Training’s Essence: Remember The Learner

I think that as human  being’s we like to complicate things.  There is a very good reason why countless books on time management and organization software exist. Project Managers were born out of the chaos of scope creep and an unending tide of enhancements, feedback and evolution.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with making things better!  I’m a technophile.  I love bigger, better, growth and the constant evolution to the impossible perfection. (I think there’s a blog post on that!)

Most times, projects, initiatives or programs come from a root of purity.  A problem that needed to be solved, inefficiency that needed to be streamlined or people who needed help with a task.

When a learning program is first conceived, it would come from an intrinsic need like an identified skill gap or personal interest in growing or an extrinsic motivation such as a deployment, missed objective or larger vision for direction.  It’s exciting to be involved in the birth of these types of programs.  Passion and motivation is high and out of box thinking is common.

As we progress though, the weight of several elements eventually start to bear down.  Competing initiatives and projects, a need for consistency in processes, technology enhancements, budgets, integrations and my personal favourite (and the death of potential), politics.

It’s vital to in the early stages, when ideas are flowing and everyone is focused, to capture the essence of what you are trying to achieve.

I don’t mean timelines or scope or anything so mundane as that.  I mean “Why are you doing this?”.  What’s the point?

If you are putting a program in place because your team needs to learn how to ensure customers really love the experience when they call.  That’s your essence.  Everyone gets that tattoo, everyone says it at the start of every meeting, there’s a cake every friday with pink glowing letters.

Don’t worry, the Devil Wears Project Management will ensure your gantt chart pushes you to the timeline.  The budget can still be managed.  But if you get to a point where you call any single person on the team at 3am, and when asked, they can’t immediately tell you “This project was put in place so that our learners walked away being able to kick ass when rolling widgets”….

…you will get to a point when someday you will have an integrated, expensive, on-time, complicated program… and your learners won’t be rolling anything.

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Drowning in learning projects… What do we do?

I’ve been thinking lately about a problem many of my peers are facing;  Drowning in too many formal learning projects.

I’ve grown quite abit over the years in regards to methodology, tools and concepts. The are many coping mechanisms organizations can choose to apply.  Rapid design philosophies, project management tools and organizational structure are basic and you are crazy to not research and apply them.  Doing things how you are, however, you really need to ask yourself one vital question:  “How will I cope with double the number of these projects?”

The answer is inevitable.  You won’t.

I’ve always been drawn to technology.  I love the innovative spirit inherent in it.  It’s fun when you can use the medium in the message too.  Creating learning for an organization’s products carries a sense of urgency, a wide range of topics and is just cool.  But pool that with all other new hire programs, leadership programs and procedural training and you sink into deep water.

The first thing a learning practitioner NEEDS to truly accept is there likely won’t be a lull.  For a successful company, there is rarely the mythical “breather”. There is a good reason for this, and it’s no accident.  There are innumerable articles on the GDP growth %, population growth, new businesses and economic competition.  You can refer to comments by Ray Kurzweil or look at articles around Moore’s Law.  We are growing, our products are growing, exponential innovation is seething around you.  Welcome to the 21st century.

If you hold to the sales pitch you made when justifying the need for a corporate learning department to the executive leadership, you committed to support that growth, those new employees and the product’s customers and do it economically.  Oh crap?

In reality, you are genetically in good shape.  We’re doing amazing things as a species because we are adaptable and inventive.  This has to be fostered in the learning processes and solutions as well.  Being mired in “the way we do things” creates behaviours that not only do not support that natural growth of our products and economy but are doomed to failure.  How can any of these organization, living in the world mentioned above compete?

I think it’s important for organizations to start to think lighter.  Rather than build based on tradition or comfort level,  take a good hard look at whether an ILT or eLearning is really required? Informal approaches like collaborative communities, virtual roundtables and moderated text or audio discussion forums can hit the mark just as well if not better, and take half the time to create.

For several years there have been active discussions around how employees today learn 90% of what they need on the job from informal sources.  Yet most organizations still allocate the great majority of training budgets to formal eLearning and ILTs.  Therefore segregating the learning teams to focus on the arguably least impactful elements of an employees growth.

There are several reasons organizations do this, all good battlefronts for you to fight on:

  • Evaluation – Adult learning education programs drill in the need to evaluate learners.   I myself leverage and find comfort in the Kirkpatrick model.  But evaluating informal material can be a challenge.  You might need to instead lean on performance shifts and trends rather than individual resource impact.  This can be tough to explain and sell to an executive team but is a worthwhile exercise to explore together.
  • Revenue – Some organizations sell their learning products.  Formal learning is an easier “package” than the informal.  Why not provide a formal/informal package that has both that easy to price ILT, but has templates  for customers to self manage wikis, blogs or discussion forums.  Or add a professional service to moderate it for them (a value add with expert advice FAQs?)  This can be both revenue generating and sellable.
  • Infrastructure – No tools to support informal learning?  Today, there are so many tools available free or at minimal cost.  Options that allow for a range of hardware, can be cloud based, integrated with enterprise or standalone and have a variety of security options.  Assess and plan your need and start digging.

With informal approaches time is spent on the knowledge areas and the engagement, not creating a ton of expensive, slow to produce “stuff”. You can still apply adult learning principles but its so much less overhead.

For example:
Consider having trainers do a webcast via tablet or smartphone rather than an ILT.  Make them agile, product experts rather than chain them to a room. You can then record and post it to your LMS and have an ID organize the discussion into a blog that is logically formatted, searchable and learners can comment on.


Creating an interactive structure, knowledge rich and engaging content that has the right technical depth doesn’t have to mean deployment of a formal package.  Instead linking together content with a logical structure (wikipedia?) can enhance or replace formal material to support an organizations growth with quick, accurate and impactful projects.

Projects that you will be able to manage easier and still be able to breath.

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