Attendees of an ASTD Pulse of the Profession webcast were recently
challenged to think so far outside the box, they might not have
even been able to recognize its shape. Moderator Kevin Wheeler,
founder of the Future Talent Institute, the Australasian Talent
Conference, and Global Learning Resources Inc., pushed the
collection of panelists to explain why it's time to try something
different. Jay Cross, Clark Quinn, and Harold Jarche, who have
joined together collectively as TogetherLearn, were panelists on
"The world is changing and has changed dramatically in the past
year," Wheeler says. "Most of our traditional thinking about
economics, finance, and corporate life has undergone a stress test
- as we have begun to call it. There are many trends in the world
that are changing the way we think about everything. Training is at
the top of the list. I continue to hear the issues. There is not
enough skilled labor, so how do we develop people more quickly? How
do we develop more skilled labor?"
According to Jarche, there are several factors that lead many to
believe that current structures aren't serving us very well. "In
our new economy, learning and working are becoming integrated," he
explains. "No longer are we going to do the work, then go off and
do the learning. The learning has to become part of the workflow.
Designing specific kinds of learning [solutions] that are outside
of that [workflow] don't make any sense. More and more of us work
in networks, or we are connected to networks. That means we can
pretty much connect with anyone in the world at any time, from
anywhere, and get access to the information we need."
These are difficult issues, explains Jarche, a sentiment echoed by
all three panelists. "One of the issues we have with instructional
systems design is that it is a rearward looking process in terms of
what the training objective is. What are the training needs?" he
asks. "You can build training around good practices and best
practices, but you can't build it around emerging practices. We
need to have a new way of looking at learning. How do we imbed that
into the flow? How do people at the micro level take responsibility
for that themselves? How do we, in the learning profession, at the
macro level, develop systems and structures that support that?"
In most workplaces, change is happening much faster than
instructional systems are designed to handle.
Adds Quinn, "The reason we are having problems is that, in most
regards, we are not meeting organizational needs. The training
department is focused on [training for novices]. The role of
learning for practitioners and experts comes into play. You need
performance support at the practitioner level. At the expert level,
you need collaboration and communication.
"Even when we have those elements, we don't integrate them," he
adds. "They may have portals, networks, and courses, but they
Quinn suggests that if a training department is trying to take on
this challenge in small steps, it is not going to work. "We need to
own the entire thing," he says. "The need for formal learning drops
off as you move from novice to expert, and the value of informal
learning gains more importance."
Neither formal nor informal
Cross is quick to note that he doesn't look at learning as formal
or informal. "When we are dealing with the novices or newbies, they
need more formality," he says. "They need to pick up the lay of the
land and the language and practices. Sitting people down [and
making them learn] is a great indoctrination.
"Informal learning, which is often on-demand, tends to be in small
chunks that are reinforced immediately. If you are looking at the
productivity of the workers, the new hires are money losers. They
cost you more than they bring in the door just getting up to speed.
The people in the middle zone, the practitioners, are the ones who
are knocking the ball out of the park."
"As a human performance technologist in another life, I was always
amazed that training was a solution looking for a problem," says
Jarche. "If you look at all of the human performance problems in an
organization, about 15 percent of them are due to a lack of skills
or knowledge. Lack of skills and knowledge is the only thing that
[formal] training can handle.
"There are other kinds of learning solutions, such as performance
support tools, which usually address a lack of information," Jarche
adds. "It's about getting the right information to the right person
at the right time. With that, you might hit another 5 to 10
The panelists suggested that as more social networking and
collaborative tools become available, training organizations can
start addressing lack of resources, lack of information, or just
not knowing what to do and when to do it.
But Jarche warns that "if we don't embrace performance technology
as a first step, which opens up the toolbox, we are going to miss
[the opportunity] to use these social networks. The training folks
should be there and helping. They have the tools - they just don't
have the right mindset."
What happens when the CEO agrees?
When the big boss finally agrees with the concept of doing it all
differently, what comes next?
Cross tells the attendees that there are a lot more costeffective
ways for people to learn things. "People learn much of their job by
informal means, but we haven't taken upon ourselves in the learning
profession to do much with that," he explains. "Organizations
[shift back and forth] from putting a lot of money into push
learning - training programs - to putting more of it into pull
learning - wikis, social networks, and [other resources] where
people can find stuff. People involved in formal learning know how
to do a lot of this stuff. So my message to the CEO is: here is a
way to spend less money by changing the emphasis, and getting
Training is the most expensive solution, Quinn suggests, so if you
select training as your default solution, you have automatically
chosen the most expensive solution. "And that makes no sense,"
But, as it turns out, a lot of people don't know what they don't
know, suggests Wheeler. "And if I don't know that, I can't go and
find it on my own. How do you deal with that issue?"
Adds Jarche: "The role of the training department needs be to help
people become good self-learners, collaborators, and good network
Wheeler asks: "How do you know if you are a good self learner?"
Quinn explains that a critical aspect is to address the learning
ability of learners themselves. "The best investment may be to help
learners become better self learners," he says. "Then you can
provide more pull resources and trim down the full courses you need
to provide. In the long term, you spend less money and you are
developing your people in a reproducible, viable way."
That is easy to propose, but may not be a smooth path, argues
Cross. "Culturally, people expect things to be provided to them -
even crammed down their throats," he says. "It's difficult to go
from that mindset to becoming an inquiring do-it yourselfer. We
have seen it happen in Silicon Valley, but mostly as a result of
loyalty to one's profession and not an employer."
An important concept for knowledge workers is personal knowledge
management, says Jarche. "Internally, we all need processes by
which we sort knowledge and categorize it. We make it explicit, and
we make it possible to retrieve it. It doesn't always have to be
electronic, but there are some great web tools to do this. From a
training department's perspective, this isn't training. In some
ways, the goal of a good training manager is to put yourself out of
Wheeler asks: "But is this just a cop out? Can employees
legitimately claim that this is just another way for an
organization to spend less on their development?"
Says Quinn: "There is an issue here about an organization's
learning culture and whether they share [knowledge]. You can't
separate the organizational strategy from the organization's
learning culture. You have to make it explicit that these are the
sharing cultures that we value. You can't just say, here are the
resources, so just go selfhelp. It has to be a part of a cultural
Cross agrees: "You have to have a strategy and you have to have a
culture, absent either one of them, the organization is down the
tubes. Having a set of values is what really resonates, and gives
people something to buy into. We are asking people to do things
that they feel good about. One of the things that remains the
responsibility of top leadership is the setting of the vision and
values. This is the ideal time to redeploy and to do things that
are more practical. This is the time for the training department to
come out of the shadows as a backwater in the HR department and to
take on a leadership role. It's time to add some truth to the
statement 'people are our most important asset,' instead of it
being just a line in the annual report."