pushing the slider from face-to-face to online have on the six elements of our transformation vision?
Aligned: No real impact here.
Economical: There are obvious benefits here, as time and money is saved by removing the need for travel. Learning time also tends to reduce, because there is less of a temptation for course designers to fill a whole day or week with training when the time is not strictly needed.
Scalable: Face-to-face events are constrained in terms of scalability because of the practical limitation of space. Eighty thousand people may have been able to watch the 100m final at the Olympics in London, but hundreds of millions could watch remotely, not only on TV but online. As the providers of massively open online courses have discovered, while a lecture room might be packed to capacity with 100 students, a thousand times more could take part in an online lecture.
Flexible: Online learning is, above all, more flexible because it frees the learner from the constraints of geography. An online learner can access what learning they want, wherever they want, without the time, financial and environmental costs of travel.
Engaging: There is no reason why an online experience should necessarily be less engaging than one which is face-to-face, assuming it is relevant and well-designed, but there is still a certain magic about ‘being there,’ particularly when the opportunities are scarce, e.g. the big game, the farewell tour, the invited audience. You will never quite be able to match this experience in a live online event, but whether this really matters in a learning and development context is debatable.
Powerful: No reason why there should be an impact here.

In summary

If you push the faders on all six strategies, you can maximise every element of your vision, as you can see from the ‘mixer’ below. While some of the strategies have positive and negative consequences, when used in combination the pluses greatly outweigh the minuses and allow you to achieve all your goals.
The transformation mixer
Coming next: The steps needed to achieve transformation
Looking back: 1. From generic to tailored / 2. From synchronous to asynchronous / 3. From compliance to competence / 4. From top-down to bottom-up / 5. From courses to resources

Strategies for transformation 5: from courses to resources

Transforming l&d
courses to resources
In this series of posts, I explore six ways in which learning professionals can realise a transformation in the way that learning and development occurs in their organisations. It builds on the series I posted earlier in the year, in which I set out the six major elements in a vision for change, i.e. learning that is alignedeconomicalscalableflexibleengaging and powerful.
The fifth step on the route to transformation is a shift from courses to resources. I’ve borrowed this terminology from Nick Shackleton-Jones. Nick distinguishes between the formal nature of courses, where the focus, he believes, should be on engaging the learner emotionally with the topic and building their confidence to continue to learn independently, and the on-going provision of resources, both human and in the form of content, to support the learner as they continue to learn and apply their new skills.

Why courses are not enough

Courses have, historically, been what l&d does, perhaps even its raison d’être. And they will continue to play an important role, particularly with novices who ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ and when formal confirmation is required that particular learning objectives have been achieved. Courses may take place in a classroom, online, on-job or by some blend of these, but they all typically have objectives, entry criteria, a curriculum, formal content, tuition and assessment. More often than not they also take place at a predetermined time and are ‘pushed’ at a particular population. All of this structure helps an organisation to make sure that certain key interventions do take place in the intended fashion, but does not guarantee success. All too often, courses fail to fulfil their aims:

  • They are frequently forced on those who don’t need them.
  • Timing is rarely ideal – often they are too early or too late.
  • They are often knowledge-focused and, as a result, serve only to overwhelm the learner with new information, without placing this in context.
  • They typically provide nowhere near enough opportunities for practice and feedback.
  • They make little provision for follow-up once the course has been completed.

The case for resources

There’s nothing wrong with courses as such, it’s just that we place too much attention on them and not enough on what happens afterwards. By and large, we would do well to teach much less and provide much more in the way of support. Courses are for stories, scenarios, simulations and discussions; resources are where you go to find the information you need to follow up on your interest. These resources can take many forms:

  • Experts that we can call upon for information.
  • Coaches who can help us to analyse our successes and failures and establish our goals.
  • Packaged content that can provide us with information and help in diagnosing problems and making decisions.
  • Forums and other collaborative tools that allow us to share expertise and solve problems.

The argument for shifting the emphasis from teaching everything formally up-front to teaching the essentials and then providing other information on-demand has strengthened over the past few years:

  • We now have a much better understanding of how easy it is to overwhelm novices with information and how little of this information is retained.
  • The easy availability of information through search engines and on mobile devices makes it much more practical to provide resources as and when needed.
  • Expectations have changed. Employees no longer expect to have to learn large quantities of information up-front, when it can so easily be made available on-demand.

