Learning Failure in 7 Easy Steps

Picture1We all make mistakes. We know better, but we follow old ways or accept cultural practices that don’t work. There are patterns that produce successful projects and those that lead to failure (see the project death march). I did a recent presentation on the classic mistakes we make in the planning, design and implementation of learning (and how to avoid them). I finished the session with a with a tongue-in-cheek 7 step prescription for a failed learning initiative. Follow them carefully for guaranteed failure.

Step 1: Ensure your program is not connected to a business or performance need

A critical first step.  If your learning initiative in any way contributes to individual or organization performance you’re risking success.  Market your program as urgent and essential to convince your audience they need it (while you’re at it, it’s best if you can convince yourself too).  You then have the option to bury the program somewhere deep in your corporate training catalog or roll it out aggressively as a mandatory program.  Both tactics are equally effective at failing dismally.

Step 2: Rely on your fave management training vendor for program content 

Some say learning programs should be driven by real job or role requirements–that the context in which people work should be the source for learning content.  Don’t believe it.  Instead, close your door, pick up the phone and call your favourite training vendor.  Ask them what training you should be providing this year.  They will have the answer you need and a program with all sorts of great content ready to go.  Another option would be to simply gather as much content as you can from the internet.  Have you seen how much information is out there!

Step 3: Choose a solution that suits you rather than your learners 

There’s so many ways to deliver and support learning now.  Gone are the days where your only option was a classroom training program.  You probably have your favourite.  Trust your gut.  Go with that favourite.  It will be more interesting for you.  Just be sure your choice is detached from the preferences of your audience.

Step 4: Load up on information. Make no provision for practice

Information driven learning is one of the best strategies for failure we know of. Designing practice is hard.  Even harder to design practice that works–on the job activities that develop skill in context. So don’t sweat it. There are great examples out there of power point driven classroom learning, “click next” e-learning, and social learning that’s all about sharing information without actually using any of it. Mimic those examples and you’ll get closer to putting the nail in the coffin of your failed project. But your not quite there yet.

Step 5: Let technology drive your solution

Technology is hip. And they tell us it’s needed to capture the attention of the digital natives entering your organization. So keep it cool. Your program must incorporate the most current devices and tech tools–tablets, smartphones and web 2.0 apps. Don’t think about how they support the objectives of your initiative.

Step 6: Boldly assume the learning will be used on the job

Your program is that good!  It will be more powerful than the current barriers, lack of support and reinforcement that learners will encounter when they are back at work.  Mastery was your goal and no refinement of those skills on the job will be necessary.  Really.

Step 7: Develop your program in a client vacuum

Above all, do not partner with your internal customers to identify business needs or develop a plan to support them through formal or informal learning.  One of the best predictors of success is working collaboratively with your client through the planning, design and development of your program.  Avoid at all costs.  Failure Guaranteed. You’re welcome.

its only a failure quote

Practice and the Development of Expertise (Part 3)

practice

Image courtesy HRVoice

This is a variation of an article I prepared for CSTD and HRVoice, summarizing research on practice and expertise.  Part 1 introduced the signature skills demonstrated by experts that separate them from novices. Part 2 presented the type of practice that develops experts.  This post gets to the implications I see for Learning and Development and makes the connection to existing approaches that embody the principles of deliberate practice.

It would be easy to position deliberate practice in the formal learning camp. Indeed for some physical and routine skills  elements of deliberate practice can be build into formal training programs until a learner reaches mastery.  However, in the modern workplace jobs are more complex and demand greater cognitive (versus physical) skill.  The research findings challenges us to consider how we can better support the full novice to expert journey, embed learning and practice in the job, design experience to include practice and reflection, build tacit knowledge, and design rich feedback. In a past post I listed some general principles for using deliberate practice in learning

Fortunately we have a number of approaches available to us that align well to the conditions of deliberate practice. Most of these approaches are not training in the traditional sense. They do however have a structure to them and require significant support. Consider them more non-formal learning than pure informal learning.  Here are some well defined but under-used learning methods  that match well to deliberate practice.

