Tough topic learning projects – Being a N00b

It’s nice when a learning project comes in and you have plenty of expertise with the topics at hand. For more corporately agnostic topics many organizations will hire that expertise in a learning practitioner. Things move along quicker, you have a wider breadth of experience to balance the content against and you sound more intelligent speaking with SMEs.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t in a role where you live in a certain program or catalog and know you are likely to have foreknowledge of project content, you just never know what you are going to get.

Personally, for me this is half the fun of the job! I love that feeling in the initial discussions where the client builds you a picture of their world and you get to be a part of it. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in a myriad of projects and built an interesting collage of topics. In my brain is a mix of network administration, financial sales, radiology and orthopaedic tools, unreleased smartphones, leadership programs, corporate objective setting, martial arts and web design. Whew!

A strong learning team will have a good workflow in place to deal with all projects regardless of topics.

When the rubber hits the road however, it can be daunting to face a completely foreign knowledge area. One of my favourite projects over the years was the orthopaedic tools project. It was probably one of my most successful outputs and arguably the one that was the steepest learning curve for me. I was not an integration specialist, was new to the world of medical imaging altogether, and knew nothing of orthopaedics. I definitely felt like a newbie (n00b).

Process aside, there were a few keys that turned that project, and me, from n00b to performing.

Going into the jungle? Find a guide. Using coffee as an open bribe, start making friends. Someone who knows and can introduce you to others, knows the terminology, or has history, you can very quickly hit the ground running.  This person can also be a great co-facilitator for a session with very knowledgeable learners.

Get in the learner’s trenches. If you don’t know your learner, how can you possibly build something that will help them? The world of the learner, regardless of team, shifts just like yours. What was the approach, alignments, tools or resources one day, can be very different the next. If you can’t paint a clear picture of who they are and what they do every day, you are going to miss something.

Teach yourself first. The bigger the learning team, it seems the less individual learning practitioners think they need to know about project as a whole. Once you have an army of SMEs, Consultants, IDesigners, IDevelopers and so on, it can become unclear who knows the final collateral best. Make it you. Always know the content + 50% more. (start reading) You will be credible, able to be more involved in SME discussions, and have great discussions with your client.

Be there. If you support IDs and they can’t get content? Be there, find it. If you are an ID and a facilitator has a rough session, Be there, give them an evening of one to one on the content. A learner group hits a major hiccup in a webinar, Be there, solve the problem, rerun the session and offer the next as gratis. The more you are involved, the better the project result. Guaranteed.

It’s not always easy. When you start to pile up many projects with brand new knowledge areas, it can be tough to be as involved in each separately. Know your limits and when to draw the line. No matter how good you are, there is a threshold you can easily cross where outputs cease to be great.

For me, this is what the job is all about. Finding something new and intriguing to dig your teeth into and seeing it through.


About Andrew Ambrose
I am passionate about the learning longtail for formal and informal learning solutions, leveraging social media and networking technology for learning projects, innovation through mLearning, collaborative learning and applying solutions that fit within the learners personal learning environment.

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