Over the past year we have been publishing extracts from The New Learning Architect. We continue with the third part of chapter 11:
Your next step is to identify the learning and development needs that you wish to address for the population defined in step 1. Ideally these should reflect the established business needs of the organisation and be reflected in clearly-defined statements of competency.
You can be as flexible as you like in defining the scope of your analysis:
- The totality of all the learning and development needs of the target population.
- Just those needs associated with a particular upcoming business change or project.
- Those needs associated with a particular performance problem.
- The development of the target population to take on further responsibilities in the future.
Ask yourself the following questions about each of the major needs that you are required to address:
How critical is it that the employees concerned have the particular knowledge or skill (regardless of how often they may use it)? Critical skills are those that the organisation absolutely depends upon to meet its objectives and its legal responsibilities. In some cases these skills may be used only rarely, such as in an emergency, but that in no way diminishes their importance. When employees are not recruited with the required skills, the organisation has a responsibility to provide this training, typically using a formal intervention with assessed outcomes.
How frequently will the employees concerned need to use the particular knowledge or skill? The Pareto principle applies as well to skills and knowledge as it does to many other aspects of our lives. It is very likely that 20% of the total knowledge and skills required for a particular job are used to fulfil 80% of tasks. The remaining 80% of skills and knowledge will be used more rarely. The implication here is that the learning and development effort is best applied to the most used 20%, whereas the remaining 80% can be covered more superficially and/or provided on an on-demand basis.
How much fluidity of change is there with respect to the associated tasks and goals? Tasks and goals change much more rapidly in some jobs than they do in others, and this is likely to have an impact on the required knowledge and skills. When there is a high degree of fluidity in tasks and goals, it makes less sense to try and provide training on a formal basis and makes more sense to support performance on an on-demand basis.
To what extent will the employees concerned need practical on-job experience in order to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills? Any work-based skill is likely to benefit from practical on-job experience, but in some cases the importance of this experience, relative to formal off-job training, will be much more significant. This will be particularly true when the circumstances in which the job is carried out are hard to simulate in an off-job environment or where the employee is required to exercise judgement in dealing with a very wide range of possible situations. A good example would be the training required to become a doctor or to learn a trade such as plumber or electrician.
How complex is the skill or knowledge required? When a job requires complex skills or knowledge, which for a less-experienced employee would be hard to recall, then there is an argument for supporting any more formal training with on-going support on an on-demand basis.
Would it damage credibility if the employees concerned were to make use of on-demand performance support to support their learning? There are situations in which an organisation’s credibility would be damaged if their employees had to consult a reference source before responding to a problem. In these cases, there is no alternative but to make sure the required knowledge and skills are in place before the employee takes up their responsibilities.
Is it vital that the employees concerned are able to carry out their responsibilities smoothly and speedily? Similarly, sometimes there is simply no time available for an employee to consult a reference source before responding to a problem. They have to be able to react quickly on the basis of what they already know. Examples include emergency situations, where immediate action is required, or jobs where the employee has to rapidly carry out a series of transactions, such as on a supermarket checkout. The skills and knowledge needed to carry out these tasks must be acquired up-front before starting the job, with minimal performance support.
Do the tasks involve novel and unpredictable situations? Where it is hard to predict the situations that a job holder will encounter, it becomes impractical to provide very specific up-front training or to develop detailed performance support materials. The employee needs to be provided up-front with the core skills needed to deal with the widest possible variety of situations, but also requires the support of recognised experts on an on-demand basis.
Is it essential that the organisation is able to demonstrate compliance to an external regulator? In many cases, an organisation has to demonstrate to an external regulator or an insurance company that employees have been provided with specific knowledge and skills. Classic examples are in financial services and in situations where there are serious health and safety risks. In these cases, it is important that an organisation can demonstrate that each employee has received the required training and, in many cases, acquired the necessary knowledge and skills. As a result, compliance training is much more likely to be addressed using formal methods.
Coming next: Step 3: Decide what must be tackled formally
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