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Archive for the ‘Learning Paths’ Category

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Speed Is Critical
The time it takes for employees to get up-to-speed, either in a new position or learning a new process or skill, has a direct and significant impact on the bottom line. Consider what it means for an organization to have new salespeople make their first sale in Month 3 rather than Month 9.

How about customer service reps handling complex problems in Week 3 instead of Week 12? There’s even a cost savings associated with having managers ready for promotion in 2 years rather than 3. We define a Learning Path as the sequence of training, practice and experience from start-up to proficiency. Once a Learning Path is mapped out for a function, all improvement efforts are then focused on accelerating the path or reducing Time to Proficiency.

The Learning Path Methodology is a rigorous process that changes the way organizations look at training, as well as elevating the way training is measured and connected to business needs.

Today most organizations look at training as a support function that provides classes and courses topic by topic. In some cases, these classes and courses are connected in a curriculum. The approach to training closely models the traditional education model in any school, college or university. While this structure makes it easy to build and deliver training, it misses many of the key elements that ensure that what happens in the classroom transfers to the job.  

How People Learn
We explain our philosophy of how people learn by taking a common example, such as learning to drive a car. You can learn a lot about how to drive a car in the classroom but when you get behind the wheel for the first time you are still a long way from being able to drive. It’s a lot easier if you’ve spent some time in a driving simulator but pulling into busy traffic for the first time isn’t the same in real life as it is in the simulator.

What you need to learn quickly how to drive is to ride or drive with an instructor who provides coaching and feedback as you learn. You also need to drive several thousand miles until everything starts to work together smoothly and you no longer need to think about every action as you drive. It still takes several years of driving before you become a good, safe driver. There’s a reason why new drivers have most of the accidents. In a business environment, you learn how to sell, handle customer complaints, process transactions and manage others in the same way as you learned to drive a car. It takes formal training, structured practice and experience.

Usually, the formal training portion is well defined but the practice and experience is seldom documented or measured. There is no structured path so everyone goes through a different path. As a result, it usually takes weeks, months or even years longer than it really should. In addition, training is often delivered in pieces and parts or topic by topic rather than in the way tasks and processes are performed.

For example, you’ll often see technical skills and soft skills taught separately. In fact, they almost never have the same instructor. However, on the job you need to use both sets of skills at the same time. A customer service rep needs to answer questions from an irate customer about why a product didn’t work. Teaching things separately, rather than together, means that it either takes longer to learn the full job or parts of it are never learned.  

Mapping Out a Learning Path
As we’ve said, there is a Learning Path that exists for every job or function. However, it is most likely incomplete and varies from employee to employee. Getting everyone on the same Learning Path provides an opportunity to work on improving the path. It also allows you to capture what has been learned by those who got through it more quickly, versus those who struggled or took a long time.

Mapping out a Learning Path starts by defining and measuring proficiency and time to proficiency. In other words, what level of performance is required and how long does it take to get there. An interesting thing happens when this measurement is done for the first time. There tends to be a significant gap between Graduation Day, or the day formal training ended, and the actual proficiency date, or the day the employee is actually proficient on the job. We call that Independence Day.


This gap is really a reflection of the fact that when training ends, this doesn’t mean that proficiency quickly follows. It’s similar to assuming that once you’ve passed your driver’s test, you can handle most road situations in a safe manner. It’s also because most organizations don’t measure time to proficiency so that date is really just a guess for them.
That guess is shown as the Estimated date on the chart. What we find when we ask
functional leaders and Learning Path teams to estimate time to proficiency, prior to measurement, it is often 30 to 50% sooner than the actual date.
This happens because most people estimate time to proficiency as when formal training ends or shortly thereafter.
Once the measurement is in place, mapping out a Learning Path is a process of identifying and quantifying all of the elements of the path. This will be far from the ideal path but it is a starting point. In fact, making sure that everyone actually goes through this path will lead to immediate improvements.


30% Faster ASAP
Once a Learning Path is mapped out for the first time, it will become overwhelmingly obvious where significant and immediately improvements can be made. From our experience there is at least 30% improvement that comes from the low hanging fruit and, in particular, from the time between Graduation and Independence Day.
 

You will want to eventually reengineer each Learning Path. However, reengineering a Learning Path takes time and involves new development. By going after the obvious 30% first, you can use the early returns to fund gains for the longer effort of reengineering the path.
 

When you look at a Learning Path for the first time, the obvious things you will see include:  

  • Some of the training is out of date or no longer relevant  
  • Some training is provided when a manager has time. This training can be scheduled so it happens sooner rather than later
  • There might be holes or large gaps in the training because of changes to the business
  • There is a lack of follow-up and ongoing measurement to ensure that employees are moving down the path as quickly as possible
  • Some formal training can be replaced by job aids and reference materials, cutting days off classroom training.
  • Structured practice can be added to speed up skill acquisition

  • While a 30% reduction seems like a large number, it doesn’t take much to get those results. Keep in mind that you are trying to get to Independence Day faster, not just reduce the number of training days. We have found that a new Learning Path that is 30% faster can be crafted and ready to implement within 30 days.


