Still turning over Jamais Cascio’s talk about tools for building a better world, I’ve been mulling one of the things he mentions as a hopeful sign: collaboration.
I’ve been thinking about workplace learning, including that fusty relic, training. How do you go about helping people acquire basic knowledge and skill for their jobs–getting them to a point where they’re able to make well-informed choices for themselves? The default mode is pretty depressing:
- One-way information dumps where “participation” means “any questions before we wrap up?”
- Justification (in the theological sense) via multiple-guess question.
- Acres of displayed text, with souvenir handouts
This “basics” focus is important to me; by definition newcomers to a job don’t know much about it. You may have been a bank customer, but you probably haven’t use the (fictional) Croesus Cashbox system that manages retail-customer activity.
And you’re not the only one. Yet instead of taking advantage of the fact that many people are working on the same challenge (which, when you think about it, is a good definition of an organization), organizations seem to confuse collaboration with commuting.
Just because the employers are moving in the same direction doesn’t mean they’re working together.
What hints does Cascio offer? Around the four-minute mark in his talk, he gives several examples of ways for people to see and understand the impact of their actions–for instance, a display on your dashboard that shows your current miles per gallon.
Especially for procedural, explicit learning–the fundamentals of computer systems, the garden-variety operation of a process–I think we can get out of the teach-and-test model while still providing enough landmarks to keep newcomers from losing the trail completely.
Like for instance:
- A whole-task approach, both for the big picture and for the main components. “You and your fellow branch employees use Croesus Cashbox for nearly every customer transaction, from opening a new account to approving a loan.”
- The opportunity for learners to solve problems and figure things out together–along with examples of correct (or of acceptable) solutions for them to compare results with.
- Collecting ideas, examples, and shortcuts from people on the job and making them available to everyone.
And, perhaps my favorite: a robust, realistic practice mode for situations when practicing on the live system or process isn’t feasible. At Amtrak, we created a series of training trains. These imaginary trains were clones of actual ones–the same cities, the same schedules, the same services. When fares changed, they changed automatically on the training trains.
We had at least one training train for each type of Amtrak train and service–sleeping cars, Metroliners, the works. You used a separate training logon to access these trains, and then you could do whatever you wanted. Try making a seventeen-stop reservation for a family of twelve. Book the five-day excursion fare. Change the return date.
This meant that you–and your coworkers–could try things together with little risk of serious consequence. The Huddlestons wouldn’t discover that their return trip had been canceled, and you wouldn’t have mistakenly booked $10,000 in revenue that would never appear.
Workplace learning flourishes when people learn together, the way they work together–not just because they happen to be moving in the same direction.