I’ve had several opportunities over the last week to clarify my thinking on the relationship between learning environment and performance environment and the distinction I am making on designing for learning vs. designing for performance. (I LOVE getting commentary on these ideas because it really helps me to think them through, fine-tune them, and sometimes even change my mind, so please chime in!)
In my mind, performance analysis asks the questions: What is the desired performance? What are the relative components of the performance environment? What are the supports and barriers to desired performance? What is the gap between current and desired performance, and what are the causes of that gap? How can the performance environment be optimized to produce the best possible performance? These are critical questions, and I don’t mean to dismiss them.
Learning environment analysis, in slight contrast, asks the questions: What are the knowledge sets and skills needed to perform effectively? How are people learning in this environment? What supports and inhibits the learning (knowledge and skill building) required in order to perform as expected? How can the learning environment be optimized to support ongoing learning as needs change? We still have to ask the question: What is the desired performance? But we don’t get drawn too far into analyzing the performance environment – we focus on the performer capability component: how to develop the knowledge and skill necessary to performance. (For more, see Learning Environment Design posts, especially this page.) It’s not that the performance analysis questions or other components required for performance are unimportant – it’s that they belong in a parallel realm.
Here’s why I think the distinction is important. The tools and strategies that can be applied to learning are getting too complex to expect that a single individual will be expert enough to design a complex learning environment AND to design a fully functioning performance environment. While learning experts MUST understand the complexities of performance, I think we should learn to rely on experts in performance (which should include the business management team, by the way) to construct the performance environment. OUR contribution (as learning professionals) is to understand: the depth of knowledge and skill required, how that knowledge and skill is used to produce desired performance, and how that knowledge and skill can be obtained and maintained in a constantly changing environment. Senior professionals in our field may have gained the knowledge and experience they need to be impactful in both arenas (performance and learning), but in bringing up new professionals, I think we should start with helping them to be experts in learning first and foremost.
As it is, to be effective as an instructional designer in organizations, one needs to have strong skills in putting adult learning theory into practice, designing learning (in a wide range of delivery modes, which are expanding constantly), consulting with clients, and managing projects as a start – and many have to be expert in developing e-learning, delivering training, and managing a learning function as well. Good golly! This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile! (Translation: We may call it the same thing, but it’s far more sophisticated than it used to be!)
My soapbox is that workplace learning is a specialty in itself– and we need to have real experts in this specialty working alongside business managers to create an environment that supports the learning necessary to produce and sustain performance.
Am I getting any closer to winning your hearts on this message?