Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Big Question for March: Scope of Learning Responsibility

This month's big question from LCB is

What is the Scope of our Responsibility as Learning Professionals?
I don't think I'm tackling this from quite the intended angle but, as a third party learning provider, I often find it difficult to draw a line between what is my responsibility and what is not. For example, it is not strictly speaking my responsibility to tell the client that a proposed change measure is doomed to fail. I am simply supposed to build the learning solution to support its implementation.

However, I see myself in the role of trusted adviser and, if I don't give them my perspective then I feel I have betrayed that trust. Of course, they can choose to ignore my advice/recommendations, but I will build that into my risks and assumptions because (and this brings me to my second point) I'm blowed if they're going to lay the failure at my team's door. Failed change intiatives or implementations too often get blamed on the training. No amount of beautifully wrought learning solutions is going to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.

I am not a business analyst, but I have been horrified to discover that I am sometimes the closest thing to it to have sight of the proposed change programme. My exposure to various transformation projects over the years has taught me to notice when key provisions are not in place. I wish I could lay claim to masterful tact and diplomacy in these situations, but I am afraid that would be a false claim. Nevertheless, our responsibility is for the delivery of a workable learning solution. If the solution is to be built for a doomed change implementation, it would be both churlish and irresponsible not to say so - besides, it could hardly be termed workable!

On to the more nuts and bolts aspects of the provision. Far too often, learning professionals seem either to ignore or try to compete with the "learning from the bloke at the next desk approach". I would venture to say that this is pretty likely to remain most people's first port of call, so I would recommend working with it, rather than against it. Of course, you can't control what the bloke at the next desk has to say, but I find that identifying a network of champions is a helpful approach. These people are then identified to the user audience and to one another. They form a mutually supportive network and cascade their support out to their wider teams. Special provision is made for them to ensure that they are enabled to achieve this. This might mean that the learning solution has to include a workshop or communication to the line managers of said champions to prepare them for the implications of this support role and to advise them on how to adapt the champions' KPIs so that their support work is not seen as an interruption of their "real job" but a key part of their role within the team, and one on which their performance will be appraised during their next review.

I would suggest building solutions which include provision for user generated content. Features such as:
  • discussion forums and/or noticeboards
  • tip of the day/week/whatever
  • FAQs - manned by the champions and drawn from the discussion forums
  • jargon busters' corners (some form of wiki - although it sometimes doesn't to let the audience know that that's what it is!)
The content of these spaces is outside of the scope of the learning professional - although you might provide a starter for 10 to get the ball rolling, but providing the space for this interaction, actively promoting user ownership of the learning process and contribution to the learning content is part and parcel of the provider's responsibility. After all, it's their business. They're involved with it day in and day out. Who better to make suggestions about improved ways of doing things? Sadly, I have to admit that few audiences seem ready to assume the mantle of this approach, accustomed as they are to "being told", but we can't use that as an excuse.

My own view is that my job as the designer of the learning solution is that of empowerment. I aim to design a learning solution that hands the baton over to the user. To this end, I like to involve as many of the users as possible in the design process - not only do they know the business, they know the audience better than anyone.

And that rather rambling, slightly incoherent contribution is my 2p worth.


Anonymous said...

Karyn, I like the idea of your role being to empower--that encompasses my feeling about it too. There's just no way that we can be about content anymore-it has to be about creating the right kind of environment and supporting the tools and skills that let people get their jobs done. Good post!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Michele. I have long been teased about being the learner advocate/champion. I am unrepentant!