Thursday, March 8, 2018

The MOST Important Thing

A few days ago, someone asked me a most interesting question: What is the MOST important thing L&D practitioners can do to improve the instructional content they build?

There are MANY truly critical things (I describe truly critical strategies in Write and Organize for Deeper Learning and Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning). But there's one thing that makes those other things possible:  Deeply understanding the jobs our content supports. If we don't understand the tasks and outcomes of these jobs, how can we...
  • Deliver what people really need?
  • Design for relevancy?
  • Offer the right content and activities?
  • Provide what's needed at the right time?
  • Write at the correct level?
  • Provide needed support?
Simple. We can't. Building for anyone is the same as building for no one, especially for workplace instruction.

People don't have time or motivation to slog through things that are not relevant to them, especially in today's chaotic and fast-paced workplace. And if it's "compulsory," they will learn only enough to pass whatever barrier we provide (assessments, etc.). This is shallow learning but deep learning (and here) is what's needed for people to be able to use what they learn.

Training research shows relevance is a critical factor for transfer of trained skills to the workplace and to motivation to learn and persevere. Without these, our efforts become busywork for people who already have too much on their plate.

Far too many L&D practitioners think their job is to take content from a content expert and put it into instructional authoring tools and output it to [whatever]. Nonsense. We may do that but that's not our chief responsibility. Our chief responsibility is to use knowledge of jobs and the organization to help people grow skills and performance so that organizations can remain viable. We simply cannot do this without a deep understanding of the work and organizations we support.

Guy Wallace (Twitter@guywwallace), website https://www.eppic.biz) has some great articles about how to understand the job and why a single content expert cannot give you all the information you need for valuable instruction.

For now, I'll leave you with a few ideas to help you better understand what people do and how what WE do connects with their job.
  • Understand what your organization does and how it does it. In detail. Find out its major pain points and what gets in the way.
  • Spend time in different departments to better understand what they do and how it impacts organizational success.
  • Watch how key tasks are done and document the process. Ask good performers to evaluate your documentation for holes and flaws. Ask questions.
  • Review tangible work products and see how they are used. 
  • Watch workers work. Ask questions about their processes, their work, what doesn't work, and how what you want to teach connects to what they do.
  • Ask tons of questions when someone asks for training: What specific results are needed? How do you know there's a problem?  What gets in the way of producing needed results? If they cannot answer, get the answers from people who can answer them.
  • Figure out what foundational knowledge and skills are needed to perform the tasks. Do people have it? What happens if they don't?
Understanding your organization, the business they are in, and how jobs support organizational survival isn't nice-to-know. You simply cannot be effective without this understanding. Content development is not enough. Not even nearly.

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