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Jul 01, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Training on the Edge: Trend 4 - Blurring the Lines Between Work and Learning

Connecting learning and work into an experienceThis is the final post in a series exploring issues currently facing training professionals and the upcoming trends in training for the next five years.

In this series we examine the outlook for the modern workplace and for the next five years, as well as four key trends associated with adapting training to the new context. As these trends play out, we need to consider how to implement a culture change in our training organizations and identify some of the challenges these changes will bring.

Of all of the trends, the convergence of work and learning is perhaps the most compelling. We are now looking at job experience as another aspect of training and learning. If we assign a task to someone, we document it when it's completed, and now that person has the advantage of being able to say, "Yes, I've done that kind of task before." In other words, an experience base is as important as a training history.

Experience Counts

Because of this, when we have a work-related task and we are able to repeatedly do it successfully, we can document that as experience. And afterwards, when someone else has to be trained on that task, we are now domain experts merely by virtue of the work experience we have.

This isn’t new. We’ve always recognized that pockets of expertise, based on experience, can be found throughout the organization. What has changed is the flexibility of the training model. When organizations were fully dependent on the traditional classroom, training was often developed with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.  Everyone would take the same project management class, for example, no matter how much experience they have gained (or not) managing actual projects.

Now, with virtual learning opportunities and blended learning, we can start tailoring training to the particular needs of individuals based on not only their previous training but the experience they have.  For instance, if someone has 10 years of project management experience, they can participate in a self-directed or mentored program where they integrate their already existing skills with a more formal methodology, perhaps working on "real work" instead of a generic case study.

Why is building on experience an important trend? Because it creates a more efficient training organization.

We don't want to subject people to training that is not immediately relevant. Rather, we want to give them the training that they need at the right time and place so they are properly prepared for their next task, while taking advantage of the experience they already have.

Training Shouldn’t End When an Event Is “Over”

Fortunately, the new flexible training model takes advantage of this, and can also create informal communities of practice.  I can sit through a two-day traditional program and not be able to recall the name of the people in my table group the next day; in contrast, working with someone via a virtual classroom, by virtue of using so many different communication methods over a period of time (chat, whiteboards, voice, discussion boards, etc), I start to develop relationships I am more interested in pursuing. And, in the case of blended learning, I often have email addresses and social media connections that encourage connecting after the formal learning event is over.

And all of that domain expertise that resides with people who have been doing the work already?  The keepers of this practical expertise, the domain experts, can become informal (or even formal) mentors to the community, helping the domain experts to articulate best practices and capture processes unique to a particular department or organization. This articulation and documentation of ideas can minimize the impact of "brain drain" when an experienced individual leaves an organization.

We are going to see a lot of development of domains of expertise and communities of practice within and between organizations. The bottom line is the training doesn't end when the training session is over - in fact, it should be just beginning. To build greater engagement with the training audience, we want to give people an opportunity to contribute back to that community of learners and to that community of practice.

Once they have developed enough expertise such that they have the opportunity to feed new developments, observations and issues back to the training organization, then the training becomes more organic and relevant to the field.

While organic "water cooler" communities will occur, virtual training should be designed to encourage this to happen.  Create opportunities for individuals to interact and collaborate in meaningful ways in order to make participants want to learn more from colleagues.

Will It Ever End?

A segment of your training audience will be resistant to this concept of learning continuing after formal training has concluded. They want to be "trained." They want to have the skills they need to perform right away.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t motivated workers; it means that this concept of learning informally isn't familiar and individuals aren’t convinced they will be successful.

The fact is, training will never end.  It never has. We just didn’t have the tools to capitalize on and encourage the part of the process that is not formally led by a trainer.

Blurring the Lines

In this age of networked technology, virtual workers, and multicultural teams, we are constantly communicating and sharing information.  And sharing information is ultimately learning.

Where does training end and working begin?  That’s not the right question anymore.  The question should be: why separate the two?  Combining educational technologies with the natural tendency for humans to communicate and network allows us to design an integrated learning experience that takes advantage of existing knowledge, creates a natural network of mentors and coaches, and minimizes the risk of expertise being lost as individuals leave the organization.

Staying on the Edge

For the first time in modern history, we have four generations of workers in the workplace. The conflicts of these generational dynamics immediately change how we deliver learning or training to these different groups. To understand how to stay ahead of the trends, we need to understand how to work within this generational dynamic and we need to understand the context in which our learners are working, especially when it comes to the challenges involved in working in a virtual teams, where "together time" is so rare. As we look ahead, the trends of blended learning, collaboration as a competency, cognitive educational technologies, and learning and working at the same time will become commonplace. We’ll wonder how we taught, learned, and worked before.

Published by Jennifer Hofmann July 1, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann