Who Is Responsible For Learning In Your Organization?

In The Learning & Development Book, authors Tricia Emerson and Mary Stewart set about a straightforward approach for developing meaningful learning objectives.  They also discuss what is important to teach in the first place.

They boil down what to train into three categories: Skills that are critical to the success of the mission, procedures that are common like everyday must-dos, and those things that are catastrophic, potentially shutting down operations due to safety issues or client fallout (Emerson & Stewart, 2011).

These categories are a helpful way to parse learning and prioritize learning outcomes.  What about the who?  Who is responsible for learning in organizations?  What kinds of benefits might result if individuals in an organization selected their learning goals and planned their staff development initiatives?

Business author and speaker, Jay Forte, observes three things that happen when employees take control of their learning. First, as they locate their own training materials, individuals discover material that is relevant to their needs and fits with their work context (as opposed to being presented with ideas that are watered down in an attempt to resonate with everyone present).

Second, when employees set their own learning goals, they enter into the process of assessing their learning and gauging their own performance.  There is increased accountability.

Third, individuals can access the materials when it suits their schedule.  Since they chose the source and channel for the information, they have access to the website, subscription, and printed materials when they need it.  They are no longer locked into a regimented schedule that might disrupt the work day.

By equipping employees with a framework for learning what is critical, common, and catastrophic, they can begin setting meaningful learning goals that benefit the company mission.  When given autonomy to discover helpful resources, people can take ownership of their learning and skill development and possibly enjoy accomplishment that might not be present in a more traditional one-to-many program.

Increased autonomy and accountability?  Increased choice and engagement?  Sounds like a win/win.

Emerson, T., Stewart, M. (2011). The learning & development book: change the way you think about L&D. East Peoria, IL: Versa Press, Inc.
Forte, J. (2012). Retrieved Feb. 28, 2015 from https://www.mindflash.com/blog/2012/05/let-employees-choose-their-own-training-materials/

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Write Your Own Code

I don’t know how to write code.  I’ve been told by those who are pros that it’s beautiful.  It’s both art and science, equal parts creativity and logic.  The more one practices, the more streamlined, efficient, and powerful code can become.

My passion is implementing what I call idea technology…protocols, conversations, and engagements that give ideas traction…a different kind of code.  The process of learning shares many similarities with idea technology…after all, mastering new skills often requires social learning with a healthy dose of dialogue and reflection.

Winston Churchill said “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught” (Source).  I have a feeling this describes many learners.  If this is true, what can we do to write our own code for learning?  How can we get better at getting better and determining what and how to learn?

I believe that each of us can learn to write code…our own learning code.  We can begin by understanding how we learn best and then practice habits that support our innate capacities. When we begin to understand our own code, we can practice new methods to make our learning more powerful, more meaningful.

Harold Jarche has a ton of expertise and research to share about how we can master personal knowledge management.  Check out his work here and/or follow him @hjarche.

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Time And Space For Learning

Author and education reform leader Heidi Hayes-Jacobs has asked architects to teach with her in curriculum design classes.  She observes that the design thinking for engineering building space uses methods similar to those needed to create environments that inspire learning (Hayes, Jacobs, 2010).

In Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, Heidi makes the case that schools have neglected the thoughtful integration of “four program structures – schedules, grouping patterns for learners, groupings of professionals, and space” (Hayes-Jacobs, 2010, p. 77).

Sometimes the limitations and advantages of a particular learning space can play just as significant a role in learning as pace.  And flowing from the conditions of space, we introduce limitations and advantages for how we can or cannot group teachers and students.

Check out two schools that are denting tradition and making space and time work for them to create optimal learning experiences.

Faculty training center at New Tech High in Napa.
Students schedule themselves at Design Tech High School in Millbrae, CA.

Hayes-Jacobs, H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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Be Transformed

Learning is transformative.  Therefore, professional development should be changing our output in some way.  At a high level, learning usually looks like this:  The rollout; The practice; The Proof. And like this:

Show up; Workout; Demonstrate
I do; We do; You do
Inspire; Coach; Get out of the way
I want a skill; I’m working on a skill; I have a skill…check this out.
Access information; Create something from it; Share your creation.
Play; Practice; Prove.

Sometimes, schedules just permit us to show up.
Hopefully there is enough time for active practice and risk taking.
Ideally, we choose to share our new found skill/knowledge with someone else.

