One of the holy grails in workplace learning and development is creating a safe space for learning. A space where the people in the group feel safe (psychologically and emotionally) to learn and grow through social and collaborative learning. A space where people ask questions, share knowledge and experience, listen, can challenge assumptions and explore wicked problems. Without fear of ridicule or redemption.
Creating a safe space often involves facilitating a group generated ‘agreement’ for how they will behave. How they will support themselves and each other to get the most out of their shared learning experience. Chatham House Rules is a well-known approach where the group agrees that ‘what is said in the room, stays in the room’. We trust that everyone in the group will respect the ground rules – because we are working with adult learners. Based on that perceived trust people have the opportunity to generate a deeper, more meaningful learning experience.
However, there is a gritty side to workplace learning. Workplace learning involves people and organisations. It’s in the workplace where the day to day reality of the organisations culture, politics, agendas, ambitions, world views, unconscious biases, defenses and controls are played out. It’s a messy and dynamic environment.
There can be people in positions of influence and control (both formal and informal) who might be quietly singing from a different hymn book, they have a different agenda to the organisation.
An Australian term for the process of internal erosion for a foundation. It is often used in reference to groups such as political parties or organisations where information from group insiders is ‘leaked’ or used to undermine the goals of the group. The Macquarie Dictionary says the verb ‘to white-ant’ means ‘to subvert or undermine from within’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_anting)
To achieve their agenda means they may be white-anting. White-anting can be hard to detect because of its subversive nature.
The team leader who tells the new person on their team, ‘don’t worry about what they taught you in the induction training program you’ve just done, we’ll teach you how to do things in the real world’
The manager who uses second and third hand information that was ‘leaked’ by a training participant (that is the manager wasn’t in the room = hearsay) against another staff member, ‘I’ve been told by someone in the group about what you’ve been saying and I’m thinking about making a complaint’
What to do?
There is no magic silver bullet. But you can manage the risk:
Create (update) a risk register
Engage managers and team leaders as key stakeholders
Communicate with everyone who is affected/has a vested interest in the learning program
Reinforce the importance of the senior leaders actively leading and supporting the workplace learning program (that they decided to implement)
Did I mention you can’t over-communicate? :)
Workplace learning is not all rainbow unicorn kittens.
In workplace learning we work with human beings. We’ll never eliminate the risk of people white-anting and potentially misappropriating second hand information to serve their particular agenda. But at least you will have reduced the risk and put controls in place to manage it.
I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately claiming that the only future for workplace learning is eLearning. This is because of eLearnings potential to deliver learning at the point of need. That it is asynchronous, borderless and empowers learners to take control of their learning. All of this can be true.
But there are some assumptions:
Face-2-face learning is not going to suddenly disappear.
Face-2-face learning will continue to play a valuable role in modern workplace learning.
So which is better, eLearning or face-2-face learning?
Neither and both.
Whatever mode is used; eLearning, face-2-face or something else; the quality of the learning experience comes down to how it’s designed.
At the end of the day It all depends on what you need your workplace learning to achieve.
Really happy to be a part of the October edition of the AITD's Training and Development magazine, Case Study: A Brain Based Workplace Induction Program in Training & Development magazine October 2016 Vol 43 No 5, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.
I've been thinking lately about the value of workplace diversity and the role that workplace learning can play in organisational culture.
The value of a positive workplace culture has been well documented. Maintaining that positive, enabling culture is an ongoing challenge for organisations. It takes constant care and attention. In an ideal world a workplace culture is a conscious intention of the senior leadership team. And sometimes they are evolved by staff in the absence of anything else. When this happens it can be that the voices of a vocal few become louder and louder, eventually taking over – creating the dominant paradigm and fostering a mono-culture mentality.
