This past month, I had an opportunity to do an assessment at a strategic level that called for an integration of performance consulting, Learning Environment Design, and good old-fashioned needs assessment. My goal was to recommend a learning strategy for strengthening a desired skill set across several roles in our organization. While I had conceptualized an integrated approach to assessment when I taught a design course last term, this was the first chance I had to really test it out. I’m pleased with how it went, so I thought I’d share the approach with those of you who have been interested in the Learning Environment Design model.
The way I see it, to create a comprehensive learning strategy , I needed to simultaneously assess a number of areas of concern: business goals, performance environment, learning environment, and instructional design concerns. It seems to me this is a hierarchical process, but data gathering can be done simultaneously (at least it could in my case).
Business Alignment Analysis
For this part of the assessment, my goal was to be sure I understood the business driver for the development need that was under discussion. I wanted to make a direct connection between developing the skill and achieving a driving business goal. (Without that direct connection, the project may not be a good idea.) Question areas included:
- What are the business goals?
- Who is the target audience (role(s), size, general characteristics) and what role do they play in achieving the business goals?
- What is the target performance? (informs performance analysis)
This analysis examined whether or not the performance environment supports the performance goals. I analyzed all of the facets of performance suggested in the performance environment section of the Learning Environment Design model. I found it helpful to create a complex matrix to document the supports for performance, opportunities to improve support, and barriers that needed to be addressed in each of the facets of the performance model (e.g. expectations, work flow and systems, etc.). Question areas included:
- What does exemplary performance look like?
- What is enabling and inhibiting performance?
- What are the current state, future or exemplar state, and gaps in performance?
- What are the causes of the gaps?
- To what degree are all of the appropriate factors in place to support performance? (Investigate performer knowledge and skill level, performance expectations, work flow and systems, embedded task support, performance resources and tools, supervisory practices, team dynamics, and incentives and rewards.)
- What are the most important performance improvement opportunities? What are the factors we can change the performance environment that will have substantial impact on performance?
- What knowledge and skill are needed to achieve performance? What are the most important knowledge and skill development needs? (informs learning environment analysis)
Learning Environment Analysis
Once I knew what knowledge and skills were needed to achieve performance, I could analyze how the development of these knowledge bases and skills could be supported. I created a matrix with the four facets of the learning environment (resources and tools, relationships and networks, training and education, and supervisor and company support), and documented both current state and possible additions or improvements in each facet. The universe of possible additions and improvements is huge, of course, and I narrowed it by making some judgment calls on the potential solutions that would support development in the skills that were our greatest leverage point for improving performance. Question areas included:
- What information and resources can performers use to support the learning needed to make them competent for performance?
- How can we connect learners to other people who can support their leaning?
- What formal learning interventions might put learners on the right track? (informs instructional design analysis)
- How can supervisors and company programs support learning?
- What is the technical and interpersonal environment for learners?
- How will learners’ learning needs change over time?
- How stable is the learning content?
Instructional Design Analysis
The finals step will be to actually bring to life whatever aspects of the learning environment we choose to target. This part of the analysis is incomplete as yet because we are still validating results of the assessment and making decisions about what recommendations to tackle first. Question areas to be explored include:
- What knowledge and skills are required?
- What do learners need to know, value, or be able to do in order to achieve the performance required?
- What delivery mode is appropriate?
I know what you’re thinking – it looks like it goes off the deep end in terms of analysis. (Aren’t we supposed to be perfecting rapid assessment?!?) But I was able to complete this analysis (and a bit more besides) on the basis of eight one-hour interviews. I admit that I am greatly helped by the fact that I know this organization and I trust the input of the colleagues I interviewed, but a few really good questions yielded a lot of data for the analysis. (If I was working without any background, my interviews may have needed to be twice as long.) I am in the process of validating results further, which is an important step given the rapid approach to assessing the situation, but I’m feeling pretty good about the results.
What do you think? Did I leave something out? If I were to start teaching this process, what additional questions should I be prepared to answer? Feel free to comment!