Tony Karrer has launched a fascinating discussion on the future of the business of learning, and I invite you to pop over and read his original post and all of the comments if you haven’t done so already. It’s truly thought-provoking stuff. Here is (are?) my two cents on the conversation…
Basically, Tony wonders aloud what the new business model for learning should be. If the market for training is lessening, what’s next? Tony says:
There’s an increasing need for learning, but a demise of training. I can’t say this is really anything new. The writing has been on the wall (or in blogs) for quite a while… The gist: we need to completely rethink training departments and responsibilities from the ground up (both literally and figuratively) and we need to recognize that we are midst of a transition to a new normal.
The challenging question he posed is “What will internal or external customers pay for that’s not traditional training?” As a consultant, Tony looks at the issues from a slightly different perspective than I do. He needs to find a set of products and services that are valuable to decision makers in a variety of organizations. As learning leaders on the inside, my colleagues and I have to be constant students of our own company’s business challenges and be looking for opportunities to leverage learning and development to enable the achievement of our business goals. As Tony rightfully points out, the best learning and development responses in this day and age are often not training solutions.
Gary Wise, Senior Director of Learning Architecture (a telling title) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center put it best in his response, and I offer a round of applause in copying part of it here…
The point is, as learning professionals, our job focused has shifted even if we have not. Our deliverable now is ensuring the right knowledge worker has access – seamless, frictionless and ubiquitous access to the right learning assets at the right time, in the right amount, in the right format, and to/from the right devices. No small task – and training ain’t the solution! And traditional ISD ain’t the approach – though neither are wrong or “dead”, they’re just a smaller fish in a bigger pond.
One of your readers professed performance was the all important link to learning outcomes. I partially agree, but it’s bigger than that. I think our target needs to be creation of a “sustained capability”. And our job is to sell “sustained capability” as our product. Again…that ain’t training – at least not by itself.
Our challenge as learning professionals trying to find our place in this “new normal” is to be able to articulate why a company needs experts like us to help create a learning environment that everyone seems to be convinced will rise up of its own accord if we just get out of the way. I agree completely that people will routinely access the internet, intranet, shared workspaces, and accessible colleagues (live or online) to satisfy urgent learning needs. But I’m not entirely convinced that they always get what they need, and I am pretty certain that many folks don’t know how to do that efficiently (or don’t have the tools to do it efficiently). And I don’t think that this kind of just in time learning is the only form of learning they need.
That’s where we can help if we step up to the plate. If we can get a handle on the knowledge and skill areas that performers need, we can help to architect a learning environment that supports learning needs as they arise. (That’s what I’ve been advocating for in discussing the Learning Environment Design model.)
We need to be able to put our finger on what makes for good learning solutions in these new resources. It’s not the same as good information architecture or good user experience. In training’s boom years, we were able to identify critical characteristics of training that ensured that it would have the impact we intended. We need to get clear on the critical characteristics of these new tools for learning and help our organizations and our learner groups get started on the right foot. For example, we would provide a great deal of value if we could give solid advice for creating a user-generated knowledge database that is immediately useful for the users themselves. (I don’t know about you, but I more often find systems that are kludgy and intermittently helpful rather than the amazing resource they’re proclaimed to be.)
This means using our knowledge base and skills in a new way. It means taking a look at research and best practice case studies to synthesize what might work for the applications our clients need. In addition to being instructional designers, we have to become learning environment architects, podcast producers, expert internet researchers, community developers, coaches, etc. We have to come up to speed quickly to be credible and helpful in these new arenas.
Our clients, by the way, aren’t entirely convinced that they need us to do this. The kids are doing it already, they think. It’s an IT solution, not a learning solution, they think. If we just open up access and provide shared workspaces, the rest will come, they think. I don’t think so. But until we can show the difference between good design and bad, it will be a difficult sell. But we’ve made the case for good design before, and we can do so again.
Your thoughts welcome… add to Tony’s post or share them here!