In this series of posts, I explore six ways in which learning professionals can realise a transformation in the way that learning and development occurs in their organisations. It builds on the series I posted earlier in the year, in which I set out the six major elements in a vision for change, i.e. learning that is aligned, economical, scalable, flexible, engaging and powerful.
The fifth step on the route to transformation is a shift from courses to resources. I’ve borrowed this terminology from Nick Shackleton-Jones. Nick distinguishes between the formal nature of courses, where the focus, he believes, should be on engaging the learner emotionally with the topic and building their confidence to continue to learn independently, and the on-going provision of resources, both human and in the form of content, to support the learner as they continue to learn and apply their new skills.
Why courses are not enough
Courses have, historically, been what l&d does, perhaps even its raison d’être. And they will continue to play an important role, particularly with novices who ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ and when formal confirmation is required that particular learning objectives have been achieved. Courses may take place in a classroom, online, on-job or by some blend of these, but they all typically have objectives, entry criteria, a curriculum, formal content, tuition and assessment. More often than not they also take place at a predetermined time and are ‘pushed’ at a particular population. All of this structure helps an organisation to make sure that certain key interventions do take place in the intended fashion, but does not guarantee success. All too often, courses fail to fulfil their aims:
- They are frequently forced on those who don’t need them.
- Timing is rarely ideal – often they are too early or too late.
- They are often knowledge-focused and, as a result, serve only to overwhelm the learner with new information, without placing this in context.
- They typically provide nowhere near enough opportunities for practice and feedback.
- They make little provision for follow-up once the course has been completed.
The case for resources
There’s nothing wrong with courses as such, it’s just that we place too much attention on them and not enough on what happens afterwards. By and large, we would do well to teach much less and provide much more in the way of support. Courses are for stories, scenarios, simulations and discussions; resources are where you go to find the information you need to follow up on your interest. These resources can take many forms:
- Experts that we can call upon for information.
- Coaches who can help us to analyse our successes and failures and establish our goals.
- Packaged content that can provide us with information and help in diagnosing problems and making decisions.
- Forums and other collaborative tools that allow us to share expertise and solve problems.
The argument for shifting the emphasis from teaching everything formally up-front to teaching the essentials and then providing other information on-demand has strengthened over the past few years:
- We now have a much better understanding of how easy it is to overwhelm novices with information and how little of this information is retained.
- The easy availability of information through search engines and on mobile devices makes it much more practical to provide resources as and when needed.
- Expectations have changed. Employees no longer expect to have to learn large quantities of information up-front, when it can so easily be made available on-demand.
So what effect does pushing the slider from courses to resources have on the six elements of our transformation vision?
Aligned: There is nothing about the move from courses to resources that will make an impact here.
Economical: In this respect you should see an improvement, because resources are much more economical to provide than courses.
Scalable: Courses take a lot of time and effort to manage. Resources can be made available to large audiences with little difficulty.
Flexible: Because resources are available on demand, the learner is in complete control over what they access and when.
Engaging: Slimmed-down courses that focus on must-know information and key skills, and which provide plenty of opportunities for practice will be much more engaging. With resources, engagement is not the issue – you only call upon the resource when you need it.
Powerful: Most importantly, the courses and resources combination gets the job done in terms of improved competency on-the-job.