Learning, performance, and one perceived gap

Will Thalheimer’s thinking out loud again, refining models he’s been working with. Specifically, he’s looking at how learning can prompt performance — in other words, how should work-related learning relate to on-the-job performance and the desired results.

Here’s his model (click for a larger version on his site):

I think Will’s focus here is more on what I’ll call scheduled learning (rather than “informal,” which is too loose a term). And that works well in many cases in organizations: if you’re managing properly, then you’re finding out where someone may need or want to gain additional skill; you determine ways that can happen; and — the key part of Will’s model — you connect that learning to the job, both in terms of performance and in terms of desired results.

For example — maybe I want to learn how to create cascading style sheets. Or maybe I want to make technical sales presentations to clients. That’s fine for me as an individual — but in the context of the organization, I need to figure out how that’s going to contribute. Am I trying to gain more responsibility in my current position? Do I want to have different responsibilities in the same general area? Am I trying to take on something entirely new?

And, does this make sense in terms of the organization? For most of the time that I worked for GE Information Services, the bulk of our revenue came from applications that ran on a proprietary operating system GE had developed. Many people had built impressive skills with Mark III, as we called it. In later years, though, both IBM mainframe applications and the PC came along, followed by the web.

As the company’s goals and needs changed, it had less and less use for Mark III skills, no matter how strong they were. If you wanted to stay only in that realm, you were in a sense closing out your own options.

Going back to Will’s chart, one of the additions I’d like to see (and Michele Martin had a similar opinion that I failed to read before adding my own comments) is a column for the learner.

After all, the individual is the pivot point for the performance system. Not only (as Will points out) do learning processionals need to understand business needs, not only do managers need to clarify them, but the individual needs to understand them as they related to that person’s own job.

I have other thoughts on Will’s chart — for example, I am mulling over ways it could reflect not only the somewhat linear sequence of preparation –> learning situation –> on-the-job, but also just-in-time learning.

Maybe it’s it’s just-after-time learning. I’m thinking of unplanned occasions in which the individual realizes he or she needs to learn about something, usually with a timeframe that precludes a more scheduled learning event (like a workshop or synchronous training). That’s much more learner-centric, and the “learning professionals” are not as likely to be able to help unless they’re well informed, flexible, and willing to aid the individual in making intelligent judgments on his or her own.

More on this in a future post.

6 thoughts on “Learning, performance, and one perceived gap

  1. Dave, I like the point you make about needing to somehow reflect the issues of “just-in-time” or informal learning. From the instructional design perspective, I’ve come to see planning for formal learning events as akin to building something, while supporting informal learning is a form of gardening. There’s a difference between what we do to construct things and what we do to grow things, which also leads to some different kinds of activities, too. We definitely need both aspects represented in this process, though.

  2. Michele: I haven’t figured this out yet (ahem), and I think Will Thalheimer cleared away a lot of stuff in building his model.

    Maybe one of the missing pieces in informal learning, for me, is its connection to the workplace. I understand completely that people learn elsewhere, and learn for reasons not connected to their work. That’s fine; I’m just not dealing with that.

    It’s more that “informal” or “2.0” doesn’t mean “will have a positive effect” or even “will happen.” If wishing made things so, there’d be no market for diet books, no health clubs, and no in-search-of ads.

    Although as you know I’m fond of the term “workplace literacy,” I do agree that people in general need skills for collaborating, communicating, and so on at work. There’s a related set of skills for me as an individual to manage my own learning, as well as skills and processes for the manager and the organization to help me maximize my learning and align it as well as possible with the organization’s goals.

  3. Thanks for discussing my model.

    You both are making excellent points.

    I thought about adding columns for learners and for senior learning executives and for senior line managers, but that would have been unwieldy and wouldn’t have fit. Perhaps I’ll add to the model someday, although it is my experience that when model’s get too complicated they lose their power to communicate and persuade.

    This version of the model was specifically designed to help learning professionals decide what to do and to communicate what is required of non-learning professionals (especially learners’ managers).

    In some sense, the model covers the learners’ responsibilities in that it tells us (learning professionals) what we must do to motivate, prepare, and energize those learners. It is understood that learners have responsibilities, but I kind of think that we will produce better outcomes if we take responsibility to encourage learners to take responsibility–along with our partners out in the workplace.

  4. Will, glad to have your comment. The model got me thinking, rather than simply reaction, so it had unexpected benefits for me. There’s a balance I’m looking for, somewhere between the traditional corporate training model and the slightly anarchic, what-happens-is-what-should-happen mindset.

    I may be a little pessimistic, but I’m inclined to think the average person (or average worker) doesn’t want to create his own structure for everything. He’d like to find good-enough structures on which to build. That’s why, to the consternation of some, most workers, most white-collar workers, even most knowledge workers don’t have blogs: they don’t want them, they don’t have any need for them. And these folks manage to keep working productively.

  5. Ann, heyjoe training is the perfect counterpart to seelou training. (I’ve been looking for a topic for a possible presentation next spring, and you may just have given it to me.)

    Actually, both have their place. I just get worried when they’re the default “methodologies.” Yeah, yeah, we’ve each got to take ownership, become self-actualized, and I suppose move our own cheese. Here on earth, though, people just want to get their job done.

    Heyjoe training is a quick-and-dirty approach to JIT — but what happens when nobody you can say “hey” to knows the answer? I’ve been helping my wife plan training for her organization’s new content management system.

    (And you know you’re in trouble when the name of the system is a noun gang.)

    Although we’re comfortable with HTML, CSS, and things like that, the quirks of this system (or those of its designers) imply that WYSIWYG means “what you got is what you get.”

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