Archive for January, 2009

What do you understand by “proof of learning”? For many organisations it seems to mean one or both of the following:

  • At the least, it means test results stored in a Learning Management System. The learner took the course and answered the knowledge test questions at the end.
  • Additionally, the learner may have completed a “happy sheet”, supplying additional information about the learning experience.

If you’re familiar with Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model (50 years old but still a great improvement on its successors), you’ll recognise that these “proofs of learning” correspond to his Learning and Reaction levels of evaluation.

So what’s the anomaly? We recognise that workplace learning needs to be about behaviour (Kirkpatrick level 3), about the day-to-day choices that people make in their working lives. That’s true whether we’re talking about traditional and instructor-led training, e-learning taken by an individual, or what is now called “workplace learning 2.0”, shared by a community. And we know that running off test score reports from the LMS won’t help us to predict how people will behave.

It may seem I’m making the familiar case for scenario-based training, but that’s not the argument I want to rehearse here. Instead, I want to draw a connection between proof of learning and performance management, by looking at consistent, recurring requirements for personal responsibility from HR departments, both private sector and public sector:

  • Managers must manage, by taking responsibility for the performance of their staff and not trying to pass this off to HR, especially when it comes to under-performance and discipline.
  • People must take responsibility for participating in their own development.
  • The organisation must develop a culture of continuous performance improvement.

Let’s turn our anomaly into an opportunity. One way to satisfy these requirements is for managers and teams to engage in continual conversations about behaviour and performance, about those day-to-day choices. In other words, we need to give more attention to coaching.

But this is not simply the coaching of yesterday. Frequent face-to-face meetings are a luxury that many teams can’t afford; in any event, the “lesson” may be learnt only once, by the participants. Likewise for coaching via email. This is where the Web 2.0 technologies – from blogs, wikis and podcasts to on-line forums and Twitter – enter the picture. Using these, we can turn each coaching event into a persistent training resource.

Proof of learning comes from behaviour, not from knowledge tests. To deliver the behaviour your organisation needs, be sure to add continual performance management and coaching, supported by today’s technology, to the learning and development blend.

[This entry is based on my Extreme Blending talk at Learning Technologies 2009.]

Far be it from me to question one of the greatest writers our country has produced, but I’m not entirely sure I agree with Shakespeare’s declaration (via Juliet) that “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Yes, admittedly a course on the finer points of health and safety is likely to be limited in its entertainment value whatever name you give it. And yes, just because you conjure up a (perhaps misleadingly) exciting course title doesn’t mean that you’ll convince your learners that they want, rather than need, to get to grips with the ins and outs of information retention.

But, as we all know, first impressions count. This applies to people (it takes the average person only a matter of seconds to make a whole series of judgements on meeting someone new) and to technology (it can take less than a second for an internet browser to make up their mind about the quality of a website). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that it also applies to training courses.

It’s important, then, to take a bit of time to think about the title you give to your training course. Whether it’s an online course or a classroom session, put yourself in the shoes of the learner signing up or logging into the LMS. If they see a course titled “Risk Assessment”, what are they likely to think? In all probability, they’ll reluctantly sign up for or access the training, expecting yet another dreary, slightly patronising, not-at-all-relevant-to-my-every-day-work glorified PowerPoint presentation. And even if what they get is far better than that, the chances are it’s that impression that will stick with them.

On the other hand, imagine they see an induction course called “Welcome to our world” rather than “Company induction” or a compliance course called “Fighting fraud” instead of “Anti money laundering”, their interest may be piqued just enough for them to (however momentarily) want to find out more.

Of course, it’s important to strike the right balance between the slightly unexpected and the just plain obscure – you’re not writing cryptic crossword clues, after all, and it needs to be clear what the course is about. But equally, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link – neglect the course title and you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage, having to prove yourself to the learner before they’ve even given your course a chance. A little extra thought when naming your course means that you might avoid the words “dreary” and “irrelevant” ever entering their heads. And later, when they look back on the course, with any luck they’ll remember it as the one that was a pleasant surprise.

“It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, and certainly not desirable, as one’s hat keeps blowing off.” -Woody Allen

The buzz word in Learning and Development during 2008 has undoubtedly been Rapid Development. Numerous tools have established themselves in the market and various consultancies now specialise in building e-learning at the speed of light. I’m a big believer in empowering users and prefer to do things myself when I can. I also believe that many of our clients have benefited from having content development tools in house.

The question I ask, however, is ‘can this approach deliver the same benefit faster or cheaper than commissioning a bespoke development’? The reality is that the software development part of any e-learning project takes a lot less time than designing the product and writing the content. As many of you know, developing content for e-learning presents a number of challenges, including getting sign off from the Subject Matter Expert. None of this can be turbo charged using content development tools.

So my advice, if you are embarking on this road, is caveat emptor – be very clear about what parts of the process you are trying to speed up and the reality of what is involved. If your SME takes ten days to review content, Articulate won’t help. Without this thinking, your authoring tool will be just another piece of software that promised so much and delivered so little.

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