  • Action Learning. Small teams create a plan of action to solve a real business problem. Impacts of these actions are observed, analyzed, lessons extracted and new actions prepared. This cycle of plan, act, observe, reflect embodies the key elements for deliberate practice. The approach has a significant and growing following. Used frequently for management development, it would be great to see it expanded to other types of professional work. See this  earlier post on action learning. 
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship. The standard apprenticeship model updated for modern knowledge work. Instead of demonstrating a manual skill, experts model and describe their thinking to “apprentices” who then work on the same problem while they articulate and verbalize their own reasoning. The expert provides coaching and feedback to encourage reflection. Support is “scaffolded”–gradually released as skills build and confidence is gained.
  • Communities of Practice. Groups with common professional or project goals work together sharing and discussing best practices. In doing so they develop rich tacit knowledge and the hidden “how to’s” that are often missed in formal learning programs. New knowledge is created in the process of collaborating with others. Social media environments can provide a home for the conversations and knowledge that is created.
  • Simulation and Games. Great simulations are a surrogate for real experience and incorporate authentic  work tasks. This allows the learner to attempt challenging tasks, experience failure and learn from errors–all critical elements of deliberate practice.  I like games that model real work and allow for fun, repeatable practice, but worry about “gamification” that uses game mechanics to motivate employees to use the same old ineffective training.
  • Feedback in the Workflow. Wonderful natural feedback exists in the form of business results and performance data. We don’t tend to think of it as a learning tool, but in the context of deliberate practice, it is one of the most powerful. It requires connecting the data to individual or team behavior. It is the cornerstone of approaches to team learning found in improvement methods like Lean, Six Sigma and performance technology. Here’s a post with some ideas on implementing a learning feedback system
  • Stretch Assignments with Coaching. One of the most powerful approaches to “practice” is challenging work assignments that push current capabilities. Already a staple of executive development, we need to see much more of it for other types of professional development.
  • Open Practice Centers. Instead of tired corporate universities and course catalogs populated with learning programs, Practice Centres could provide progressively challenging practice, simulations and work assignments matched to key job roles. Individualized practice is designed to support the full novice to expert journey using the principles of deliberate practice. Learning “content” is considered only in a support role to accomplish practice goals. Heres an idea for organizing the learning function around practice instead of content and courses. And the core idea applied to Management Development

These approaches and others like them occupy that fuzzy middle ground between informal and formal learning. Each can be aided significantly by social media/social learning and learning technologies. Most importantly however they are approaches that allow us to apply the research on “deliberate practice” to help improve our organizations and in doing so improve our own professional performance.

Practice and the Development of Expertise (Part 2)

Deliberate PracticeThis is a variation of an article I prepared for CSTD and HRVoice, summarizing important research on how practice develops expertise and implications for the learning function.  Part 1 introduced the signature skills demonstrated by experts that separate them from novices.

It seems these signatures of expertise are the result of years of effortful, progressive practice on authentic tasks accompanied by relevant feedback and support, with self-reflection and correction. The research team have labeled this activity “Deliberate Practice”. Others have called it deep practice and intentional practice. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or at all. Six elements for are necessary for practice (or on the job experience) to be “deliberate” practice:

  • It must be designed to improve performance. Opportunities for practice must have a goal and evaluation criteria. The goals must be job/role based and authentic. General experience is not sufficient, which is where deliberate practice varies from more laissez-faire approaches to informal learning. Years of everyday experience does not necessarily create an expert. Years of deliberate practice does.  See my post Everyday Experience is not Enough for a deeper discussion on this.
  • It must be based on authentic tasks. The practice must use real work and be performed in context-on the job. The goal is to compile an experience bank, not a vast list of completed formal training programs.
  •  The practice must be challenging. The tasks selected for practice must be slightly outside of the learners comfort zone, but not so far out as produce anxiety or panic. Deliberate practice is hard work and stretches  a person beyond their current abilities. The experience must involve targeted effort, focus and concentration
  • Immediate feedback on results. Accurate and diagnostic feedback must be continuously available both from people (coaches) and the business results produced by the activity. Delayed feedback is also important for actions and decisions with longer term impact as is often the case in knowledge based work.
  • Reflection and adjustment. Self-regulatory and metacognitive skills are essential. This includes self-observation, monitoring, and awareness of knowledge and skill gaps. Feedback requires reflection and analysis to inform behaviour change. Experts make mindful choices of their practice activities.
  •  10,000 hours. For complex work, ten years seems to be the necessary investment of in deliberate practice to achieve expertise. Malcolm Gladwell drew attention to the 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers and it is one of the most robust findings in this research.  It poses a real challenge for our event based training culture. Of course the less complex the work, the less time required to develop expertise.

If we aspire to evidence-based approaches to learning it’s hard to ignore this body of research. Among other things, it challenges us to consider how we can better support the novice to expert journey, embed learning and practice in the job, design experience to include deliberate practice, build tacit knowledge, and build rich feedback into our organizations.

Fortunately we have a number of approaches available to us that align well to the conditions of deliberate practice. I’ll outline those approaches in Part 3.

Here is a nice illustration of the key process and concepts of deliberate practice courtesy of  Michael Sahota:

Deliberate-Practice-630x357

Practice and the Development of Expertise (Part 1)

I’ve been presenting recently on the research and application of Deliberate Practice for developing expertise in the workplace.  I’ll be doing so again at the upcoming British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BCHRMA) conference on May 2.  A version of following article on the topic appeared in the CSTD Learning Journal.   A modified version will also appear in an upcoming issue of HR Voice.   It is posted here in three parts.

