Monday, August 24, 2009

IDCI: LH Theory by Abhinava

Saturday, I had an opportunity to meet fellow IDCI members at Adobe, Bangalore. It was great to meet and interact with instructional designers from other companies. I was finally getting to meet the people I interact with online through Twitter, Ning, Linkedin, and blogs. Everyone was extremely friendly and the quick coffee before the session helped me catch up with everyone.

Abhinava (@Abhinava)presented on the LH theory. LH theory or the love-hate theory is a philosophy Abhinava swears by for successes in life and work. Abhinava started the session by making us think about ourselves as learners. He posed several questions such as when do you learn, what do you learn, how do you learn. Most things we learn are not necessarily through formal training. After discussing these, he summarized by saying that we learn when there is a need. He linked this need to the Maslow's theory. Abhinava asked us to reflect on the concept of Love and Hate. You can view Abhinava's presentation here.

What does it mean to design using love?
Designing using love means:
  • Giving the learners positive motivations to meet a need or help them gain something
  • Design a 'feel good' learning program
  • Providing a source to love such as the company itself, the narrator of the course, and so on
  • Taking your time to provide continuous, ongoing reinforcements to ensure that learning occurs
  • Ensuring that you have the learner's buy in every step of the way by providing logical reasons/explanations
  • In other words, ensure that the learner understands the consequences of learning
  • Works well for motivated learners and those with high EQ
Designing using hate means:
  • Giving the learners negative motivations to force them to protect an existing need or to avoid some kind of loss
  • Forcing your hand to ensure that they learn to avoid repercussions
  • Ensuring that you remove the source of hate as soon as the objective is met to ensure that learning is sustained
  • Providing quick, useful information that the learner needs
  • Ensuring that the learner understands the consequences of NOT learning
  • Works well with learners with 'I do not care' attitudes
Remember the following points:
  1. Use both love and hate wisely. Too much of hate is detrimental to learning. Too much love is wasted if there is no need.
  2. Do not try and trick the learner. Be honest and transparent.
  3. Design for the learners and not for the content.
  4. Ensure that the source of love is available always and the source of hate is removed as soon as its objective is met.
  5. It is not about IDs or the content. It is always about the learner.
  6. Love your learner always and they will love you back.
Abhinava also touched upon another very interesting aspect. I have been thinking about this for very long. What does Instructional Design encompass? Just the content? Just designing strategies for the course? Well, no! It involves a lot more than that. So, let us see what it involves:
  1. Identifying the problem: What is the current gap that the organization is trying to fill? How can this problem be solved? Training may not be solution. You may realize that the organization needs to relook at their structure or processes. Training may also not be the sole solution. You may need a combination of changes to make it an effective solution.
  2. Understanding the learner: Identify need: How is filling this gap (if through training) going to cater to the learner's need? How will they benefit? Identify motivations: What are their internal motivations? What are their attitudes? Will they want to take this course? Why or why not? Understand learning environment: Where will they take this course? How much time can they take out from their daily work? Are there any disturbances? Are there any factors that will hinder learning?
  3. Understanding the content and identifying the ID strategy: ID is not about page level strategies only. It is about the macro strategy that will bind your learning program together. It is about effectively connecting the different learning solutions together.
  4. Delivery medium: Identifying the most effective medium/media to delivery learning.
  5. Implementation plan: Ensure a successful implementation plan to ensure retention and application of knowledge.
On the whole, the session was highly interactive and informative. Looking forward to many more! (For IDCI members: If I have missed anything or misunderstood something, feel free to add/correct me!)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

8 Tips for the Training Department

Given below are two views on training:

Jaya: I have a list of courses that I am supposed to take. Most of them are irrelevant as I know most of what is covered. These elearning courses are updated regularly. But this typically means that that they change the names in the scenarios and then ask us to take the course all over again. There are a few courses that we are required to take every year because of some rules set by the U.S Government. It seems pointless to go over the same course over and over again.

Ravi: I attending a classroom training when I joined. This session was on product knowledge. I found it very useful as it helped me understand the products we were dealing with. I am sure I will benefit from any other training my organization wishes me to attend. I would like training on communication skills.

Here, we have two individuals with completely differing viewpoints on training. Interesting, isn't it? The first individual works for a big software company and the other works as a shop floor marketing personnel. Most software professionals will give you a similar response. Why are the viewpoints so different? Jaya hates training, while Ravi is open to it.

