Reflections on #realwplearn chat: From Learning Design to Performance Design

One of my favorite learning activities is participating in the weekly twitter chat called #lrnchat.  Participating in this chat and writing reflective blog posts is an extremely valuable learning experience for me.  A collection of these reflective posts can be found here.
This past week a new Twitter chat for learning professionals was introduced.  The chat is called Real Workplace Learning, part of a new initiative from Jane Hart (@c4lpt) and Jane Bozarth (@janebozarth).  The Real Workplace Learning blog is a place to share examples of where REAL workplace happens: through social, informal, and often serendipitous happenings.
The Real Workplace Learning chat is scheduled to take place once a month on Wednesdays using the hashtag #realwplearn. Additional details and listing of upcoming chats for the summer is listed at the bottom of this post. 
The topic of this week’s #realwplearn chat session was “From Learning Design to Performance Design”.  The topic and questions were inspired by Tom Gram’s article –  Designs for Natural Learning.
I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group.
NOTE: In this chat, some of the questions were presented in two parts.  The first part presented a quote from Tom Gram’s article. The second part presented a related question.
Q1  How do knowledge workers really learn to do their jobs?
Q2 P1 “It doesn’t make sense to build a whole department around training when there are so many other ways to help people learn.”
Q2 P2 How can you “move” out of the training department into the workflow to help people learn as they work?
Q3 P1 “Instead of learning programs, you are designing work environments, tools, information and feedback systems. Think of it as performance design.”
Q3 P2 How can you move from learning program design culture to performance design ? Small steps or bold new approach?
Q4 P1 “This focus on designing work to enable natural learning resembles what progressive managers see as their role and they are not wrong.”
Q4 P2  How can you help managers fulfill that responsibility better?
The shift from learning sign to performance design is am important one for learning professionals.  It represents a reality that more and more professionals are beginning to understand: that the vast majority of workplace learning does not happen via a formal program designed by the learning and development department.
Charles Jennings often discusses the 70:20:10 learning model, which states that only 10% of what employees learn comes from formal learning programs.  The vast majority of workplace learning comes from the work itself, and applying new skills on the job.
Where does the learning professional fit in a world where formal programs account for so little of the learning that is taking place?  What are the skills that today’s learning professional will need to support this new paradigm?
That is what Real Workplace Learning hopes to explore, and this week’s chat provided an excellent starting point for the ongoing discussions.
The chat started by exploring how knowledge workers really learn to do their jobs.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is no division between learning and work; they are forever linked, one consistently building on the other.
This happens at an almost unconscious level, with the worker often not being fully aware that learning is taking place.  This is enhanced during times that the worker will take a more active and conscious role in learning, using some of the techniques shared in the chat.
   Contacting a colleague for assistance, be it from the next cubicle or a country away.
   Learn through failing, provided the culture understands the value of failure.
   Creating a network of peers to learn from that you trust.
   Focusing less on learning everything, and more on learning how to find out anything.
From there the discussion moved towards how learning professionals can move away from traditional delivery methods and put their energy into the actual workplace.  How can learning professionals provide their support as part of the existing work flows?
I find this question to be very similar to a question that is often asked about social media.  Often organizations want to institute some sort of a social media program, yet the project is spearheaded by someone that has only a Facebook account that they haven’t signed in to it in weeks.
It doesn’t really work that way.  If you want to play in the social media space, you need to participate. I believe the same rule applies to trainers who want to focus their efforts on the existing workflows of the work itself.  You can’t simply plug learning into the work; you have to join the workflow yourself.
For many learning professionals, this isn’t a simple shift; it’s a fundamental change in the way they need to see their role.  Many of the traditional models of training – such as classroom workshops, traditional e-learning, and courses – do not fit into the flow of the work.  Their very design requires that the learner stop working so they can participate in a learning event.
Supporting learning during the work requires a different mindset.  It requires learning professionals to participate in the workflow.  That’s a simple statement, but putting it to action can be a challenge.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to join conversations and communities related to the work.  It’s there that learning professionals will be able to learn what is really going on, where the true performance gaps are, and how they might be able to help.
It’s also at the workplace that learning professionals can learn about an important, but too often overlooked, part of their job.  If most of the learning is taking place on the job, is the working environment structured in a way that best supports learning?  By becoming part of the workflow, learning professionals can observe where learning is taking place, and identify ways they can alter and add to the environment to make the learning more effective. This could be as simple as inserting a performance support tool into the workflow, or as complex as reworking the physical environment itself.
The discussion then moved towards design, specifically how we might be able to shift from a learning program design culture to a culture more focused on performance design.
There are a great number of roads learning professionals can take on this journey.  Some of the roads have been paved by our peers, while still countless more are trails just waiting to blazed by those brave enough to choose the road not yet taken.
Regardless of the route though, all of the paths share something in common: they started with a single step. Do SOMETHING to get started – even if that something is to make the decision to stop doing something else that no longer makes sense.
I think the easiest way to get started is to implement ‘Find and Replace All’ in the way we see ourselves.  ‘Find and Replace All’ is a common functionality found in word processing software. It enables a user to search for a given word or phrase and automatically replace it with a different word or phrase.
If we could apply that function to ourselves, we would find every place we use the word ‘learning’ and replace it with ‘performance’. Learning objectives become performance objectives. Learning consultants become performance consultants.  That simple change in language would do wonders to shift our thinking.  Suddenly we’ll realize that we aren’t as interested in what workers need to learn; we’re more focused on what they need to DO.
For many learning professionals, the challenge of this shift will not be about applying new skills; the challenge will be in stopping the use of techniques and methods that are no longer applicable, or are at least no longer the primary tools, in this new world.
The discussion ended with an exploration on how we can assist managers in designing work so that it allows for natural learning.  This is a very large challenge that has a number of obstacles, including:
  • Many managers have little interest in managing.
  • Most managers do not know how to lead.
  • For most managers, ‘learning’ is defined by their own experiences.  There is an expectation that it will take place in a classroom taught by a teacher. They do not understand that this in ineffective.
Learning (actually, performance) professionals need to take on these issues and help managers help themselves.  It takes education, perseverance, and patience.  In most cases you’re not just trying to change the perspective of a group of managers; you’re trying to change the culture of an organization.  That takes time.
I especially liked this closing question.  The fact that we are looking at the managers is very representative of how real workplace learning takes place.  It takes place as part of the work.  As such, we need to start bringing other non-learning professionals into the equation more.
I think this first Real Workplace Learning chat laid a great foundation for a regular discussion series.  I look forward to adding it to my calendar each month, and further exploring the ways workers REALLY learn at work, and how learning and performance professionals can best support that learning.
Here are a few links of additional resources I mentioned in this post:
Real Workplace Learning

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One Response to Reflections on #realwplearn chat: From Learning Design to Performance Design

  1. Jane Bozarth June 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Thanks for the mention, Dave! #RealWPLearn took off with a bang; Jane H. and I really appreciate all the support. I hope chatters and readers feel encouraged to submit their own stories of real workplace learning. We're always happy to add them to the blog.
    Jane B.

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