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expert We all know well-designed practice is a critical for effective training.  It’s what differentiates meaningful learning from passive information presentation.  But as work becomes more complex and knowledge-based, are the practice activities we design for our formal learning programs (both classroom and e-learning) enough to meet the need for expertise in the modern workplace? A comprehensive body of research on how professional expertise is developed suggests it may not be.

This research, led largely by Anders Ericsson at Florida State University and popularized in recent books such as Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, indicates that the type of practice needed to develop true expertise is more intensive and “deliberate” than we thought, and that it must be embedded in the context of real work.  Also, it must occur on a regular basis over much longer periods of time. The research has implications for us as learning and performance professionals.  It argues for a profound shift away from event based formal learning to approaches that could be categorized as informal learning or learning from experience.  However, it turns out not all experience is created equal when developing expertise, so simplistic notions of informal learning also won’t work.  So how should we rethink the design of practice if it is to truly develop the complex skills of the knowledge workplace?  To answer that question it helps to first understanding what expertise looks like.

Characteristics of expert performance

Ericsson’s research has found that top performing individuals at work, besides being very good at what they do, consistently demonstrate the following differences compared to novices and lower performing individuals

  • They perceive more.  Experts see patterns, make finer discriminations, interpret situations more quickly and as a result make faster, more accurate decisions.  Novices slowly review all information and don’t have the contextual experience to recognize patterns
  • They know more.  Not only do experts have more facts and details available to them, they have more tacit knowledge–that all-important unconscious “know how” that only comes with experience.  Novices rely on limited explicit knowledge
  • They have superior mental models.  Experience helps experts have rich internal representations of how things work and how knowledge is connected.  They use this to learn and understand situations more rapidly. Novices rely on simple, sometimes inaccurate, rules of thumb and loosely connected knowledge
  • They use personal networks more effectively.  Experts know who to go to for help and answers.   Novices are not able to identify access critical information and people as quickly
  • They have superior “meta-cognition”. Experts are better self-monitors than novices.  They set goals, self evaluate against a standard, and make corrections and adjustments more quickly from feedback

novice to expert

These are skills we want in all employees.  At times they seem like they come from an innate ability or deep “competency” unachievable by others.   However the research shows that while natural ability may play a small role, practice and experience are far more significant.  The nature of this experience is critical.  “Practice makes perfect” is only true for practice of a certain type which I describe in part 2.

Designs for Natural Learning

What learning are you designing at the moment?

If you’re a traditional instructional designer it may be a structured e-learning or classroom program. If you have a more constructivist bent you may be working on an immersive “learning environment”.  If you prefer humanist OD approaches maybe an action learning program is how you roll. These are all awesome interventions in the right circumstances and each has their place in the learning continuum.

But in addition to these designed programs, I think we have a responsibility to help people learn as they pursue their day to day work. Call this informal learning if you like, but I prefer natural learning. Done well, it typically goes unrecognized as learning at all. But it too can be designed. Instead of learning programs, you are designing work environments, tools, information and feedback systems. The raw materials of this effort is the work itself. Think of it as performance design.

Once you get beyond initial skills training or the introduction of new performance, learning professionals should help reduce the separation between work and learning by reinforcing that the workplace is the primary learning setting, not the classroom. It doesn’t make sense to build a whole department around training when there are so many other ways to help people learn. Most of us learn the bulk of our work skills on the job from both the work itself and the people around us. Learning departments should be structured to support this reality. We should be helping managers and employees become good trainers of others and building systems that help people take responsibility for their own learning progress.

The new work of the learning department should be to assure that people are working in a setting where learning is a natural by-product of working. You can’t make them learn but you can help surround them with the resources and systems they need to learn. Create systems and vehicles to support the following:

  • Access to key information employees need to do their work
  • Clear statements of the work and performance expectations (standards of excellent performance)
    • Tasks
    • Outputs
    • Quality and quantity standards
    • Personal Effectiveness
  • The tools necessary for good performance
    • Technology
    • Communication and collaboration vehicles (including social media)
  • A well designed process work-flow
  • Feedback on how employees and teams perform against standards and targets
    • Performance scorecards
    • Immediate feedback from internal customers
    • Delayed feedback from external and downstream internal customers
  • Empowerment to perform (authority)
  • Eliminate obstacles to good performance
  • Planned project assignments

See my take on Action Mapping for a methodology to identify needs and gaps in work environments.  If I had to choose the most powerful strategy of the bunch, I’d put my money on performance feedback. I don’t mean performance reviews or other or ill-timed approaches. I mean structured approaches for feeding back performance results —think team scorecards. Here are 10 more strategies for integrating learning and work.

We should be training people only when we cannot find a better way to help their performance. You’re not really going to develop many people in the training department –at least not compared to the all the people being developed outside your department right now.