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Professional Learning Online, My Time, My Pace

I stumbled upon an amazing resource via Laura Fleming (@NMHS_lms) that I think serves as an exemplar of how professional development needs to evolve.  Here’s why I think Laura’s innovation is so important.

First, there are many passionate and able technology coaches who love supporting teachers’ efforts to integrate technology in students’ learning experiences.  In the role of technology coach, this happens best when I have the opportunity to meet with teachers in small groups and learn together how to integrate tools that add value to what is happening in the classroom right now.  It is getting more difficult to find these times with a multitude of competing priorities.

Second, it would be easier to get traction and achieve real results with professional development if district change efforts included individual learning plans for faculty.  Many teachers seem to be in constant change fatigue because training sessions are often mandatory for content they have already mastered or perhaps they can’t attend training because that was “last year’s” initiative. Learning new skills would be much more personal and integrated if training could be accessed online, on my time, at my pace.

Laura Fleming solves these hurdles and more with her “Microcredentials in Professional Learning.” The synergy of online, my time, and my pace creates opportunity for professionals to manage their own learning and showcase their knowledge.  My paraphrase of Common Core learning outcomes is, “If you know it, you’ll be able to show it.”  And Laura’s Worlds of Learning at NMHS embodies that idea for professional learning.  Describing the site is not good enough; you must give it a look and try a couple performance tasks.  Go earn a badge or two!

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Using Empathy And Voice To Solve Problems

What is the pedagogy of your change initiative?  In other words, what is your theory of learning for moving your colleagues from an existing mindset to a new one?

Perhaps colleagues will be immersed in some case studies and asked to solve tough, close to life challenges in a contained setting.  Perhaps research will be performed and applied to a couple business problems that participants are familiar with.

The challenge to meaningful staff development comes when the fabricated environment is gone and there are real stakes…when something that wasn’t on the test or in the case study, needs to be addressed.

Is there a system for learning how to learn that might be more valuable than simply teaching employees to respond to “typical” challenges?  Providing tools for lifelong learning can be the factor that differentiates performance from that of your competition.

Here is an article that discusses how students are applying design thinking to designing their own school.  What a fantastic laboratory for bringing empathy to bear and including voice from all stakeholders…two factors that have tremendous application to solving nearly any meaningful business challenge.

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What Kind Of Teacher Are You/Will You Be?

What is the most memorable experience you’ve had learning something new.  Perhaps it was in school or perhaps it was while hanging out with a favorite aunt or friend who taught you a new skill.  Think about it just for a minute until you have something in mind.

For me, I was 16.   My good friend, a couple years old than I, started teaching me about the theatrical sound system for the high school drama group.  I was hooked.  I was elated to be entrusted with the care and knowledge of cutting edge technology.  I thought about the mixing techniques during my free time and I enjoyed planning for the setup and tear down before and after events.

In hindsight, a couple things stand out.  First, there was the relationship with my friend…we had a rapport that included trust and respect.  Second, my friend entrusted me with something that was important and critical to the success of something we were both involved in.  Third, learning these skills was challenging, even difficult at times with the responsibility, extra hours devoted to learning, and the possibility of failure when things didn’t go as planned.

How does your favorite learning experience compare?  I’m betting your experience involved some combination of the following:  A person(s) you trusted, a developing or discovered interest, and probably an element of intrigue, risk, or challenge.

Now, can you think of a memorable experience teaching something to someone?  For teachers and parents, this might be an easy exercise in recall.  What about for us project managers, supervisors, change management consultants?  What about those who write code, crunch numbers in finance, enforce compliance?

I believe that opportunities to teach abound in many roles and job descriptions within organizations.  If you’ve ever have to persuade someone to adopt your ideas, or present some new compliance legislation to colleagues, or initiate a change procedure…you are a teacher.

If you have to elicit change involving people….indirectly or directly…wear the hat.  How does your experience as a “teacher” in your organization compare to your favorite experience learning something new?  What are the things you, as a UX designer, compliance officer, director of marketing, or…. [insert your people facing change activity here] can do to create an incredible learning experience that creates the impact you desire.

You may be called to be a teacher in the future.  What will you do to create rapport, establish meaning and relevance, and step your audience through the challenge?

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Chunking Change

Change management and learning processes have a lot in common.  That’s because both processes evoke a sense of incompetency.  When there’s something new to learn, we can frame our ignorance as incompetency.  The same is true when change is expected of us requiring new habits, processes, and knowledge.

