Posted on 24th March, 2016 by Raoul Dewhurst
I use the term training models with a bit of trepidation as in the L&D world this can be interpreted as various different things. I’m not talking a learning model such as Gagne’s Nine Steps or Learn Apply. What I’m talking about here is the broader way in which the training is delivered by an organisation. Any organisation may use one or more training models.
“We want to cut the time to competence of our new starters by five days – how can we do this using learning technology?”
When faced with a customer who wants to overhaul their learning, or deliver a new learning programme for their staff the first question is an obvious one – ‘What are you trying to achieve?’ While in reality the main driver may be to save time and money, the business still has a requirement to train their staff to a level where they can competently do the job.
As a learning consultant I have to ask ‘what do the learners need to achieve?’ The answer to that is more like: ‘The best possible learning experience which will give them the skills and resources to do their job confidently.’ So what might this look like? Maybe every employee could have one-to-one mentoring and coaching and 24-7 support until they were up to speed on the job. Of course this isn’t feasible – especially if you have large numbers of staff. So the balance always has to be struck between the need to save time and money and the need to deliver quality learning that enables employees to do their job confidently and effectively.
This was my challenge recently when we undertook a piece of consultancy for a large multinational company. They wanted to cut five days out of a 30-day course through effective use of learning technology. It was our job to show them how to achieve this without compromising on quality.
How do you go about solving a challenge like this? Get the right mix of training models and use the best delivery method for each. I’ve tried to label these and separate them out but there is inevitable overlap between them. Broadly speaking the training models organisations use are:
1. Mass customisation
As the name suggests this is when you have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. You give all your employees the same learning, make it generic enough for everyone and sheep dip the lot of them.
This is a very cost-effective method and is often used for compliance-type courses. An example of this may be an elearning course on business ethics that is developed for multiple job roles and functions.
2. Resource model
Learners are not given courses or modules but have access to resources which they can find when the need arises. This has the advantage of being learner driven and available at the moment of need. The learner does, however, have to know the resource is there. Or indeed that they need support – they may erroneously think they are working in the most efficient way possible.
This is where the learner learns through guided experiences. From a technology point of view this would include simulations, virtual environments or games. Alternatively this could include job shadowing or guided practice in the real world. This is a powerful way of learning but can be time consuming and expensive. Unlike mass customisation this approach gives a learner-centric experience based on the decisions or actions they take.
4. Learn on the job (Social learning)
At a basic level this can be described as the ‘Throw them in the deep end’ model. It is probably the most common training model as it is the default when no official or effective training is in place. It doesn’t have to be this way however. Through forums and social platforms an organisation can harness the power of social learning and ensure people are getting the information they need.
5. University or Academy
This is a broad and usually fairly detailed set of learning experiences. Employees learning a large amount of stuff in one go. There are electives for more niche areas. This gives a good base of knowledge but the learner may not need to use that knowledge until far in the future.
Here, different departments will address their learning needs in an ad hoc manner. This could be regional trainers or employees with experience running workshops or courses. This is great for applying personalised training when and where it is needed but it can be expensive and will give an uneven learning experience across the organisation.
All of the above models have value and it’s important for any large organisation to leverage the different models, using the best mediums for each to create the most efficient and effective training programme.
One of the greatest sources of frustration I see in organisations is where one of these is deeply ingrained in the learning architecture and culture and they try to use another model. For example, if a company is used to mass customisation learning and there is a need to create some just-in-time learning resources. The technical learning platform (LMS) may not be optimised for this i.e. it is hard to search and access the resources, or the culture of the employees is one where they expect learning to be pushed on them as they need it, rather than find it as they need it.
Using the right models
Back to the original challenge – how to take a large chunk of time out of the classroom using learning technologies without negatively affecting the learning experience.
The learning programme I was looking at was an induction course and delivered almost entirely face-to-face over 30 days in the classroom. This is a classic academy/university training model with the new starters divided into cohorts and given training by various experts. While the client had identified its length as an issue it also had the negative effect of creating a culture where employees expected learning to be done ‘to’ them. Once the course was finished most the learners would not know where to find resources or answers to questions on the job.
So the challenge was twofold: make the training more efficient (shorter) and change the culture of the employees so they would take responsibility for their training and look for resources when necessary. To achieve this result they would have to move from a pure university model to a mix of university, mass customisation resource experiential and social training models.
Where to start?
Analyse, analyse, analyse. Always know what you are working with before you jump into a solution. With this induction programme there was a lot to analyse. There were two major factors straight out of the gate – the fact that the job had a large physical aspect, so some parts had to be practiced. And there were safety regulations that required some content to be assessed in person. So a scoring system was devised for each course – a score for required fidelity and a critical safety score.
The first thing to do is to identify which parts of it required a high fidelity. Anything which scores highly on the fidelity counter would be best suited to an experiential model. This is what learners would have to do in a realistic setting in order to get value from the training. Examples of this may be a policeman putting on handcuffs or cabin crew evacuating an aircraft. Both of those would need a high level of fidelity and a real-life simulation. Activities with a mid-level fidelity score, such as knowing your way around an environment, could be recreated in an online simulation or environment.
Other subjects may just require knowledge or understanding so the fidelity score is low. These would not need to be delivered in an experiential model, it is essentially content that could be put into elearning courses, videos or animations without compromising the learning outcomes. This is classic mass customisation territory – everyone gets the same learning.
So now we had a hierarchy of content – what needed to be done in real life, what required simulation and what could potentially be mass customised. There was one more angle to look at – critical safety. These were subjects where learner understanding and competence had to be ensured and observed. The critical safety scores, for the most part, aligned with the fidelity although there were some of the ‘knowledge’ areas that would need to remain in the classroom.
The next step is to dig through the content of the programme and pull out any information that is foundational. Anything which would be effective for everyone regardless of what they already knew. This is to get everyone up to the same level. If this content could be converted to online – either experiential or mass customisation where they can do it before they even arrive for day one of the induction.
Pull rather than push
In addition to foundation material the learners could do before they started the programme, we wanted to give the learners a task to prepare for each day of training. A recent study by Matthew Schnurr, Elizabeth De Santo, and Rachael Craig found that pre-work, or “preparatory learning”, is a valuable tool to increase learner confidence in “both the process and the substance” of the training.
This was given in the form of research that learners had to do through accessing learning resources on the learning library. Driving the learners to the resource library encouraged the use of a resource training model or a ‘pull’ learning culture where employees take responsibility for their own learning.
It was identified that a lot of time was also spent answering ad hoc questions during this programme – especially early on in the course. A solution to this was to set the learners up on a forum or social media tool moderated by a trainer. Questions could be asked and answered outside of classroom time. This would also be a platform to share experiences of what was happening on the job. Not only would this take time out of the classroom at the early stage but instil a culture of asking questions and sharing information among colleagues.
In the end this approached showed how blending the various training models could take time out of the classroom without compromising the learning outcome. The key here was identifying the best model to use for each content area. This approach also made the classroom time more effective by having all the students at the same level before they started and saved time by giving them the opportunity to ask questions outside of the class environment.