This focus on designing work to enable natural learning resembles what progressive managers see as there role and they are not wrong. Help them fulfill that responsibility better. Partner with them to develop their teams by re-designing their work. Or better yet, work directly with teams to help them re-design their own work. Process re-design, socio-technical systems, and human performance technology all have excellent tools to help with this work (er…learning) design process.

Mapping Informal and Formal Learning Strategies to Real Work

During the Q&A at a recent conference session on Social Learning, a retail industry attendee asked “I have to train 300 store level associates in new product knowledge in the next three months.  Is social learning really what I want?”  What would your answer be?

I advocate informal and social learning when appropriate and get as excited about them as you likely do, but it’s not a panacea for all our learning woes.  The current zeal around social learning solutions can distract from real performance needs (we’ve been distracted before).  Social learning gets positioned as the enlightened and “correct” solution for the modern workplace. Formal learning is old, tired, and reluctantly tolerated for the vestiges of the traditional, mechanistic workplace.

But, set aside your biases one way or the other for the moment and simply think of the roles and functions you support in your organization.  It will vary by industry of course, but your list is going to be some subset of the following

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Product Development
  • Manufacturing
  • Operations
  • Administration
  • Service Delivery
  • Order Fulfillment
  • Information Technology
  • Procurement
  • Management and Leadership

Now think of the jobs or roles within those functions…the engineers, technicians, account executives, managers, IT specialists, health care workers, service specialists, and operations staff you support.  Do they demand a singular approach to developing skill and capability necessary for their job?  Is social learning or traditional skills training the most appropriate for all job types?  I hope your answer is no.

Consultants have been telling us for years that traditional, mechanistic organizations are disappearing, and with them linear and routine work.  There is no doubt that is the economic direction, but look around you…at the auto assembly lines, big box retail, supermarkets, call centres, healthcare technicians, administrative clerks in government, insurance, finance and elsewhere. Think about the jobs you support and you’ll see many examples of traditional work where social media based learning will simply not be feasible to quickly develop skills.

Task variety and standardization: Routine vs. knowledge work

Instead of over generalizing the value of any solution it’s best to truly understand the skill and knowledge requirements of the jobs, roles or initiatives you support.  I’m not talking about task or needs analysis (through both are valuable tools).  Instead go up one notch higher and categorize the types of “work” you support in your organization.  Almost all work, indeed entire organizations and industries, vary on a continuum of two broad factors: task variety and task standardization.

An approach for categorizing jobs, roles and work environments

In between these ends of this spectrum is work that combines standardization and task variety to different degrees. The following framework provides a classification tool to place work types, jobs and roles. It’s an adaptation of the work of Yale Organizational Sociologist Charles Perrow.  Jeffrey Liker and David Meier used a different variation of this model in Toyota Talent.

Work Types, Task Standarization and Task Variety

Routine work

Routine work is highly standardized with little task variety. Job fundamentals need to be learned quickly and performed to company or industry defined standards. There is little room for variation and the skills that need to be learned are narrow and focused. Progressive workplaces will also involve workers in problems solving and continuous process improvement where experience will result in tacit knowledge in problem recognition and problem solving than can be shared with others through informal vehicles.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Assembly line workers
  • Bank teller
  • Data entry clerk
  • Oil and gas well drillers
  • Machine operators
  • Fast food server

Learning approach:

  • Formal structured, job specific skills training, performance support tools that enable standardized procedures

Technician work

The work of the technician is less standardized and includes more variety in the tasks and skills required by the role. Work still has many defined procedures and processes. However, they are more complex and often based on sophisticated systems and technology. The sequence can vary depending on the situation so employees have more autonomy in selecting appropriate procedures. There’s also greater variety in the procedures and tasks to be completed and as a result the learning programs need to consider problem solving, decision making and continuous improvement. Tacit knowledge will be needed to solve real technical problems that arise and there is often a service element in technician work that can benefit from informal approaches to learning. Performance supports system are a natural fit for technician oriented work as is mobile learning for customer support technicians often working at customer locations.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Lab analyst
  • Quality Control Specialists
  • Radiation technologist
  • Maintenance workers
  • Technical support specialists
  • Most “trade” occupations

Learning approach:

  • Formal structured learning for required procedures, performance support systems. Informal learning and apprenticeship approaches for building “know-how” and problem solving

Craft work

Craft oriented work introduces even greater amounts of variety in tasks, skills and knowledge, but retains significant amounts of standardization for optimal performance. While there is a definable number of tasks, each situation faced by employees is somewhat different, and each requires creative and slightly unique solutions. Over time patterns in problems and solutions emerge for individual employees and this becomes valuable experience (tacit knowledge) that they can pass on to novice employees through informal approaches. Basic skills and procedures are most efficiently taught through formal methods but the most critical parts of the job are learning through years of experience facing multiple situations. Management is more flexible and with fewer rules and formal policies. Teamwork and communications are paramount.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Nurse
  • Sales professional
  • Call centre agent
  • Graphic designer
  • Air traffic controller
  • First level supervisor
  • Insurance administrator

Learning approach:

Formal learning for foundation procedures and skills. Informal learning and deep work experience and mentoring models for tacit knowledge.

