People & Leadership

Redesigning learning–in real time

Redesigning workplace instructional learning

As a result of the impact of ‘disruptive innovation‘ and ‘shifting markets’, the pace of learning required in many organizations has increased exponentially. This demands comprehensive learning strategies that facilitate and analyze the intersection of a variety of experiences – both inside and outside of a classroom. Consequently, the scope of instructional design extends well beyond instructor-led learning experiences.

Informal on-the-job training has always been an integral part of learning and talent development, but in order to leverage it to accelerate the pace of learning, it must be implemented more strategically, facilitated purposefully, and evaluated – in real time. According to a study referenced in Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, one-third of Millennials believe their organizations are using their skills well, and 42 percent say they are likely to leave because they are not learning fast enough.

Meeting this design challenge requires a major shift in the way that instructional design has traditionally been conducted. The mindset that is required can more easily be envisioned by thinking about the business concept of ‘crowdsourcing.’ In the article ‘What is Crowdsourcing,’ it is described as using a large group of people for their skills, ideas, and participation to generate content, or help facilitate the creation of content or products. Encouraging the ‘crowdsourcing’ mindset to achieve instructional design goals can accelerate the pace of learning significantly. To start making the shift to crowdsourcing learning and development, begin by changing your approach to four essential aspects of instructional design.

Design Experiences – not content.

As someone whose income is largely based on developing curriculum/content, that statement may indicate that I am minimizing my contribution to the instructional design process. That is far from what I am advocating. Developing relevant content is undeniably a vital component of effective instructional design. However, it is just one component.  No matter how innovative, engaging, and relevant your content is – it will not produce desired results without strategic execution of other essential aspects of instructional design.

Effective instructional design can result in significant rewards for all organizations, regardless of industry and size. It’s important for entrepreneurs and startups to get a grasp on the value it can add early on, in order to strategically position its role as a driving force within the company.

It can sometimes be difficult to discuss instructional design or learning and development in terms that can be easily understood by the average person that does not have a professional learning and development role. To accelerate the pace of learning, we need to open up the conversation about learning strategies to include all roles. In practical terms, instructional design is a process in which we strategically design learning experiences (how people interact in their regular workflow with learning resources/content and each other to gain knowledge) – not documentation, not eLearning, or various other learning resources, but experiences. The question is, who are the designers?’

Recruit ‘designers’ from all segments of your organization.

In most organizations, the answer to the question: ‘Who designs the learning experiences?’ –  is not so simple. It’s critical that all stakeholders (individual contributors, managers, executive leadership, learning facilitators, subject matter experts, and high performing employees) understand that they have a unique role in the process of designing effective instructional strategies. It’s often easier to communicate short-term and more immediate learning goals. To accomplish long-range organizational goals, more strategic reinforcement by a variety of stakeholders is required, and this is where the ball often gets dropped.

It’s easy to see how and why the ball gets dropped, given the number of daily distractions and the number of players in the game. To keep up with the pace of change, more often than not, multiple learning strategies are being implemented simultaneously –  targeted to the same learners. With this in mind, instructional designers need to be aware of how individual learning initiatives fit into the bigger picture – the comprehensive learning strategy for the organization. Insight to the big picture enables designers to align messaging, reinforce key concepts, and decrease the effect of information overload on the learner.

Get the ‘learner’ more involved in the design process.

As individual contributors in the workplace, if we sometimes feel like ‘a pawn in a chess game,’ that’s not totally a bad thing. In our evolving environments, we should take comfort in recognizing that there are learning and change strategies being executed at all times. When we recognize that we are participating in ‘strategic interactions’, we may be more inclined to take a more active stance and participate in the instructional design process by providing feedback, in real time. This feedback (questions, comments, suggestions) enables ‘designers’ to change direction based upon the needs of the learners. What this means in more practical terms is that learners need to be more aware of just how essential their feedback is in defining an ‘evolving’ learning strategy.

In his essay ‘Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Learner in the 21st Century,’ John Seely Brown defines an ‘entrepreneurial learner’ as a learner that is constantly seeking new ways, new resources, new peers, and new mentors, not just to share information, but to collaborate and solve problems. Due to the instability that can result during organizational transformation, often what employees know is less valuable than their ability to demonstrate that they can learn quickly – at the time of need. This level of initiative, demands learning strategies be created ‘on the fly.’ The responsibility of learning and quickly adapting to environmental changes, falls squarely on the shoulders of the learner, however, organizational leadership must create an environment that supports self-directed learning by facilitating knowledge sharing.

Make knowledge sharing a priority.

In a perfect world, how would you like to see people creating, sharing, accessing, and managing your organizational knowledge? This question needs to be asked to not just leaders in an organization, but to people at all levels and in various roles. Knowledge management is a critical part of instructional design. It falls in the area of implementation of instruction. How will your ‘entrepreneurial learners’ connect to the right information, tools, and people within your organization – in real time? How organizations manage their knowledge is a good indicator of the learning culture within the organization. Michael Koenig provides a concise explanation of the impact of knowledge management in his article, ‘What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained.’

Despite efforts by many to facilitate learning interactions by providing a variety of technology tools for collaboration, as well as breaking down silos to facilitate the flow of information between teams, research on institutional innovation reveals that a primary obstacle to sharing knowledge is simply a lack of trust. There is a variety of case studies that have revealed the benefits of building relationships by encouraging employees to participate in team building activities both inside and outside of the workplace. However, relationship building takes time, effort, and motivation. When we open up the discussion about learning strategies – particularly social learning strategies, in which our ultimate goal is to make it easier for people to connect with other people and resources – in real time; just having a greater understanding of the end goal may result in an increase in motivation by all involved to reach out and take the initiative to build new and untraditional relationships.

There has been a lot of research related to the positive and negative impact of ‘social learning’ since the notion became the subject of research by the psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the late 1800’s, so there is nothing new about attempting to leverage the influence of others’ behaviors and skills to increase learning. What is relatively new, is the pace of learning required to support people performing evolving roles in transforming organizations. In order to meet the ever-increasing demand, our learning strategies will need to also evolve – in real time.