The problem with workplace mono-cultures is that they only afford one way of thinking and being. They create an environment where there are only 2 options for people - either be accepted through enculturation or be banished to the hinterland. A mono-culture creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality – if you are one of 'us' you are with us, and if you are one of 'them' then you are against 'us'. This reinforces silos, which are the bain of an organisation. The stronger the silo borders are, the more knowledge is hoarded and learning is withheld and the less functional organisaitons become because they have become disconnected and inward focused.. The risks included people becoming marginalized, losing confidence, and/or becoming disengaged. . For some organisations there is the additional challenge of a disengaged workforce that don’t leave because they have the golden handcuffs on. Adaptability and agility become more problematic, innovation (which thrives on having a multiplicity of perspectives) is stifled and groupthink thrives.
Diversity is the antidote for organisational mono-culture syndrome. Diversity is about acceptance and respect and plays an important role in generating balanced, dynamic work communities that thrive. Taking a wide view, diversity is about everything that makes us the unique human beings we are. There are the ‘obvious’ differences that people think about in relation to diversity including things like gender, age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, political beliefs socio-economic background and education levels. Diversity is also about how people learn, think and behave.
Workplace learning can help re-balance a monoculture by fostering a safe space for people to learn from each others differences.
3 tips for using workplace learning to foster diversity
Workplace learning can have many hats ranging from "traditional' training to achieve a qualification through to using learning programs to help foster workplace culture.
When people have been through a major change, or changes, in their workplace that are poorly executed, fear and negativity is likely to take hold and become 'the way we do things around here' = CULTURE. This is a natural human response - our brains are wired to protect us from threat. Change that is out of our control, change that is unpredictable or poorly communicated represents a threat. So fear ensues. It may be there are only a few people who are 'leading' the fear and negativity campaign..,it may be that the majority are trying to stay positive and work out how to navigate their way around the new world order. But the voice of negativity is strong and infectious, it can overrun a workplace culture by stealth. Until one day a manager or team leader wakes up and thinks 'hang on a minute, what's happened here? How did it come to this? How do we get out of this mess and build a positive workplace culture?
While everyone in the workplace has a part to play in the culture of their workplace., it is the people with official leadership roles who have the power to regenerate an enabling environment and lead their people back to a great place to work.
At this point, it doesn't help to have people give advice on what should have been done when the change was happening, like having a change management plan to take the people on the journey. And it can often lead to managers deciding that 'training' is needed to help their people develop the new skills required in the changed organisation. But training will have a limited impact on the culture problem.
Training and Learning
Training is the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies as a result of the teaching of vocational or practical skills and knowledge that relate to specific competencies. Training has specific goals of improving capability, capacity, productivity and performance
Not all learning is training.
4 tips for designing learning that builds workplace culture
Workplace learning is a complex and messy business - full of expectations, constraints and opportunities. Workplace learning needs to fit into the organisations daily work flow but not necessarily become invisible. It needs to be relevant and timely. It needs to incorporate formal learning so that the ‘right’ skills, knowledge and work practices are being developed (by right I mean the skills, knowledge and work practices the organisation needs); and informal learning so that the social/community/peer-to peer -earning is recognised and leveraged. Workplace learning needs to deliver on the organisations expectations = capability is improved, return on investment is achieved. It also needs to deliver on the individual participants’ expectations – helping them improve the work they do as well supporting them in their career aspirations.
Great workplace learning makes an invaluable contribution to organisational success – not only does it improve capability in relation to the job in hand, it also improves the organisation’s flexibility and knowledge management.all Workplace learning is an exciting and rewarding profession to be involved with – designing and delivering learning programs that helps both the organisation and its people to achieve their goals is a real buzz. It can also be challenging and frustrating.
Other challenges can include being asked to pull a magic rabbit out of the hat e.g. ‘we’ve known about this issue for a while now – all our people need training – next week if you can manage it and make sure it doesn’t take too long please’. Sometimes the walk and the talk don’t really line up - ‘we really believe in the value of learning and development but we can’t afford to take our people offline to do any training (either face-2-face or eLearning); in fact we’d really like to make it their responsibility to do their learning in their own time’ J Sometimes it’s because managers default to L&D as the magic silver bullet e.g. got a performance management issue? Get L&D to fix it! :)
Workplace learning can also bend some of the adult learning principles we hold close to our heart out of shape.