Knowledge work

Finally, knowledge work involves little task standardization (although there is always some) and a great amount of task variety requiring a wide range of skills, knowledge and collaboration. Professionals move from task to task and each situation is unique calling for spontaneous thinking, reasoning and decision making. Knowledge workers must adapt to new situations, assess complex data and make complex decisions.  They also need refined people skills.  The most critical aspects of what experts and knowledge workers do (after formal education) can only be learned on the job over time through experience, mentors and knowledge sharing with other professionals.

Sample jobs and roles:

  • Professional engineers
  • Middle and senior management
  • Professions: Law, Medicine, Architecture, Scientists, Professors etc.
  • Software developers
  • Creative director

Learning approach:

Professional education, extensive job experience on a variety of situations and work assignments, action learning, mentorship, Communities of Practice.

Balanced approaches

Of course most work requires a combination of knowledge work and routine work. These characteristics of jobs and work environments call for different approaches to training and development. There is a continuum of learning solutions that range from formal to non-formal to informal. I’ve posted my view on this continuum in the past (Leveraging the full learning continuum).

Avoid over generalizing your solutions at all costs. Participate in social media and learn it’s value to develop tacit knowledge and create new knowledge in your organization but don’t assume it is the “correct” solution for all your audiences. Start with the functions you serve. Truly understand work that is done by the jobs and roles within those groups and the skills necessary for them to be successful. Only then create a solution that will meet those needs.

Making Informal Learning Assets Work

Seeking ways to leverage new social media environments, learning departments are discovering ways to sneak a little formal learning through the informal learning back door. Some of our clients for example, are looking to load up their social learning environments with small bits of learning content related to business goals. The notion being that these informal learning assets will live or die on the strength of their connection to employee performance need. Informal learning assets (or perhaps more accurately formal learning assets designed for informal consumption) are small segments of learning media such as videos, podcasts, documents, animations, short interactive pieces, images, performance guides, job aids, process descriptions, anything with a learning intention that can be posted to a social media environment. They can be created by anyone, from learning designers, to managers and employees and team members.

Survival of the fittest

The strategy creates a kind of Darwinian free-for-all of digital learning resources. Those of best fit to real learning and performance needs will get viewed, liked, shared, discussed and commented on more than those that don’t quite measure up. The best become internal learning memes that do their viral tour of duty and those that don’t hit the mark fall off the social radar, never to produce their learning offspring to see another day. Or so the theory goes. It’s an interesting strategy with loads of implications for designers, suppliers and users of learning content. The idea (I hesitate to call it a trend) is leading some organizations and training suppliers to deconstruct their existing learning programs into learning bits and pieces for populating internal social media environments such as they are.

Making informal learning assets work

I like the idea of infusing communities with digital learning assets but there are a few cautions to watch as we enter this new path. Foremost is the profusion of “information” oriented learning assets at the expense of the practice, application  and reflection that we know is at the heart of real learning and improvement. Information based assets no matter how novel or entertaining we make them are not enough. To bastardize an old Magerism, if telling alone resulted in learning we’d all be so smart we could hardly stand it.

There are ways to structure and design informal learning assets to maintain the best of what we’ve learned from formal design and bring them into the informal learning world. A model we’ve been experimenting with connects formal, informal and social learning, based on five learning essentials (you’ll recognize them if you are familiar with David Merrill’s First Principles or Bernice McCarthy’s 4Mat). Effective learning requires solving authentic problems and tasks, connecting new knowledge with existing mental models, uses powerful ways of presenting and demonstrating new knowledge, provides many and varied opportunities to practice new skills with coaching and reflection, and finally guides the the application to new situations on the job.

Too many informal learning assets target only the “key knowledge” requirement (#3), without any connection to the remaining four learning essentials. Well designed learning programs will account for each of the essentials, but there is no reason they all have to bundled up together in a tidy formal learning bow. In fact, the essence of good informal learning is that the guided application essential (#4) takes place on the job with feedback and coaching from colleagues or mentors inside social media environment or face to face. Forums and discussions are excellent ways to gently guide application. Job aids and performance support systems are effective vehicles for building skills into workflow (#5). Real business problems and tasks (#1) can be used instead of artificial cases. My point is that with care each of these other essentials can be developed as informal learning assets as effectively as a good information driven asset.

This view can also serve as a guide when deconstructing classroom programs for  conversion to social media environments. Instead of retaining only the key knowledge from your programs, look for effective ways to create assets that support the other learning essentials as well.