Let us look at the reasons why Jaya is against training.

1. Learn About Everything Under the Sun
The training/HR department has about 200 courses on their LMS. A huge list of courses is shared with an employee and they are asked to take it in their own pace. This is mandatory. A person will check if employees are completing the course. Therefore, Jaya clicks next on most of the courses and therefore, manages to finish her list of courses. Does the training department do any research at all? Do they know they know how their employees feel about training? Do they have any clue as to what their employees need and what they don't? Do they consider the employees motivations? Employee says: Why do I have to learn about communication skills? I don't interact with clients anyway! Having employees take courses that are not relevant does not help the cause. It does more harm actually.

2. I have enough work, Thanks!
Most employees (and not necessarily software professionals) will tell you this when you ask them whether they have time for training. This is because:
a. They do not see value in training. They do not feel the need to invest time in training as they are sure they know all there is to know.
b. They do have lots of work. They have pressing deadlines, but the training department insists that they complete specific courses within a given period of time. They are distracted as they are more concerned about a deadline looming over their heads.

3. It is just sooo boring...yawn!
Most software employees will tell you how boring the eLearning sessions are and how they click them away! The course do not interest them and therefore, they do not give it a moment's thought. An hour long course is over in a matter of minutes. What is worse is that they would have done extremely well in assessment section. Therefore, they feel confident that they know everything.

Let us look at the reasons why Ravi is pro training.

1. I benefited from it last time!
Simple! Ravi has a positive attitude towards training because he very clearly benefited from it the last time. He feels confident that any training that his management suggests will help him work better.

2. Thirst for Knowledge
Ravi feels he will benefit from a course on communication skills. He obviously realizes that he has lots to learn in this area and that a training program may be a great idea.

I have already blogged about How to tackle a demotivated learner? So, now I am going to share a few tips for the training department.

STOP churning out courses because you have to!
The training department has a budget allotted for training. That's great! But, please do not churn out unnecessary courses! Stop trying to fill in your employees' calenders just because you HAVE to! Most employees in the corporate world are over exposed to training. Remember Ravi? Another reason he likes training was because it was new to him. Try newer ways of teaching. Avoid stuffing eLearning/ILTs down the employees throats! Avoid packing their days with unnecessary training.

START investing time in research
The training department (especially of software companies) has no excuse for not trying to understand their employee's needs. Do some research. Understand the skills sets required for a particular role, map the competencies of employees, and suggest courses. Understand what your learner's motivation and attitudes are. Use this valuable information to design a powerful course that will make a difference.

PLAN well for training
Ensure that your employees do not feel the need to balance work and learning. Ensure that you have their deadlines, schedules, and time in mind when you plan training. This way neither work nor learning gets affected. DO NOT make them choose between the two. The employee will always choose work. If it is a core skill, give them time off work to take it. Ensure that you make their training as smooth as your possibly can.

DESIGN a powerful course
How? The learner is taking an hour or so from his/her work to learn. Give them something that excites them and makes them think. After a full day's work, it is extremely tiring to go through boring training. Give them a breath of fresh air. Make their learning experience a memorable one. Ensure that they do not feel like they are putting in extra effort to take and finish the course. Do not make them regret the time they have invested in this.

STOP ruining it for others
There are so may demotivated learners and the main reason for this is lack of respect for learners. Value their time and treat them with respect. Please do not hold a gun to their heads and say LEARN! Encourage a climate of knowledge sharing. Make them want to learn. Bad training programs poisons the employee's mind against learning itself. A job of a trainer/ID is tough as it. The job is made twice as hard with bad experiences with training.

START exploring newer ways of teaching
See what works for your employees. Avoid resorting to tried and tested modes of delivering learning. Try newer ways of teaching things. Explore how you can encourage social learning at your workplace. How can you get people to learn from each other? Use effective combination of solutions to deploy learning.

DO NOT insist on employees taking the same course over and over
The learner should have the option of revisiting a course if he/she wishes to do so. Do not impose this on them. If you have a rule saying certain courses have to be taken every year, use different ways of refreshing their memories. This could be in the form of handouts, discussion, quick games/scenario-based checks, and so on.