Here is an article that provides tips for “chunking” learning content for eLearning courses.  Content chunking is a method of curating and assembling content into bite size pieces, making learning new concepts easier to digest than a lengthy powerpoint or lecture, for instance.

Three steps are described for content chunking which are:  Prioritize, Simplify, and Organize.

Managing change in organizations must incorporate the same three activities.  Change fatigue results when there are too many competing priorities.  It’s necessary to order change and promote simplicity by using vocabulary that is common and accessible to each stakeholder group involved.

What do you think Change Management practitioners…does it make sense to “chunk” change initiatives?

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What Do You Want Your Audience To Do?

Recently, I attended a sales event hosted by a product vendor.  The vendor representatives were passionate and knowledgeable about their product.  They were clearly generous souls.  Nearing the end of their presentation (two hours in length), it dawned on me that despite the many case studies and appeals to emotion, there was no call to action.

The event ended.  I knew that there was a product available to purchase only because of brand awareness, but there was not an explicit push for any one product and no clear plan of action for the audience to engage with the brand afterward.  It was a baffling experience.  Pleasant but baffling.

When you make a presentation, remember that you and the audience have specific roles to assume depending on the goals for your time together.  It’s helpful to test your theory of action before presenting.  For the myriad reasons to assemble a presentation, there are only a few basic goals for any conversation.

Identify one of these as the overarching goal for each presentation you make and assume the role of:
Reporter if your audience will understand this chunk of information and why it’s relevant to them.
Coach/Teacher if your audience will be able to perform a new skill or at least have access to new tools or processes to work on a new skill.
Salesman if your audience will…buy this product, move to this location, start treating their colleagues with more respect, tolerate a behavior.
Storyteller if your audience will think differently, believe something is possible (that they previously thought impossible), have a markedly different mindset.

There will, no doubt, be some overlap between roles.  You may have to change minds in order to sell your product. But there will be a primary role to assume.

Once you understand the roles and goals for your conversation, check to make sure you’ve included explicit next steps for your audience.  If you are a:

Reporter, identify a method to check for understanding after the event using surveys or opportunities for informal conversation.
Coach/Teacher, schedule future opportunities for participants to demonstrate their progress and new skills. Perhaps they can submit samples of their work to you or their colleagues.
Salesman, gain permission to engage with them after the event to understand their thought process.
Storyteller, create an opportunity for participants to share their own stories with you or their peers.  Encourage stories for both changed minds and static alike…perhaps you are interested in an ongoing conversation and welcome push back.

Consider:  If the primary role for your presentation is that of reporter, create an infographic, podcast, or another creative representation of the data that can be sent to your audience via email or blog post.

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Trash Can Filing

How many people do you know that use their email trash bin as part of their filing system.  Select all, and drag-and-drop to the trash bin.  A long time ago, that was my knowledge management system.  And it felt good to have a clean inbox.  And as for my trash bin, well, I could always search for emails if necessary.

My friend was appalled at my system and likened it to a person taking files from his filing cabinet and dumping them in his waste basket to make room for more paperwork… and assuring everyone, “Oh, no worries, if I need those files, I know where to find them.”

I took his point.  I found a better way to stay on top of my communication.

Now, when do you do your bookmarking, favoriting, clipping, and other generally passive yet intentional web collecting?

If you’re like me, you do it all the time:  Favorite a Tweet; bookmark a site in the browser; save an article to read later in Diigo; markup the Kindle books with notes and highlights; clip something to Evernote.

We do this with the intent to revisit some of the information later.  We want to dig in deeper, share the information with friends, or use the research for our next project.

But do we?  Do we dig deeper?  Do we go back to see if there is a perspective that will work for our next project

Sometimes, the best I’ve done is to assure myself that the data is there if I need it…everything is at my fingertips with a hashtag search.  Here again, I had to find a better way.

I scheduled a weekly 30-minute recurring appointment to address the week’s worth of web collections.  I apply the same principals that I use when spring cleaning:  Save it, give it away, or throw it away.

If I save it, I schedule the time to finish reading it.  If I just need it for future research, then I tag it, label with a proper category, and make sure I can find it quickly.  If it’s just something I favorited on the spur of the moment to share, then I share it if I didn’t do that.  For everything else, If I can’t discern any further actionable value I delete.

I don’t have a hard and fast rule for every piece of information or list I’ve made.  But the habit of combing through “clippings” has been a really valuable way to reflect on ideas that occurred to me in the spur of the moment.  This routine is much better than forgetting about potentially fantastic resources and doing the equivalent of trash-can-filing.

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