Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Learner Lifecycle

That's Life.
To everything there is a season. We are born, we play, we work, we teach, we die. As time goes by, we change how we learn.

A baby's every waking moment goes into figuring things out. Child's play for pre-schoolers is learning in disguise; they devote their time experimenting, making connections, and understanding their world.

School children attend formal classes and do assignments to lay a foundation for learning the 3 Rs, cultural memes, and social norms. The quality of the school experience is open to debate, but few would argue that children should have to invent, say, multiplication rather than have it taught to them in school.

School children weave a mental tapestry of understanding; adults patch holes in the fabric.

This is work.
Upon escaping the confines of school, people go to work. Just as the high-school grad descends from the top of one heap to the bottom of another as an entering freshman, the college grad starts over as a new hire. It's like being a kid again.

Careers are front-loaded with formal learning: orientation sessions, courses on fundamentals, and certification programs. Over time, informal learning becomes ever more prominent. Mid-career workers rarely take workshops. They are learning to tweak, to improve, and to improvise from what they already know.

Everyone is a novice in some areas and an expert in others. Workshops, courses, and other formal instruction are appropriate for the newbie who needs the 20,000' view as a landscape for connecting and making sense of details.. Collaboration, search, small-chunk simulations, and other informal means are better alternatives for experienced people seeking guidance for working directly on the ground.

Variations on a theme
Most people arrive at adulthood having built the foundation skills, mental models, and working knowledge they need to get along in the world. They learn new things after answering "What's in it for me?" Adults learn when they need to solve pressing problems. They don't have patience for superfluous material or rehashing what they already know. Curriculum is for kids; exploration is for adults.

Veteran workers who are savvy in the way things work are most organizations' top performers. In the factory, the best worker was perhaps twice as productive as the worst. In the knowledge economy, the best worker is hundreds of times more productive as than a mediocre peer. Top performers justify special handling.

Your workforce.
What proportion of your workforces are green recruits? What fraction already know the ropes?

If you're like most organizations, your old hands outnumber the new recruits 10 to 1. The Western world has an aging workforce. The boomer bulge is still at work. People born today live thirty years longer than they did when my grandfather was born.

The DNA of instructional design.
The United States had no standing army when it entered World War II. The military needed to train millions of civilians how to fight . This sowed the seeds of what became Instructional Systems Design (ISD) in the 50s. The core methodology of ISD, the ADDIE model (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate), has a great track record of raising novices to basic competence.

Winning World War II was such a success that corporations followed the military's example. Command-and-control hierarchies were run by officers who developed strategies to battle the competition.

A new world.
Times have changed, and models that once helped companies succeed now hold them back. ADDIE is not the best way to help top performers learn. ADDIE starts with a Needs Analysis, but experienced workers do better defining their own needs. They can identify with Winston Churchill when he said, "Personally, I'm always ready to learn, although I don't always like being taught."

Ted Cocheu, CEO of Altus Learning Systems, has been instrumental in raising my consciousness on these issues. He asks why companies put most of their training budget into courses, workshops, Learing Management Systems, and other things that primarily deal with getting novices up to speed. Doesn't it make more sense to invest in communications infrastructure, putting resources at workers' fingertips, and facilitating collaboration? They would get a better return from helping experienced workers do their jobs better.

My next column in CLO will discuss how to do just that.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?