Learning assets associated with a specific knowledge domain, role or learning objective can be connected through tagging, linking or even a good old fashioned learning path.

Once loaded into social media environments users and community members will begin using them to improve their performance and manage their own knowledge. Not only will they consume the learning assets, they will create their own and in doing so create new and emergent knowledge. As new ideas emerge they will evolve to standard practice and can feed the development of new or revised formal learning programs.

This connection between formal, informal and Social learning might look something like the following:

Instructional Design: Science, Art and Craft

I’ve been reading some Henry Mintzberg recently.  His books–Managing and Managers Not MBA’s–both question prevailing thinking on management and leadership and present alternatives for effective management practice and development.  Both books include a model of management as a balancing act between science, art and craft. His argument is that effective management requires all three and an overemphasis on any one results in dysfunction.

I think it also offers some insight to effective Instructional Design.  Much of the recent debate regarding Instructional Design models and practice (see my own view here) seem to revolve around the prescriptive, process based models of ADDIE (and like models) versus  more open constructivist approaches, presumably more relevant for our networked and collaborative work environments.   The arguments tend to get unnecessarily polarized.  The following table is adapted from a similar one Mintzberg created for defined management styles.  I believe it works equally well for for Instructional Design practice.

Most graduate programs in Instructional Design and Educational Technology are squarely in the science column (psychology, human learning, and systems design).  New graduates emerge with a scientific bent seeking order, precise applications and and predictable results from their models and approaches refined in the scientific tradition. We quickly (or perhaps not so quickly) learn from experience (craft) what really works and what doesn’t, and also  that often unexpected creative ideas and insights improves our solutions (art).  Clearly, effective design of learning experiences requires all three.

The diagram below, again adapted from Mintzberg,  shows how these three approaches to learning design might interact and the potential consequences of relying on any one dominant style.  We have all seen examples at the extreme end of each style.   Bringing only an artistic design style to a project may result in a truly novel, creative or  visually stunning result that wows and inspires but does not teach.   Relying on proven learning science often results in dry, uninspired or demotivating instruction that may result in learning, but can be mind-numbing.  Craft, uninformed by art or science, and often from untrained instructional designers working from common sense rarely ventures beyond personal experience, with hit and miss results at best.


Combination of the approaches can also be less than optimal for producing effective learning experiences.  Art and craft together without the systematic analysis of science can lead to disorganized learning designs.  Craft and science without the creative vision of art can lead to dispirited design, careful and connected but lacking flare.  Learning design based on art with science is creative and systematic, but without the experience of craft can produce, impersonal and disconnected learning.

Effective learning designs then,  happen most when that elusive combination of art, science and craft come together. Where the three approaches coexist, through a skillfully assembled learning team the result is usually effective, motivational learning grounded in the realities of the organization.  I suppose a tilt toward one or two would make sense for certain subjects, skills or audiences.   For management,  Mintzberg says too much balance of the three may also be dysfunctional since it lacks any distinctive style at all!  Perhaps, a good lesson for instructional design as well.

Poor Scholar’s Soliloquy

Here’s an article written in 1944 by Stephan M. Cory (University of Chicago January 1944 edition of Childhood Education).   It is a classic satire written in the first person of a seventh grade student discussing his experiences in elementary school.

I think it’s a great example of the contrast of learning in rigid formal environments and learning in the context of meaningful problems and authentic tasks.   The focus is public education but it’s not a stretch to extend to classroom training in the workplace.

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No, I’m not very good in school. This is my second year in the seventh grade, and I’m bigger and taller than the other kids. They like me all right, though, even if I don’t say much in the classroom, because outside I can tell them how to do a lot of things. They tag me around and that sort of makes up for what goes on in school.

I don’t know why the teachers don’t like me. They never have very much. Seems like they don’t think you know anything unless you can name the books it comes out of. I’ve got a lot of books in my room at home-books like Popular Science Mechanical Encyclopedia, and the Sears & Wards catalogues–but I don’t sit down and read them like they make us do in school. I use my books when I want to find something out, like whenever mom buys anything second-hand I look it up in Sears or Wards first and tell her if she’s getting stung or not. I can use the index in a hurry.

In school, though, we’ve got to learn whatever is in the book and I just can’t memorize the stuff. Last year I stayed after school every night for two weeks trying to learn the names of the presidents. Of course, I knew some of them–like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, but there must have been thirty altogether, and I never did get them straight. I’m not too sorry though, because the kids who learned the presidents had to turn right around and learn all the vice-presidents. I am taking the seventh grade over, but our teacher this year isn’t so interested in the names of the presidents. She has us trying to learn the names of all the great American inventors.