For example: Adult learners are self-directed and make their own learning decisions, right? Not always...
Yet this is one of the cardinal principles of adult learning. And it makes sense - as we grow up we become increasingly autonomous and get to make our own decisions about what we want to do when we grow up. Once you leave the compulsory learning environment of school there is an exhilarating sense of freedom - at last, you think to yourself, I am now the mistress/master of my own destiny! :). At some point you end up in the workforce, (hopefully doing something you like). Even though we know we need to adapt ourselves to the organisation we work for, we bring our adult identity with us including the belief that we are fully formed human beings, skilled & knowledgeable, able to make our own decisions. Then your employer decides that their workforce (you) need to do an L&D program. I’m not talking so much about compliance training e.g. annual refreshers on topics like health and safety, conflict of interest or equal employment opportunities that are a legislative requirement of the organisation. I’m talking more about the L&D programs that are put in place to address a workforce capability issue or a change initiative or to professionalise the workforce. And then they decide to make attendance mandatory. Now it gets interesting. There can be a wide range of reactions from...
Great, I love to learn'
'OK, I already know this topic but I’m open to the possibility of learning something new'
'Friggin hell, they're wasting my time - how rude, do they think I'm incompetent or what?
This decision has additional implications like the need to make sure that everyone in the target group has booked into the L&D program (= no-one is hiding behind the door hoping they won’t be noticed), that they have put it in their calendars (so they turn up), that their managers and team leaders are supporting the L&D so you avoid things like…suddenly Caroline can’t do the L&D program because her team leader thinks it’s more important for her to be doing ‘real work’. And of course just attending isn’t enough, even though attendance is mandatory your participants still need to be active learners.
‘No John, you can’t just sit at the back of the room and check your emails.
Yes, Mary, you do need to successfully complete that eLearning program.
Pretty much all of my work in workplace learning over the last 20 years has been in the world of organisationally-decided learning and development. And I've gotten pretty comfortable with the idea that it’s OK for organisations to make these kind of L&D decisions even though it goes against certain adult learning principles – they are looking at it from a big picture and positioning perspective; they are seeking to manage their knowledge and set the organisation up for success.
In the land of compulsory L&D I think there is an even greater responsibility to design and deliver great learning experiences that shows respect for our captive audience. Even though they didn’t decide about their participation, the moment they come into the L&D program (whether its face-2-face, online or blended) we need to engage them to become self-directed as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to design fantastic learning that surprises even the most sceptical and experienced workers into learning.
It’s all about respect.
Everyone wants to feel that their professional identity, their skills and knowledge, is valued. Show respect by engaging the right subject matter experts (internally and externally if the budget allows) to work with you on the learning program. This includes the delivery of the learning as much as the development of the content. Think about whether they have the L&D/facilitation skills to do a good job teaching the people or whether the learners will have a better experience if you co-facilitate with them. But either way, don’t try and do it on your own (unless you are the subject matter expert of course) – you simply won’t have the nuanced understanding that your target group needs (I have seen L&D folk try to do this and it didn’t go very well). Street cred gives and gets respect. Remember that your learners will need to be able to put their learning into practice on the job.
Respect the wisdom in the room and know that not all the wisdom is in the room (otherwise why are we there?).
You can also speak to the compulsory learning elephant in the room – the reason why, how the program has been designed, the participants role in the learning. What you want to do is to help the participants to make it OK for themselves to be there, i.e. help them manage their professional identity. And you want to tap into their desire to be good at the work. For examples, sometimes I’ll talk about reflective practice and link it to other professions like musicians, artists and sportspeople who are successful because they are continuously working on their craft - they will practice 6-8 hours a day, continue to have lessons &/or be coached and seek feedback from their peers and colleagues. Sometimes I’ll talk about perfection's non-existence, by definition perfection is an unachievable aspiration = there is always room for improvement. We can’t force our participants to change their mind but we can open up new ways of thinking about compulsory learning and development.
