As I have been playing with the Learning Environment Design Model, I alternate between thinking that it’s just a pretty way of saying what we’ve always said, and thinking that it’s a somewhat profound leap that really captures today’s organizational learning challenges. Ultimately, others will be the judge, but allow me to at least explain my thinking.
While I wanted to dismiss claims that “the ADDIE model is dead” out of hand, I have too much respect for Michael Allen and others who were making that claim to just shut my ears. In addition to “fixing” the impression that the ADDIE path is a linear one (see ADDIE spirograph), my musings uncovered another important change that we need to account for: we need to expand the scope of our outcomes from “instruction” to a more comprehensive “learning environment.”
One of the things that leading thinkers in the impact of the web have been practically shouting at us is that the way that people learn is dramatically shifting. (Tony O’Driscoll and Karl Kapp are my favorite sources.) Not only do learners have access to the unfathomable resources of the internet, they also have access to a huge array of people through cyberspace connections. Whether it is through participating in electronic communities, monitoring blogs and topical sites, researching and contacting like thinkers, or engaging in other electronically mediated activities, the tools we now have for learning dwarf the impact of some of our “training” programs. Even without internet connections, many organizations and nearly all software programs have on-line resources, built-in electronic help features, and performance prompts to assist people in becoming proficient quickly at the time of need.
If we are to lead the way in supporting learning in our organizations, we have to step up from designing learning “events” (classes, e-learning, “blended” courses) and work on designing a comprehensive learning environment that encompasses these things but also supports emerging learning needs as they take shape.
A Learning Environment, in my view, is a more comprehensive set of learning supports that includes training and education events (these aren’t dead either 🙂 ), resources and tools, relationships and networks, and supervisor and company support. Some of what these components of the learning environment entail are outlined in the analysis section of the “What Changes” graphic associated with the Learning Environment Design model; I won’t repeat them here. There isn’t a comprehensive list, however. And even if I would endeavor write one, it would become outdated relatively quickly. The learning environment is dynamic, and our design of it is also dynamic. In that sense, Learning Environment Design is akin to to the development of a learning strategy for an organization. It’s important to note that Learning Environment Design can be applied even when the learners have no access to the internet (or to any of the other potential components) – the other aspects of the learning environment will need to be configured to meet the needs instead.
The ADDIE spirograph, then, is applied both at the comprehensive environment level, and at the individual component level, whether the component is a course, an on-line job aid, a community of practice, or any other learning tool. We engage in assessment, design, development, implementation and evaluation activities at all levels.
Some readers will ask… haven’t performance technology and performance consulting writers been urging us to do expand our thinking into the “environment” for years? Yes, but… I believe there’s a difference between worrying about the environment as it pertains to supporting learning and worrying about the environment as it pertains to performance. I’d like the learning professionals to focus on the learning environment and let the management team focus on the performance environment – and that’s a post for another day (see this one and others tagged with the keyword “performance”).
In later posts, I’ll talk about the three “spaces” in the model (learning space, application space, and performance space). Here are my questions for readers: What other solutions might I explicitly note as aspects of the learning environment that we should be assessing and designing? Is the distinction between design for learning environment and design for an event an important one or not?