By: Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., Rw.E.
Today I am celebrating my 70th birthday. I have devoted 40 of my years to organizational learning. In this work, I have been blessed to work in a profession filled with dedicated, caring people. My life has been enriched by every person with whom I’ve worked, and I have learned a lot along the way.
In these 40 years, I have observed 5 realities:
- Just because you read, hear, and/or see it doesn’t mean you know it.
- Just because you know it doesn’t mean you can do it.
- Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you’re skilled.
- Just because you’re skilled doesn’t mean you’re competent.
- Gaining and sustaining competence requires a Digital Coach designed to enable learning while working at all 5 Moments of Need.
1. Just because you read, hear, and/or see it doesn’t mean you know it.
My work has allowed me to observe the training practices of hundreds of organizations every year. What I have observed, especially in the last two decades, is a consistent pattern where presenting content from a set of slides dominates most of the instructional time. Consider the last virtual course you attended. What was your experience? Recently I was required to complete an eLearning course that had me read text and watch videos with periodic interjections of sets of questions that I needed to answer. I was required to answer 8 out of 10 questions correctly to move on, which I did. But I didn’t deeply learn anything because there were no learning activities that actually facilitated my understanding of that content in the context of my work.
This imbalance between presentation of content and the instructional activities that facilitate real learning is understandable. In the last 20 years, those designing and delivering training have been asked to train on more and more content in less and less time. The impact? The time allocated to instructional efforts like modeling, practice, feedback, and review (especially integrated review) have fallen by the wayside in the wake of the need to “cover it all”.
This is where workflow learning saves the day. We know that, on average, half of training curriculum can be pushed entirely into the workflow to be learned while working. This frees up instructional time to allow the reinstatement of fundamental instructional practices that can bring proper balance between content delivery and actual learning.
2. Just because you know it doesn’t mean you can do it.
I continue to be astonished by the failure of learning solutions to distinguish knowing from doing. The fundamental unit of work performance is a job task; yet courseware today still tends to lean heavily on knowledge acquisition. In a previous blog, I shared the results of a check I performed on the instructional health of an existing course. I mapped the 270 learning objectives from that course to the tasks and knowledge topics we had identified through workflow analysis. Here’s what we found:
- More than 80% of the learning objectives were focused on knowledge rather than performance. Only 52 of the 270 learning objectives related directly to actual job tasks.
- Significant workflow performance areas were missed. The existing 52 performance-focused learning objectives only addressed 30% of the job tasks we identified through the workflow analysis.
Knowing about something doesn’t guarantee effective performance. We have no certainty of the ability to perform until we have actually acted upon what we have learned.
3. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you’re skilled.
A skill in the context of workflow performance is the ability to successfully perform a task with an understanding of its supporting knowledge. Being able to perform a task without that knowledge restricts performers in their ability to adapt and generalize in their work. For example, the ability to successfully complete the task of performing a blood transfusion does not constitute a skill. To be a skill, the performer must also understand key concepts like blood type compatibility.
4. Just because you’re skilled doesn’t mean you’re competent.
Mastery of individual skills doesn’t result in competence. Competence requires the integration of skills into broader skill sets and for those skill sets to be adjusted to the realities of the workplace. In addition, those integrated and adjusted skill sets must be enriched over time through ongoing, real-world experience.
5. Gaining and sustaining competence requires a Digital Coach designed to enable learning while working at all 5 Moments of Need.
Dr. Timothy R. Clark has observed, “In any organization, you only have two processes going on. You have execution, which is the creation of value today. And you have innovation, which is the creation of value tomorrow. That’s all we do, just those two processes.”
Traditional approaches to training don’t provide the tactical support in the workflow required to sustain competent performance (execution). Also, the lack of tactical workflow support at the job task level constrains innovation. The workforce is so cognitively overwhelmed trying to remember how to perform their work and find the resources they need that there isn’t the cognitive room required for higher order thinking and innovation. The failure of traditional training to deliver on either of these two crucial processes—execution and innovation—is understandable. Why? Because traditional training is an intermittent intervention that requires people to stop their work, learn outside the context of the workflow, and then figure out on their own how to transfer, integrate, and sustain that learning in the flow of work.
The following shows the complete journey that learners must make to gain and sustain competent performance [execute] on the job.