The Next 30%
Beyond the initial 30% in the first 30 days, a Learning Path can be improved significantly by using the principles of accelerated learning. In this improvement process, you will be looking at the sequence and combinations of line items as well as delivery methods to make sure that the training is right, and that it is done in the right way.


A Seat at the Big Table
When Learning Paths have been laid out for every function, the training organization becomes a strategic partner as the business develops its plans and objectives. Any proposed change in business direction will have a corresponding effect on a Learning Path. For example, if marketing is planning on launching a new product, the training organization will be able to quickly determine the time to proficiency and cost of getting the workforce ready to sell and support that product. This early feedback may lead to a change in the strategy instead of reacting to problems created when training was just the last item on an action plan.

 
Finally, the Learning Path Methodology creates an enterprise-wide approach to training and workforce development that is measurement-based and directly tied to business results. It shifts the focus of the training organization from what is easy to develop and deliver to what is easy and quick to learn

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train.jpg  As you may have read in the Learning Paths book or on this site, the “mystery” period lies between Graduation Day and Independence Day. In other words, the time between the end of training and when someone becomes independently productive. While much of what happens in the mystery period is practices and trail and error learning, there is real learning that is going on. Unfortunately, the experience is different for every employee and what takes some people a few weeks to learn may take others months or years.

The first and most important step of reducing the mystery period is to have a really good understanding of what’s actually happening. Since it’s mostly informal this can be a daunting task. Here are some of the more successful ideas we’ve tried:

1. Employee Diaries
Instruct employees to keep a daily diary of what’s happening day to day in their training. Tell them to write down:
   

   – Challenges and problems
   – Insights
   – Questions they asked others
   – Successes


If you do these as online diaries, you will find them easier to read and collate. Participants don’t have to actually put their names on their diaries because it’s not important who wrote them but rather what’s actually in them and the trends when you collect them all.

2. Direct Observation Job shadowing is valuable but you will find that what you want to see may not be happening when you want to see it. Try focusing your direct observation to those coaching sessions where the training is somewhat structured.

3. Real Time Job Aides

Tell employees and supervisors that they should be building job aides as a way of reinforcing key information. It may be as simple as a three by five card with a list of codes. Then make sure you get a copy of these job aides so you can see where employees need more support.  

4. Set-Up Practice Experiments

It’s useful to know how much practice it takes to master a skill or task. Tell employees to keep a log of how many times they applied or completed the task until they felt that they could do it in their sleep. This will give you an idea of how much practice is needed to build into the Learning Path.

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30901230.jpg I’m a big believer in doing an assessment prior to designing new training or revising old training. Assessments help target and focus the right training at specific needs and prevent adopting fads or solutions in search of problems. There are all sorts of really good assessment tools that provide a lot of value and insight. With that said, the obvious question is how does the Learning Paths approach fit with, compete or contradict the idea of doing a needs assessment.

I like to think of Learning Paths as a larger superstructure in which the techniques of a traditional needs assessment fit. Perhaps a better way to look at this issue is to describe the type of research that happens during a Learning Paths initiative and then show how it maps up the a needs assessment. First, we start by defining proficiency. This involves looking a performance goals and historical performance data. We can build a consensus around what is proficiency for an average performer and what is proficiency for a top performer.

This is a point where you could do a business needs analysis to look at required levels of performance going forward. Second, we measure current time to proficiency. We start by looking at the average time to proficiency for our measurement stake in the ground. This may require building an assessment to determine skill levels or even levels of confidence. Third, we do research to map out the current Learning Path. This includes job shadowing, review of training materials, focus groups, surveys and interviews.

All of these techniques are used in a traditional needs analysis. For the most part we are just adding one key question which is “how did you learn to do this job?” For example, we find out that it’s important for salespeople to build and prioritize a good prospect list. But we also find out how top salespeople learned to build and use their lists. We also try to find out what are the major tasks or processes that need to be done and then try to put them in order from simple to complex.

This will be extremely useful in reengineering the path. Prior to looking for Quick Hits you could also try to identify the competencies required for this job, task or function. This allows you to look at how the Learning Path aligns with these competencies. However, in identifying those competencies, I strongly recommend looking at how they group or interact. One way to improve the path is to focus on teaching the whole job and not just individual competencies. Finally, additional research may also be needed prior to design individual pieces of training.

This is a far more specific type of research and often is done with one on one discussions with subject matter experts. Again, a Learning Paths initiative provides the framework and structure for improvement. Need analysis or competencies studies provide valuable information that will help map out and refine a Learning Path

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How Fast Is Lightspeed

Light travels from the earth to the moon in 1.2 seconds.  Light travels about 5.8 trillion miles in a year (probably not on a single tank of gas.)  So how fast does it take to forget a boring lecture?  It may be faster than light because you forgot it before you heard it.

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I’m always surprise how many people in business still use only a small fraction of the features of Word and PowerPoint.  The cornerstone of these programs is to create styles that make it easy to replicate documents.  This feature as been around for almost 20 years.  I think the problem is that people are taught to use these programs to do specific work tasks instead of more generic application training.  I think this issue holds true for most technology training. 

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