This month’s Big Question over at the Learning Circuits Blog is regarding the extent of the learning professional’s responsibility when the learning environment could be as wide as the internet. Similar questions are what led me to conceptualize Learning Environment Design (LED). In the LED Model, I believe we’re responsible for both the “learning space” and the “application space” in the learning environment.
Originally, the LED model had two “environments” – the learning environment and the performance environment. I admit I enjoyed provoking reaction by asserting that we were NOT responsible for the performance environment. But it isn’t that simple, because many people equate ‘applying learning’ with ‘performance.’ I believe that learning professionals should support learning all the way through to the many ways that learning continues as the learners apply knowledge and skill on the job. That’s the whole point, really, of moving to learning environment design rather than the more limiting instructional design. That still doesn’t make us accountable for performance, although I recognize that the line between the two is very hard to find. (Notice that the levels of environment in the LED model are layered on top of one another — the performance environment is always there in the background.)
I tried to capture these ideas by sketching the environment in three “spaces” – the “learning space,” the “application space,” and the “performance space.” I know I’m flying in the face of some of my favorite learning theories in even suggesting there’s a difference. But in my experience, people do tend to think of learning, application of learning, and performance in slightly separate arenas (e.g. Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation). Learning Environment – what we learning professionals are accountable for – encompasses both the learning space and the application space. We need to assist employees in learning the knowledge and skills necessary for their roles, AND we need to follow them out to the work environment to assist with that “transfer” and further development as they apply their learning.
About that performance space… In the last several decades, learning and development professionals have been counseled to pay more attention to performance – to become “performance consultants” rather than “simply” designers. I believe the extent of our responsibility lies somewhere in the middle. See my previous post regarding our obsession with performance as well as the one on learning philosophies, and you’ll understand a little bit more why I drew the environment in three levels (learning, application, performance) on the Learning Environment Design Model. Learning professionals should be partners with business leaders in supporting performance in the organization. The IT leaders ensure that the systems work properly, the front line leaders make sure that the work processes and supervisory practices are in place, and we contribute our skill in ensuring that employees are able to attain, maintain, and expand their capabilities – the knowledge and skill needed to do their jobs.
As regards the Big Question, then… We can’t have complete responsibility for everything that’s out there, but we do have responsibility for organizing learning for core knowledge base and skills as those learning needs emerge. Learners can’t wait until we’ve assessed the need and designed the program when they need answers to changing circumstances in the moment. Employees (and students) should have an outlet for questions generated by other material they may find, but we don’t always have to have the answers. Depending on the questions, we might make a joint exploration, or we may have to defer the question as outside our scope of concern. The “edge of responsibility” is going to be very hard to define… it’s where the effort to reach out further becomes much greater than the possible impact of that exploration. The good news is, if we design a dynamic learning environment that works well with what’s “out there,” then we’ll always be reaching pretty close to that edge.