Some other tips:
Adult learners are self directed and make their own learning decisions – not always, and that’s OK
I’d love to hear about how you deal with your compulsory learning elephant.
Learning and the Brain with Jane Hudson
In this podcast I'm talking with Tiffany Gray from Business Brain Mapping about how learning happens and how the brain drives learning behaviour.
I was asked a question during an Instructional Design Essentials workshop I was running recently: ‘How much can I cram into the training program I’m designing? My company doesn’t have a lot of time and I want to make sure we get through as much as we can’.
It’s a fair question – organisations are time poor. They are making an investment in their staff’s learning and development for one overriding purpose: to make their staff more effective, efficient and productive. Time is money. Taking staff ‘offline’ to attend training is a significant investment and that’s not counting either the time of another staff member designing, developing and delivering the training or the cost of bringing an external trainer in.
'We can only take our workers offline for an hour and we want them to learn how to use the new business information system''
So what’s the answer? How much can you fit into your training program?
The answer is in understanding:
In my blog, ‘I’m an instructional design tragic', I shared these explanations:
The real question is: Do you want your participants to actually learn something?
One of the keys to successful instructional design is PACE (a close relative of chunking & sequencing).
Pace is about:
Starts at the beginning of the instructional design process – it’s in the scope of the program, your target group profile, the complexity of the topic and the size of the group. It’s about managing the learners’ expectations so at they understand the whole story of what the program is about, how it’s going to run and what they can do to get the most out of the learning on offer. It's about managing the organisations expectations so they can get what they are seeking out of the training.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you work out your pace:
Remember: Your training program is not a Tardis! There are limits to how much you can fit in. It’s about finding the balance to get the best learning value both for the learners and the organisation.
Join me to learn about instructional design so you can confidently design quality learning programs that get results. Book now for Instructional Design Essentials at AITD (Australian Institute of Training and Development) - Hobart 27 October - Melbourne 11 November
Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of being able to conduct an extensive learning needs analysis eg where surveys are conducted, focus groups run and/or individual interviews held. Sometimes all you have is a manager telling you they’re people need training and that you, as the instructional designer, need to do something about it, preferably sooner rather than later and potentially with no additional resources or budget.
Rapid instructional design doesn’t mean that you don’t analyse, but it does mean that you need to get to the heart of the issue as quickly as you can: you need to understand what the problem is and work out whether training is the solution.
You need to talk with that manager (or team leader, or whoever it was who said ‘we need to organise some training’. What is the problem? What evidence is there that the problem exists? Too often organisations think that training will solve ALL their problems but training can’t be all things to all people. For example, if the real problem is about accountability then holding staff to account is the solution, not giving staff more training (although you may uncover a secondary training need eg the team leaders or managers are the ones who need training on how to have challenging conversations).
So you have confirmed that training will help address the problem. What next?
Start with the end in mind – before you do anything else, confirm the learning objectives for your program. When people have attended your training what will be different? Better? More efficient? Know what the end state is before you start doing any design. This will also give you the scope for your learning program and will help you manage expectations.
Once you have a clear and agreed end state, then its time to start designing and developing. Its not uncommon for instructional designers to do these two processes simultaneously. Designing and developing at the same time lets you start pulling materials together as you’re making design decisions and the design decisions you make will influence the materials you collect – it becomes an iterative process.
Stay on track – don’t get too caught up in the ‘nice to knows and nice to dos’ – you need to be pragmatic. What are the ‘must knows and must dos’? These are the most important things your learning program needs to achieve.
Keep it simple – a simple, solid instructional design that delivers the desired learning outcomes is more important than a more experimental design which could blow out your timelines and may or may not deliver the learning outcomes.
So, to get into Rapid Instructional Design: start with the end in mind, confirm that learning will solve the problem, design and develop simultaneously, stay focussed and keep it simple.
Join me to learn about instructional design so you can confidently design quality learning programs that get results. Book now for Instructional Design Essentials at AITD (Australian Institute of Training and Development) Hobart 27 October - Melbourne 11 November