Speed to Proficiency     Creating a sustainable competitive advantage

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Next-Big-ThingI see articles every week that have “the future of learning” in them. It may be gamification, micro-learning, social learning, device agnostic content, learning paths, etc. I believe that none of these are the future of learning, because within an organizational context, there are really three different goals we are trying to achieve – often simultaneously.

Pretty much every article I’ve read on “the next big thing” or “the future of learning” forgets the distinction between compliance, professional development, and capability acquisition. In point of fact, the tools and processes described are usually great for one or another of these three, but not for all.

Instead of trying to figure out what the next big thing is, I advise my customers to plan for how to address these three different yet important training requirements.

  1. Compliance.
    Most Learning and Development (L&D) departments are required to show that managers have had sexual harassment training or SOX training. Depending on the industry, there may be 20+ courses that an individual is required to take. Often the purpose of these courses is litigation risk management.
  2. Professional development.
    Enlightened Learning and Development departments are very aware that human capital is the most important resource the organization has, and that facilitating employees to be self-directed, life-long learners will pay dividends in the end.
  3. Capability acquisition.
    Capability acquisition is the task of ensuring that workers have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs effectively. Some capabilities have relatively simple requirements, e.g., preparing a Subway sandwich according to store guidelines. However, many roles that are critical to the organization require that workers have complex sets of higher order skills. Often, knowledge workers need to be able to utilize processes and procedures that constitute the “secret sauce” of the company, whether this be a specific sales methodology, a certain approach to customer service, or the use of specified guidelines for underwriting an insurance application.

Compliance can often be addressed adequately through traditional training courses launched by the Learning Management System (LMS), especially if the learning objectives relate to simply being aware of laws, regulations, policies, and procedures.

While this seems pretty self evident on its face, it provides a rationale for why those who suggest we can do away with Learning Management Systems and formal training courses are incorrect. Informal learning that is not tracked and reported on simply doesn’t work for compliance training.

Professional development is an area where new approaches to learning can flourish. Many writers point out, correctly in my view, that a transition to self-directed learning can make professional development opportunities much more robust. Many of the newer “post-training” approaches to learning are great for this, including micro-learning (e.g. short videos), curated content, informal learning, knowledge bases and performance support systems, rapid eLearning, communities of practice, etc.

Capability acquisition, especially for complex jobs, is not something we want to leave to chance. Perhaps I’m just old school, but I believe that this is an area where the right Instructional Design and delivery can drive speed to proficiency that creates a sustainable competitive advantage to the organization. Training for such jobs requires more than simple content presentation; it almost always requires active engagement in which the learner assimilates new content, and has the opportunity to practice new skills – often in an environment where learners can learn from other learners.

However, such jobs are seldom mastered in a time-limited training event, and post training reinforcement and coaching is often helpful or necessary to lock in new skills.

Approaches such as structured social learning, serious games, simulations, and scenario-based learning can go well beyond narrated PowerPoint “eLearning” to build skills, and learning paths can help to sequence instruction and include post-training reinforcement and coaching.

Although many of my respected colleagues would differ with me on this, I believe that relying on self-directed and informal learning to drive to proficiency leaves too much to chance. We hope that managers will then “polish off” workers’ skills; however, hope is not a method.

As we decide (a) what approaches we will use to learning, (b) the skills we need Learning and Development professionals to have, and (c) the technology that will support us, we need to consider how we will support all three of these different but important requirements.

First published at https://elearningindustry.com/stop-with-the-future-of-learning

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spam-smallI was reading some posts in LinkedIn and ran across one on how to use LinkedIn groups to add value to your business. Written by a marketer for other marketers, one of the things the author recommended was scheduled auto-postings in groups. I find this practice disgusting and I have zero respect for companies that promote and use it.

Companies and their shills using these techniques are ruining LinkedIn’s communities. In community after community, marketing spam takes the place of interpersonal interaction – i.e., the essence of what communities were designed to be and promote.

The original notion of these communities is that they would offer venues for (in my case) Learning and Knowledge Management professionals to exchange ideas, share knowledge, and build professional networks. This is the essence of this type of this type of online social network – or as LinkedIn prefers to call it, community.

And there’s nothing wrong with building your reputation by participating in such communities; and there’s nothing wrong with offering resources to others. Unfortunately, that becomes a slippery slope.


I’m currently participating in half a dozen great discussions in LinkedIn groups, several of which I started. I’ve started some with a simple question. I’ve started others with a controversial position or question that is then backed up with a blog post; however, I try to ensure that people can discuss the topic without having to read the supporting post.

There’s a middle ground that I also participate in occasionally, posting a link to a webinar. I’m conflicted about this, because it doesn’t really promote community, and I do it only when (a) I am at the top or near top in being a group contributor, (b) 75% or more of the other recent posts are links out with no discussion, and (b) most importantly, I am offering the webinar primarily for the professional development of attendees and not simply to sell some product or other. But as I say I’m conflicted, and I respect the communities that disallow such posts.

The posts that I abhor are ones that

  • Are click bait, the purpose of which is simply to get you to click on their link
  • Are dishonest, with titles that promise or suggest the author is taking a substantive position on a professional issue and wants to start a discussion, but are then thinly veiled ads for their LMS or eLearning production services
  • Are not even authored by the poster, who is usually a director of marketing at the company
  • Are posted, presumably by an auto-poster, in scores of groups over and over, or better yet
  • Are posted multiple times – one after the other – in the same group.

I counted 40 posts in a row in one LinkedIn community by the same person – all click bait for a product pitch.

It’s the tragedy of the commons, and if these auto-posted click baits aren’t reined in, fewer and fewer professionals will come to LinkedIn communities that aren’t tightly moderated. It’s a disgusting marketing practice that people use to selfishly put themselves and their product promotion ahead of everyone else.

As a consultant, one thing I’m trying to do is to make note of companies that I see doing this over and over, and ensuring that when I help implementors to choose vendors, I specifically mention this type of practice and companies that do it to them.

How does everyone else feel about this? What do you recommend doing about it?

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