The benefits

So what effect does pushing the slider from courses to resources have on the six elements of our transformation vision?
Aligned: There is nothing about the move from courses to resources that will make an impact here.
Economical: In this respect you should see an improvement, because resources are much more economical to provide than courses.
Scalable: Courses take a lot of time and effort to manage. Resources can be made available to large audiences with little difficulty.
Flexible: Because resources are available on demand, the learner is in complete control over what they access and when.
Engaging: Slimmed-down courses that focus on must-know information and key skills, and which provide plenty of opportunities for practice will be much more engaging. With resources, engagement is not the issue – you only call upon the resource when you need it.
Powerful: Most importantly, the courses and resources combination gets the job done in terms of improved competency on-the-job.
Coming next: Strategies for transformation 6: from face-to-face to online
Looking back: 1. From generic to tailored / 2. From synchronous to asynchronous / 3. From compliance to competence / 4. From top-down to bottom-up

Strategies for transformation 4: from top-down to bottom-up

Transforming l&d
top-down to bottom-up
In this series of posts, I explore six ways in which learning professionals can realise a transformation in the way that learning and development occurs in their organisations. It builds on the series I posted earlier in the year, in which I set out the six major elements in a vision for change, i.e. learning that is alignedeconomicalscalableflexibleengaging and powerful.
The fourth step on the route to transformation is a shift from learning and development activities that are directed from the top-down to those that originate from the bottom-up.

Top-down learning

Top-down learning occurs because organisations want their employees to perform effectively and efficiently and they appreciate that this depends, at least in part, on them possessing the appropriate knowledge and skills. Top-down learning is designed to fulfil the employer’s objectives, not the employees’.
Whatever the attractions of a more bottom-up approach (as we shall see), some learning cannot be left to chance. Why? Because employees need basic competencies and they don’t always know what they don’t know, where to look for answers or who to turn to; because requirements change (new policies, products, plans), and because employees must be developed to fill future gaps.
However, it is unrealistic for all learning to be managed on a top-down basis, particularly in those organisations where change is constant and knowledge requirements hard to predict. As most top-down learning requires the direct intervention of subject experts and l&d professionals, resources are clearly going to be limited, so priorities have to be made. Top-down learning is likely to be most valuable for the 20% of knowledge that is needed 80% of the time, and for learning that is most critical in terms of risk to safety, budget or reputation.

Bottom-up learning

Bottom-up learning occurs because employees also want to perform. The exact motivation may vary, from achieving job security to earning more money, gaining recognition or obtaining personal fulfilment, but the route to all these is performing well on the job, and employees know as well as their employers that this depends – again, at least in part – on them acquiring the appropriate knowledge and skills.
Bottom-up learning is managed by employees themselves. It addresses the 80% of knowledge that is needed 20% of the time and is particularly important in those organisations in which there is constant change and fluidity in tasks and goals.
Bottom-up learning is cheaper, more responsive, less controlling, less patronising and altogether more in tune with the times. But it is also less certain, less measurable and less suited to dependent learners who don’t know what they don’t know.
For bottom-up learning to thrive, employees need the motive, the means and the opportunity (just like the perps in the crime novels). They will only have the motive if they are rewarded for effective performance. They will only have the means if employers help them to develop the skills they need to learn independently and provide, where appropriate, the right collaborative software tools (a rich and searchable intranet, forums, wikis, blogs, communities of practice, etc.). They will only have the opportunity if employers are able to foster a culture which encourages self-initiative and does not penalise mistakes.
L&d professionals could do worse in future than to regard bottom-up learning as the default solution, the one on which they rely except when it is obviously unsuitable. For too long, employees have been spoon-fed their education and their training, and have failed to develop as independent learners to the extent that perhaps they should have done. Those now entering the workforce have, in many cases, overcome these barriers and have higher expectations. Provide them with the motive, the means and the opportunities and their capabilities are likely to astound you.

The benefits

So what effect does pushing the slider from top-down to bottom-up have on the six elements of our transformation vision?
Aligned: This particular change should not have a major impact on alignment.
Economical: Some investment might need t0 be made in collaborative tools, but otherwise bottom-up learning requires little or no additional expense.
Scalable: Bottom-up learning is highly scalable because it draws upon the expertise of every employee. In a bottom-up learning culture, everyone is a teacher and everyone a learner; no-one knows everything and everyone knows something.
Flexible: Here is the greatest advantage. Bottom-up learning occurs as and when it is needed; it responds organically to changes in requirements.
Engaging: There’s not likely to be much impact here, except perhaps to the extent that bottom-up learning is likely to be more relevant to current needs.
Powerful: It could be argued that bottom-up learning will be less powerful because it is not so professionally conceived and delivered, but this factor could easily be over-weighed by greater relevance and increased responsiveness.
Coming next: Strategies for transformation 5: from courses to resources
Looking back: 1. From generic to tailored / 2. From synchronous to asynchronous / 3. From compliance to competence