I guess I just can’t remember the names in history. Anyway, this year I’ve been trying to learn about trucks because my uncle owns three, and he says I can drive one when I’m sixteen. I already know the horsepower and number of forward and backward speeds of twenty-six American trucks, some of them Diesels, and I can spot each make a long way off. It’s funny how that Diesel works. I started to tell my teacher about it last Wednesday in science class when the pump we were using to make a vacuum in a bell jar got hot, but she, didn’t see what a Diesel engine had to do with our experiment on air pressure, so I just kept still. The kids seemed interested though. I took four of them around to my uncle’s garage after school, and we saw the mechanic, Gus, tear a big truck Diesel down. Boy does he know his stuff!

I’m not very good in geography either. They call it economic geography this year. We’ve been studying the imports and exports of Chile all week, but I couldn’t tell what they are. Maybe the reason is I had to miss school yesterday because my uncle took me and his big truck down and we brought almost 10 tons of livestock to the Chicago market.

He had told me where we were going, and I had to figure out the highways to take and also the mileage. He didn’t do anything but drive and turn where I told him to, Was that fun. I sat with a map in my lap, and told him to turn south, or southeast, or some other direction. We made seven stops, and drove over 500 miles round trip. I’m figuring now what his oil cost, and also the wear and tear on the truck–he calls it depreciation–so we’ll know how much we made.

I even write out all the bills and send letters to the farmers about what their pigs and beef cattle brought at the stockyards. I only made three mistakes in 17 letters last time, my aunt said, all commas. She’s been through high school and reads them over. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on, “What a Daffodil Thinks of Spring,” and I just couldn’t get going.

I don’t do very well in school in arithmetic either. Seems I just can’t keep my mind on the problems. We had one the other day like this:

If a 57 foot telephone pole falls across a cement highway so that 17 3/6 feet extended from one side and 14 9/17 feet from the other how wide is the highway?

That seemed to me like an awfully silly way to get the width of a highway. I didn’t even try to answer it because it didn’t say whether the pole had fallen straight across or not.

Even in shop I don’t get very good grades. All of us kids made a broom holder and bookend this term, and mine were sloppy. I just couldn’t get interested. Mom doesn’t use a broom anymore with her vacuum cleaner, and all our books are in a bookcase with glass doors in the living room. Anyway, I wanted to make an end gate for my uncle’s trailer, but the shop teacher said that meant using metal and wood both, and I’d have to learn how to work with wood first. I didn’t see why, but I kept still and made a tie rack at school and the tail gate after school at my uncle’s garage. He said I saved him ten dollars.

Civics is hard for me, too. I’ve been staying after school trying to learn the “Articles of Confederation” for almost a week, because the teacher said we couldn’t be a good citizen unless we did. I really tried, though, because I want to be a good citizen. I did hate to stay after school because a bunch of boys from the south end of town have been cleaning up the old lot across from Taylor’s Machine Shop to make a playground out of it for the little kids from the Methodist home. I made the jungle gym from old pipe. We raised enough money collecting scrap this month to build a wire fence clear around the lot.

Dad says I can quit school when I am sixteen, and I am sort of anxious because there are a lot of things I have to learn–and as my uncle says, I’m not getting any younger.

ADDIE is dead! Long live ADDIE!

flogging-dead-horseI’m at risk of flogging a very dead horse here, but some recent posts from Ellen Wagner (What is it about ADDIE that makes people so cranky?) and Donald Clark (The evolving dynamics of ISD and Extending ISD through Plug and Play) got me thinking about instructional design process and ADDIE in particular (please  don’t run away!).

 

Ellen’s post focused on how Learning Designers on a twitter discussion got  “cranky” at the first mention of the ADDIE process (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation).  On the Twitter #Lrnchat session  participants had a gag response to the to the mere mention of ADDIE (sound familiar?).  Don responded with some great comments on how ISD (ADDIE) has evolved and adapted.

Much of my career has been involved in applying ADDIE in some form or other and I’ve landed on a conflicted LOVE/HATE relationship with it that that you, lucky reader, will now be subjected to .

addie_model

HATE (Phase A, Step 3.2.6)

Throughout the 90’s many Instructional Designers and e-Learning Developers (me included) grew disgruntled with ADDIE (and its parent process Instructional Systems Design—ISD) as training struggled to keep up with business demands for speed and quality and as we  observed process innovations in software and product development field (Rapid Application Development, Iterative prototyping etc).

In 2001 that frustration was given voice in the seminal article “The Attack on ISD” by Jack Gordon and Ron Zemke in Training Magazine (see here for a follow-up)

The article cited four main concerns:

  • ISD is too slow and clumsy to meet today’s training challenges
  • There’s no “there” there. (It aspires to be a science but fails on many fronts)
  • Used as directed, it produces bad solutions
  • It clings to the wrong world view

I have memories of early projects, driven by mindless adherence to ISD, where I learned the hard way, the truth in each of these assertions.  As an example of what not to do and a guard against blowing my brains out in future projects,  for years I have kept an old Gagne style “instructional objective” from an early military project that would make your eyes burn.

