This is a the first draft of an intro to a book that I may be writingAfter having spent 20 years in the Learning & Development industry (formerly the Talent Development industry, Workplace Performance industry, Corporate Training industry, etc.) I’ve noticed a few things. How we make, manage, and measure training comes in basically three flavors:
- Content = This is our historical default, as exemplified he ADDIE model of training design. Its focus is “This is the change to know about”. It doesn’t matter who the people are so much as that we told them what we needed to tell them. Compliance training almost always falls in this category.
- Audience = This is the other end of the spectrum, it’s all about what the audience is ready to receive and how to measure that their performance. Its focus is “These are the people that need to change”. Of course this quickly veers out of pure training and overlaps with marketing, behavior design, and other complimentary fields. It doesn’t matter how the change happens, just that it does within the given set of people. For folks seeking to make engaging training, this is particularly attractive.
- Baseline = This is about how our training works on a functional level, and what it tells us. Its focus is “Our training works like this, and here’s how we know that and what we do with it.” The specifics of who does the training or what is being trained don’t really matter as much as how all the training works at a meta-level. Data-driven folks tend to drive this way.
I’ve had adventures with all three approaches, and I believe all three have their place. Though these days it’s that Baseline one that has me the most excited!
After having spoken probably 100 times at dozens of L&D Conferences, webinars, and events, and hundreds of conversations on podcasts & livestreams & panels, I’ve learned that most Learning & Development Professionals are all about raising the ceiling. They like the new and shiny technology, things that show great promise and inspire new ways of thinking.
As a huge sci-fi fan, I love that stuff too! But that’s a great distance from the world I live in day-to-day. I want to get there, and I believe we can, but only if we’re willing to do the work where we are now.Here’s where we are now:
- We have no definition of what Training is. We can’t even agree to use that word, opting for Learning instead (which is a linguistic sinkhole).
- We’ve let the academics and the vendors in our space lead the way. There are plenty of reasons for this, and it explains why the Content-based and Audience-based models have been so prevalent for so long.
- We have no standards of how we measure or manage Training, at least here in the USA. Though every other industry that exists has training needs, our industry never bothered building something the rest of the world could use and know what it means or how it works.
Enter the Data
After having my own business for 15+ years, my current role is the Global Learning Technology & Analytics Manager for ConvaTec, which provides medical devices and solutions to people all over the globe. It’s an ambitious title for a company that has never had any one place that all their training goes, or any one group that even knows what training exists. My onboarding was a classic example of the content-based “everyone can add but no one can subtract” approach. We’re changing this now, but it’s a huge shift and takes time.
Here’s the problem I’m perpetually trying to solve: how do we know that the training worked? I’m clearly not trying to say “your training doesn’t work” though whenever I ask the question, that seems to be what people hear. What I’m trying to do is figure out how we know any given program is working so that I can sync it up with all the other programs and develop data that tells a compelling story. Without that, we don’t know if we’re wasting people’s time and the company’s money. Regardless of any kind of job security implications, I just wanna know we’re doing the right thing for our people!
I tend to approach everyone as if they want the best possible thing for those they serve. And yeah, I fully realize that’s not always true. But when it’s not, they have to prove me wrong. They have to tell me what else they want, and it becomes an exception to my baseline operating mode. If they want to just go along to get along, they’ll follow my lead. Frankly, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and I’m mostly okay with that. Personally, the day I have to defend my job is the day I start looking for a new one.
So I’m constantly looking for datapoints, and for ways to connect those dots. While I like beautiful designs as much as the next Instructional Designer, my focus is not on raising the ceiling for training but on building the floor. I believe we need a platform we can all stand on together. Something that supports all the work we do.
The rest of this book is about how we build that platform.