All of us have heard the statistics about the amount of actual knowledge that gets implemented back on the job from a training program. Most researchers have estimated that only ten percent or less actually transfers. So for every $100 we are investing in a training program we are only putting to work ten dollars- and according to other researchers it could be a dismal five dollars or less. When you factor in the fact that of those $100 invested a big portion may have been spent in travel and/or logistics, then this estimation of five dollars or less is actually quite generous.
Here is the tough part, that has cost me years to understand, the responsibility of transfer is, most often than not, seen as belonging to the instructional designer or training and development department. Many others within the organization wash their hands and expect the instructional designer to wave a magic wand delivering individuals who are ready to apply what they have learned. And here in lies the culprit, the number one enemy of the absolute best instructional design is lack of opportunity to apply what I have learned. It sounds deceptively simple but not letting me put into action what I have learned doesn’t allow me to truly transfer to the physical world what I have learned.
The simple application of knowledge to a novel task is called ‘reproductive transfer’ and when there is adaptation, mutation and enhancement it is referred to as ‘productive transfer’ (Robertson, 2001) which is what we want to happen. But again, I have to be given the opportunity to apply what I have just learned. If the organization does not take this into account, the best instructional design will fail. Keep it simple by all of us agreeing – operations, marketing, sales and training – how individuals will apply what they learn before we start designing.
It is not a secret that chefs have experienced a steep rise to celebrity status with their ability to reach millions of people through multimedia channels. By creating new dishes and combining new flavors, these chefs offer their craft as art, each infused with their own personality, to deliver unique eating experiences that adapt and evolve with ever-changing trends and tastes.
Instructional designers have experienced the rise of the Internet, mobile devices and an ever increasing array of software tools and platforms giving them the ability to reach more learners in different ways than ever before. There appears to be a parallel between the creative work of the chef and the creative work of the instructional designer when developing either elearning, virtual classroom, instructor-led training or any blended training and development program.
Let’s start with success. The success of the chef is delivering a great (delicious) eating experience. The success of the instructional designer is delivering an effective learning experience. Defining an effective learning experience can merit an article on its own but let’s extrapolate a definition from the model of personal development of the Center for Creative Leadership which states that you must strike the right balance between: challenging, supporting, and evaluating individuals. This would mean that instructional designers must deliver recipes that strike the right balance between these three factors.
The chef uses the best ingredients and brings them together to create palate bliss. For the instructional designer, the ingredients are the principles of adult learning and the subject matter. The instructional designer has to use the principles of adult learning and the subject matter expertise to deliver a learning experience that will strike the right balance between challenging, supporting and evaluating the learner. When this balance is achieved, the instructional designer can generate the state of flow in the learners. Otherwise, individuals will be either bored if not challenged, worried if not supported, or lost if not evaluated. As an illustration, here is a graph from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that depicts the emotional state of the learner depending on the level of challenge versus skill level.
Every time an instructional designer delivers a learning experience that generates flow within the learners, they have created learning bliss, much like the celebrity chef creates palate bliss when the delicacies are consumed. So to all the instructional designers who every day strive to become celebrities: bon appétit!
The purpose of any learning or training program is to help the learner or trainee improve him or herself and the results they achieve for the organization. So if this is this case why not make the learning and training program subservient to how the individual will utilize the learning to improve herself and her organization? And keep in mind that acquisition of knowledge and skills to develop competence and ideally reach a level of mastery does not occur from one day to the next; it is a process that in some cases can take years.
We find that when it comes to deciding on a curriculum to prepare individuals for a job role and when leveraging instructional design to deliver this curriculum, most organizations forget the obvious points above.
The first problem is that many organizations try to fit a series of topics, or “things individuals must know” or are “supposed to know” to be successful in their job into an ever expanding curriculum. Chances are that they end up with a huge curriculum that can’t be covered in the amount of time allotted for the training and development program and as a result, critical topics can be left out. The second problem is that many organizations forget the fact that the road to mastery is a process and don’t leverage sound instructional design to support this process.
The first problem is tackled by taking holistic approach to the curriculum and this starts with asking what are successful behaviors of top performers in that role. From there we derive the competencies that need to be developed to execute those behaviors. Then, we ask what are the skills and knowledge that make up those competencies that over time will lead to mastery and lastly, given the aforementioned, how do we make the knowledge and support through this process as least disruptive as possible from the employee’s current work responsibility and environment. Here is where a blended approach is king since it is only through a blended approach that we can find ways for individuals to work and collaborate real time with others, access information when they want it from wherever they want, and access live support on their road to mastery.
Only by taking a holistic instructional approach and leveraging technology can we make the learning subservient to how the learners will utilize the learning to improve themselves and their organizations. We are excited to work with organizations that don’t forget the obvious.
How often do we design learning experiences thinking about how the learners will use the knowledge when they are back on the job?
Many custom eLearning companies will emphasize the need to create great learning experiences. Elearning consultants may emphasize that multimedia, animations and other wow factors will lead individuals to have a meaningful experience. However, in a corporate training and development department or workplace learning setting, the objective is to impact performance in a way that advances the organization’s objectives. Therefore, should we as instructional designers concern ourselves more with creating a great learning experience or do we focus more on enabling the performance that needs to happen after the learning experience? In our experience working with leading organizations that range from multinationals to progressive startups, we have seen that ensuring the success of the learners when the time comes to act is the most important function of the custom eLearning or custom training and development solution. The fact that the learning experience was great will be meaningless if it does not equip the learner to succeed when they are back on the job.
Anticipating how learners will use the knowledge when they are confronted with the realities and pressures of the job, can guide the instructional designer to incorporate specific strategies to leverage this context and to incorporate informational, procedural or decision-making job-aids at the point of need. The instructional designer’s input can and should go beyond the learning experience.