CUSTOMIZE your courses
Most training departments buy off-the-shelf products for soft skills and for technical training, they arrange classroom sessions. If soft skill such as communication is a core skill, then no off-the-shelf is going to cater to the needs of your learner. If soft skill is not a core skill but a concern, no off-the-shelf is going to help! Why? If your employee does not communicate with client face-to-face but only over emails and audio conference, the scenarios in off-the-shelf course may be very general and may not cover these. You need a course that will include scenarios that the learners face in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, off-the-shelf is anyway a bad idea. If you are buying a ready made course, ensure that you have it customized for your needs. Technical training, on the other hand, can be very dull. Ensure that you decide a mode of delivery that will allow active participation. Also, ensure that it is not theoretical and you give information that the employees can actually use.

Think about the effect your courses are having on the learner's psyche. If it is a negative one, stop what you are doing immediately and rethink your approach. Please do not ruin it for other who are trying to do their jobs right. If it is positive, pat yourself on your back and continue to change lives for the better.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Social learning without Web 2.0 tools?

Many companies are reluctant to invest in social learning using the Web 2.0 tools. You can try and convince your clients about its power and usefulness. But this may not be the only thing stopping IDs from using Web 2.0 tools. In India, Internet and Web 2.0 tools are accessible to very small percentage of learners. Most learners:
  1. Do not have access to Internet. We have learners who work in villages/districts to learners who are foot-on-street sales executives to learners who have access to just one computer.
  2. Are still very much lurkers. Learnability testing has shown us that people are very reluctant to voice out their thoughts in a public forum.
I use tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and so on for my own self-development. But these tools are very specific to a learner profile and therefore, not the only learning solution. If the learners do not have access to or are not inclined to use Web 2.0 tools, what can we do to ensure social learning takes place? Social/informal learning has been around for ages and is not a new phenomenon. People exchange notes in class, outside class. Employees discuss training at work and outside work. So, how can you encourage people to talk about what they have learnt during and outside the training?

1. Include activities. This works well regardless of whether it is during or after training. Ensure that you make these activities fun and challenging. Ask them to do some research and share with the team.

How: Include this as your implementation plan and get the buy in of the management. Encourage learners to take an hour from their work. Let them come together in an informal setting (such as a cafeteria, outside in the lawn).

For example, for a sales executive, you could have impromptu role plays on selling skills. Divide people into groups of two and have them enact different situations.

2. Induce competition. This especially works for highly motivated learners and if the learning objective is a skill based one.

How: Include this in your implementation plan. Ask the management to send an informal mail or put an informal notice for all to see. Make it fun and do not enforce it on employees. Involve internal managers and ask them to observe the behavior and decide the winners. Put the names of the winners on the notice board or send an email out to everyone appreciating them. Basically, give them due recognition.

For example: We had to provide grooming skills for shop floor executives. We suggested that the management announce 'The Best Groomed Employee' at the end of every week. The employee was required to apply what was learnt to achieve this. The store chief helped identify the best groomed employee in his store.

3. Use learning aids. Put up interesting posters, catchy motto/lines, distribute flash cards.

How: Design eye catchy posters/handouts. Keep this very informal. Use bright colors and interesting illustrations. make the learners laugh if you can (comic strips should do the trick). Remember to share only the key points. Things that will help reinforce the most important concepts. Keep these in places where it will catch the learners eye.

For example: To help customer service associates touch up their make up, we suggested posters be put up in the washrooms. Visual description of the steps guide them and reinforces learning.

4. Design a great course. The biggest drawback about eLearning is that it is self paced (I know this has been discussed as a boon and I completely agree). People take courses and then forget about them as soon as they click exit. Designing the course right helps a big deal. If a course that inspires learners or makes them think, they will talk about it. Think about it. When you read an exciting book or watch a great movie, what do you do? Discuss with your friends? Share your thoughts on how the piece moved you or inspired you.

How: Understand your learners. Find out what makes them tick. Identify what motivates them and how they think. Understand their attitudes. Why will they like your course? Find the answer to this.

For all the above, avoid having too many. Focus only on the key learning points and stick to these. Informal/social learning is about people connecting with one another to learn. Try these and social learning will take place even if your learners do not have access to Web 2.0 tools. The key is to keep it informal. Give people the freedom to participate. Involve people from within the organization to take responsibility for these.