If training is the solution, what is the problem?

By: Ger Driesen
Learning Innovation Leader – aNewSpring

People who are good at their job usually have one thing in common: they have passion for the things they do. It’s no surprise that passion can be a major contributor to success but it can also work against you. How do we prevent our passion for learning to work against us when we develop blended learning?

If you are a Learning & Development professional you probably love to create learning interventions. That’s where you shine. However, before you start developing a learning intervention, you need to ask yourself a question: why create this learning intervention in the first place?

If the learning intervention is the solution, what is the problem?

No learning intervention is created for the sake of creating it. It’s created to achieve something. To ensure we’re creating the right intervention we need to identify what our learning intervention leads to.

No learning intervention is created for the sake of creating it. It’s created to achieve something.

Although probably a while ago, you once studied to pass your drivers license test. Why? Because you wanted to drive legally and independently. When you sign up for a management training you want to learn what it means to be a supervisor. The programmer who took a training courses learned a smarter way to write code.

This train of thought is logical, but it’s not yet complete. Why drive, manage or create software in the first place?

How to use use the impact map to answer the ‘why’?

To take it to the next level, we can use the work of Robert O. Brinkerhoff. He developed the impact map. 

The impact map shows you how additional knowledge and skills (should) lead to a change in behaviour at the workplace. It also shows how the change in behaviour should improve work processes that lead to better organisational performance.

Can’t create an impact map that makes sense? Then you might have to ask yourself if creating a learning intervention is the right solution. Perhaps there are other solutions to the problem?

Case 1: How the Swedish ambulance service couldn’t meet the ambulance response time

In one of Sweden’s counties, the ambulance service was not able to meet the required response time in many cases. Response time is usually set as ‘arriving within x minutes after an accident is reported’. To meet the response time the manager in charge asked the learning provider to come over to review the e-learning module they created on topography some years ago. Everybody was enthusiastic about that cool new e-learning approach in those days. Updating the e-learning course with the latest e-learning technology, like creating personalized learning paths, should be a great help and solve the problem. They would relaunch the course and ask everyone go through it. The impact map looked liked this:

When you look at the impact map, it does seem to make sense. However, it raises the question whether equipping all ambulances with the newest GPS unit would have been more effective! Better yet: Start an analysis to find out the root causes for not meeting the response times.  

Create effective learning journeys by using the impact map

Besides identifying whether or not your intended learning journey is the solution for the problem the impact map can also help people learn better. Brinkerhoff calls this ‘learner intentionality’. A person will be much more successful going through a learning journey if he/she has the right intention, focus and understanding of the desired outcome. Of course, there is the outcome in terms of learning results but how are the results used and applied at the workplace? Another question you can ask is: do the learning results align with organisational goals?

Knowing how learning something new relates to the bigger picture improves learner intentionality. When you design a learning journey don’t just explain the learning goals but also explain the performance gain the organisation is looking for.

Case 2: Training: How employees from a helpdesk went from ‘ehm’ to ‘yes!’

John, service desk agent at an IT support company called Here2Help, was invited to take a training course on ‘methodical troubleshooting’. John didn’t understand why the company sent him to take the course. He’s fine with using his own problem solving methodology.
Marissa, who has a similar role as John, is also asked to take the course. She is asked to have a chat with her manager. The managers explains why she requested to take the training course and what’s expected of her when she comes back.
After speaking with her manager she understands that new ‘standard’ problem solving methodology will make it easier and faster to solve complex problems. It also makes it easier to inform the client about what is going to happen to solve the issue in a logic, step by step, approach. This predictability is something that’s directly related to customer satisfaction. By using the standard approach colleagues can easily take over when Marissa’s shift ends. Marissa understands the reasons to use standard approach. She’s curious about the methodology and is excited to attend the course.

Obviously, including ‘learning intentionality’ in open enrollment courses is a bit harder compared to in company training. However, even asking the participant to create an impact map before the learning journey begins can significantly help create a good ‘learning intentionality’.

What do you do to improve learning intentionality? Let me know by posting a comment, below.

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