Training, learning, and frame of mind

Lately, I’m contrasting less-structured ideas about how people learn on the job with the mainly low-tech (and low-desire-to-be-tech) jobs involved in my current project.

The specifics aren’t important, so I’ll invent the National Framing and Structure Administration.  Let’s say it sets minimum standards for building construction.  When a community’s  building codes align with NFSA, then NFSA offers low-cost insurance against perils like earthquake and landslides.

The insurance agents who sell you the policy often have a very structured concept of “training.”  Continuing education consists of in-person seminars with lots of slides, lots of text, lots of handouts.  The twist is that many agents think that’s what training should look like, and if you start too far from that expectation, you’ll meet resistance.

I was thinking about three dimensions that can add up to engaging training: the sizzle, the venue, and the value.


The sizzle involves the appearance of the training, whether that means quality graphics and type in a workbook, flashy animations, or broadcast-quality video.  I picture a scale from zzzzz to zing, and you probably don’t need much prompting to give examples at the zzzz end of the scale.

The venue (or maybe the vector) has to do with how these things come to you–the lowest possible level of mediation (someone talking to you), or very high-tech, with more chips than Frito-Lay.

The value dimension is a scale for the connection you see between the training and the job you want (or need) to do.  At the sauropod end, you’re learning appreciation of standards, history of standards, notable people in standard-setting, and other things conducive to a good rest during training.  Training that scores at the samurai end empowers you: you’re able to do the things that need to be done.

The point of all this is that a high score on one scale–especially, I think, the value axis–will compensate for a low score elsewhere.  People will sit through what looks like death by PowerPoint if they believe it’ll make a positive contribution to what they can do on the job.

Alas, people will also rave about high-zing material, even if on the value axis it’s prehistoric.  This explains a great deal about click-to-continue Flash festivals.

I’ll be revisiting this topic and the slightly fictional National Framing and Structure Administration.