Early ISD/ADDIE aspired to be an engineering model.  Follow it precisely and you would produce repeatable outcomes.  The engineering model assumes a “one best way” and the one best way of the time was grounded in the science of behavioral psychology and general systems theory.  The “one best way” thinking appealed to the bureaucratic style of the times but it couldn’t be more of an anathema to the current crop of learning designers, especially those focused on more social and constructivist approaches to learning.  And they are right.

Another criticism of ADDIE I have parallels Ellen’s comments.  Adherents and crankites alike view ADDIE as an “instructional design” methodology when in fact it should be viewed more as a project management process for learning projects.  Viewing  Instructional Design as synonymous with ADDIE does both a disservice.  There is loads of ID going on inside ADDIE but it is primarily in the Design phase of the process, and it can be much more creative than the original model prescribes.

In the end, the Achilles heel of formal ISD/ADDIE rests in its prescriptive posture and foundation in behavioural psychology.  Behavioural psychology and performance technology–its extension in the workplace–have added greatly to our understanding how to improve human learning at work, but we have learned much since then, and technology has provided tools to both designers and learners that profoundly change the need for a process like ADDIE.

Of course the ADDIE process was (and is) not unique to the learning design profession.  For many years the five broad phases of ADDIE were the foundation for the design of most systems.  Software engineering, product development, interactive/multimedia development are all based on some variation of the model.   Most however have evolved from the linear “waterfall” approach of early models (can’t start the next phase until the previous has been done and approved) to iterative design cycles based on rapid prototyping, customer participation in the process and loads of feedback loops built into the process.  And learning/e-learning is no different.  It has evolved and continues to evolve to meet the needs of the marketplace. Much of the current gag reaction to ADDIE, like that experienced by Ellen, is based on the old waterfall-linear approach and the assumed instructivist nature of the model.  And again the gag is entirely valid.

However, if you can break free from the history, preconceptions and robotic application of ADDIE, you may find room for something approaching…

 

LOVE (Phase B, Step 2.3.7)

I can’t say I ever use ADDIE in its purest form any longer.  For e-learning and performance applications, I prefer processes with iterative design and development cycles that are usually a variation of rapid application development process like this one from DSDM.

DSDM_lifecycle

Or for an example specific to e-learning,  this process from Cyber Media Creations nicely visualizes the iterative approach:

Or for the Michael Allen fans out there, his Rapid Development approach described in Creating Successful e-Learning is very good.  There is a respectful chapter in the book on the ADDIE limitations and how his system evolved from it.

But at the heart of all these processes are the familiar phases of analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation,  albeit cycling through them many times along the way.

For me ADDIE has become a useful heuristic,  not even a process really, but a framework for thinking,  coaching instructional designers,  and managing learning and e-learning projects.  Many e-learning designers these days are not formally trained in Instructional Design and initially think of it as instructional “writing” more than the holistic and systemic approach at the heart of ADDIE.   Likewise customers and subject matter experts are much easier to work with once they understand the broad project process that ADDIE represents.  For these two purposes alone I am thankful for ADDIE as a framework .  ADDIE has staying power because of it’s simplicity.  Purists will say it has been watered down too much but in many ways that’s what keeps it alive.

ADDIE phases are also a useful way to think about organization design and structure of a learning function.  They are the major processes that need to be managed and measured by most learning functions.  Just think of the functionality of most LMS systems have added since their inception.

In the end ADDIE (and its more current modifications) is probably most valuable because it makes the work of learning design visible. This is an essential feature of productive knowledge work of all kinds.   Almost every learning/training group uses a ADDIE as a start point to design a customized process that can be communicated,  executed,  measured and repeated with some level of consistency.  Equally important in knowledge work is the discipline of continually improving processes and breaking through to better ways of working.  This has resulted in the many innovations and improvement to the ADDIE process since its inception.

SUMMATIVE EVALUATION (Phase E, Step 5.2.3)

I’ve come to believe that the power of ADDIE/ISD lies in the mind and artful hands of the user.  In my experience Rapid Application Development processes can become just as rigid and prescriptive under the watch of inflexible and bureaucratic leaders as ADDIE did.

There’s an intellectual fashion and political correctness at work in some of the outright rejection of ADDIE.  It’s just not cool to associate with the stodgy old process.  Add Web 2.0, informal and social learning to the mix and some will argue we shouldn’t be designing anything.

For the organizations I work with, there is no end on the horizon to formal learning (adjustments in volume and quality would be nice!).  Formal learning will always require intelligent authentic learning design, and a process to make it happen as quickly and effectively as possible. If instead of  the irrelevant old geezer in the corner waving a disapproving finger,  we think of ADDIE more like a character from Mad Men, maybe we can refresh the image a bit.