Strategies for transformation 3: from compliance to competence

Transforming l&d
compliance to competence
In this series of posts, I explore six ways in which learning professionals can realise a transformation in the way that learning and development occurs in their organisations. It builds on the series I posted earlier in the year, in which I set out the six major elements in a vision for change, i.e. learning that is alignedeconomicalscalableflexibleengaging and powerful.
The third step on the route to transformation is a shift from interventions aimed primarily at ensuring compliance to those that aim to achieve competency. Now every organisation does, to some extent, have to comply with regulations of one sort or another, whether that relates to employment policies, health and safety, the prevention of money laundering, the marketing of pharmaceutical products, and so on. The implications of breaking these regulations – and being found out – can be devastating for an organisation, not only financially, but in terms of public reputation. In extreme cases, executives and others lower down in an organisation could face criminal charges. Not surprising, then, that organisations – sometimes on the insistence of their insurers – take great pains to ensure that infringements are kept to a minimum. An obvious step in achieving this is to ensure everyone involved obtains adequate training.
There are two ways of looking at this sort of training: (1) you can regard it as a simple box-ticking exercise in which employers and employees go through the motions of delivering and receiving training, in order to satisfy regulators and insurers that the job is being done; or (2), you aim to bring about a shift in behaviour such that infringements are very unlikely to occur, because employees believe in the policy and have the necessary knowledge and skill to put it into practice. Option (1) is based on the assumptions that infringements are unlikely, the regulations are a nuisance and that compliance is a necessary evil. Option (2) is founded on the principles that infringements can and do happen, that the regulations are rightly in place to prevent harm to third parties, and that policies are not enough – delivering on these policies requires competence. Quite a difference.

The implications of an approach based on compliance

So what are the dangers of basing your approach to training on simple compliance?

  • Executives and learning professionals regard the whole exercise as a box-ticking exercise.
  • The training is designed to deliver as much dry and abstract information as possible in the minimum time. Subject-matter experts rather than learning professionals drive the design.
  • Knowledge is typically assessed immediately after delivery of the information, invalidating the results. No effort is made to assess whether this information can be applied effectively in context, in other words competence.
  • Employees will do the minimum possible to complete the training, focusing all their attention on passing the assessment rather than on gaining useful information that is important for their job.
  • On the basis that people resist ‘being changed’, it is possible that the whole process makes them less likely to comply rather than more so.
  • E-learning is often used as the means of delivery to minimise costs and take the pressure off trainers who understandably don’t want to deliver training that nobody wants to do. As a result, e-learning becomes synonymous with compliance and bad training generally.

Shifting the emphasis to competence

How would the picture change if a genuine attempt was made to ensure competence?

  • Executives and learning professionals would themselves be committed to change and would model the desired behaviour consistently.
  • The training would focus on encouraging positive attitudes to the necessary change, providing critically-important information (the rest can be accessed as reference resources), putting principles into context with examples and case studies and, most importantly, providing plenty of opportunities for practice (with supportive feedback).
  • Employees are assessed on the basis of their ability to apply what they have learned in context rather than their ability to retain information.
  • Management reinforce the desired behaviour when it is put into practice.
  • E-learning is used when it is an appropriate medium for delivering elements of what is likely to be a blended solution.

The benefits

So what effect does pushing the slider from compliance to competence have on the six elements of our transformation vision?
Aligned: Courses oriented to building competence can be directly aligned to business needs. This means genuinely complying with the requirements of regulators, not just going through the motions of delivering compliance training.
Economical: Sorry, but competence-based training will cost more to deliver. On the other hand have you factored in the real risk of a billion dollar lawsuit?
Scalable: Again, quality comes at a cost. Simple self-study courses may be  cheaper, but are they really achieving a positive return?
Flexible: To be honest there’s not going to be a lot of change here. If anything, more elaborate blends are going to be less easy to complete than those that concentrate on ticking the boxes. So, no more asking your assistant to click through the screens on your behalf.
Engaging: Relevance drives out resistance. Who’s going to be engaged by a box-ticking exercise?
Powerful: And here’s the bottom line. Competency-based training really will protect you from risk and surely that’s the whole point.
Coming next: Strategies for transformation 4: from top-down to bottom-up
Looking back: 1. From generic to tailored 2. From synchronous to asynchronous