Volume 04: The Profession

Sidebar Profession

As Learning & Development (L&D) professionals, what are we doing to improve an organization’s performance? How do we drive business forward? How do we stay current in the changing landscape of technology? And how do we accomplish these goals in a cost-effective way that will be valuable to us as professionals and to the clients we serve?

Embrace New Concepts

Trish Uhl, CEO and founder of Owl’s Ledge, a consulting firm that offers L&D and project management services, believes that the training profession needs to radically change, particularly in the area of instructional design. She says that current techniques are reminiscent of the Industrial Age and not effective in the 21st century.

“How we’ve been doing things won’t help us move forward,” she said. The current educational models, both for children and adults, are based on a time where most of the workforce was on an assembly line. According to Uhl, teaching people how to sit still at a desk all day with very few interactions and little opportunity for critical thinking is outdated.

Richard Sites, vice president – training and marketing at Allen Interactions, agrees. “Over the past decade, we have seen traditional models fall flat,” he shares. “It’s time that we stop training adults like children.”

“By stuffing people’s heads full of content,” Uhl says, “we aren’t going to improve their performance.” She suggests instead that training professionals identify populations within their organizations that can be affected by performance-oriented training, focusing more on access and skills performance.

Uhl and Sites recommend an instructional design methodology — Context, Challenge, Activity, and Feedback (CCAF) — that focuses on a performance-oriented approach to learning. According to Sites, devoting time to knowledge pieces is outdated, and L&D professionals need to move away from teaching employees what they need to know. Because employees have access to information much faster and easier than they have in previous decades, instructional designers need to focus on helping people perform better.

In the white paper Creating e-Learning that Makes a Difference, Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist at Allen Interactions, elaborates on this methodology that has been utilized professionally by the company for the last 20 years. He states that instructors should place employees in a meaningful context. Once a relevant challenge is presented, the employees then perform an activity intended to meet that challenge. This activity provides an opportunity for immersion and greater understanding of the context. Finally, after the employee has completed the first three steps of the methodology, feedback is the best opportunity to communicate content. It can also inversely provide insights into the instructional technique and quality of presentation.

CCAF is completely different from what is happening in most L&D departments today. When the methodology is in place within an organization’s L&D process, employees are tested and then they share feedback. Sites is in favor of learning that is driven by feedback instead of page-turning binders that end with multiple-choice questionnaires.

In general, organizations and individuals in L&D are resistant to this new design model. To many in management and executive positions, the current format of providing hours of information in presentations and worksheets accomplishes the goal of training new employees enough to function within their roles. However, the true goal of L&D is to help people perform better. “The old way doesn’t work,” Uhl said. “Eventually, organizations will realize that L&D professionals can be replaced by computers or three-ring binders.” They need to be seen as credible, competent, and creating results as contributing members of the organization. Helping employees perform better and providing access to knowledge that helps them do their jobs more effectively is the goal of all L&D professionals. “Teach people how to get the knowledge,” says Sites, “but teaching the facts isn’t necessary.”

Take Advantage of Networking Opportunities

Jill Johns, vice president training and development for a consumer finance company, recommends that L&D professionals immerse themselves in their own companies Beginning her career in the business itself, she suggests that L&D professionals spend time in the field or ask for a job rotation. This immersion allows training staff to empathize with the various departments and their challenges.

“I think we bring a set of solutions to business problems that are unique,” Johns said, “so we need to first and foremost understand what problems our clients are experiencing.” This allows L&D staff to collaborate with these departments to find solutions that will meet their needs, whether it is decreased cost, increased productivity, reduced turnover, or increased morale.

Understand and Use Technology

Peter Sprague, senior manager, L&D at Ceridian, recognizes how technology has played a central role in the changes in the training industry within the last five years. L&D professionals have to be effective with eLearning and develop content quickly. He says it is also important to be literate in multiple tools.

“The role of an instructional designer has been devalued over time and has become a glorified PowerPoint creator who creates eLearning.”

Sprague states that learning experiences must be interactive, engaging, and solve problems. Although accomplishing this goal can be challenging, he recommends using an interview format that will help get content out quickly, reduce prep time, and may uncover content that is latent in the subject matter experts involved.

As Director of Learning and Knowledge with Check Into Cash, Amber Aziza relies heavily on what she calls the “MOOC revolution.” Massive Open Online Courses allow organizations to do a lot more in terms of training and development for a lot less. Aziza recommends that L&D staff take the classes first to ensure credibility and appropriateness, and then select a pool of courses for employees to choose from and give credit for completed courses.

The advantage to MOOCs, according to Aziza, is that employees are hearing the information from a professor, not just an internal instructional team. To get the most of MOOCs, Check Into Cash integrates tablets into their mLearning for managers who may not have time to sit at their computer but may have time for a quick course on an iPad or iPhone. “They can get the learning they need when they want it,” she states.

However, MetLife’s Benjamin Alcid encourages L&D professionals to consider that not all training elements can be properly relayed through technology. As Vice President, Global Sales Capacity Center, he advocates a blended learning approach.

“Most of the learning can best be done through the Internet,” he says, “but soft skills, such as selling, are best taught in the classroom through demonstrations, role playing, and experienced facilitators.” Having a well-rounded set of skills will help L&D pros better meet the needs of a diverse organization.

“If you are training in sales, then learn about the business, the sales process, and the products,” Sprague says. “Learn to use the content in the context of other things that they are learning.” Incorporating real-world experiences with eLearning and other technology will help L&D professionals define the difference being made and link the activity to measures.

Be Passionate

Professional memberships, conferences, local chapters, reading, and interacting with colleagues in other companies provide opportunities to learn from others and get re-energized. One of the most valuable components of attending conferences for Amy Dinning, manager, Leadership & Development with Saint Gobain is being around other training professionals.

“We are all so passionate about what we do,” she says, “and that comes across. If I’m a learning professional, hopefully I’m passionate about my own learning as well.”

Alcid reiterates Dinning’s advice. “Be passionate about what you do. Figure out that this is the world you want to live in,” he says, “and be passionate about it. Learn something new every day.”

Thanks to contributors who shared their time and insight for this article:
Benjamin Alcid, Vice President, Global Sales Capacity Center, MetLife
Amber Aziza, Director of Learning and Knowledge, Check Into Cash
Amy Dinning, Manager, Leadership & Development, Saint Gobain
Jill Johns, Vice President, Training and Development
Richard Sites, Vice President, Training and Marketing, Allen Interactions
Peter Sprague, Senior Manager, L&D, Ceridian
Trish Uhl, CEO and Founder, Owl’s Ledge

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