Archive for August 2012

One of the key bits of wisdom I’ve extracted over the years about what it takes for training to stick can be summed up by one of W. Edwards Deming’s more famous quotes: “You can expect what you inspect.”

A number years ago, in one of my past lives as a new business process implementation consultant, I was working on a project for a major oil & gas company where we were helping them implement new restroom cleaning processes in over 10,000 of their spanking new convenience stores. As strange as it may seem, this was a business critical initiative because the marketing research showed that the number #1 determining factor for women choosing to shop at a gas station convenience store was the “perceived” cleanliness of the restrooms. And, since the research shows that women make most of the decisions about where food/snack shopping takes place, it was a major competitive advantage to own the reputation for having the cleanest restrooms around.
So, as you can imagine, there was much executive hoopla about the importance of the effort, lot’s of money was spent researching and developing world class restroom cleaning process, a state of the art training system — accompanied by the full enchilada training deployment communication strategy with all the bells and whistles.

About two months after the deployment we got a call from the company’s project lead saying “The training is not working.” Some locations were applying the new process and other geographies weren’t. The company spent another six figures to determine why the employees in the convenience stores weren’t applying the new process. It turns out that in locations where the bosses had a restroom cleanliness metric as part of their weekly scorecard the process was being implemented. In those places where the boss wasn’t paying regular attention – Nada.

When the VP added a restroom cleanliness metric to his direct reports weekly scorecard — presto, clean restrooms across the company.

This simiple initiative took three key things to flawlessly execute.

  1. Sustained executive will and attention in the face of other demanding priorities.
  2. A well thought-out process for engaging all of the players to ensure everyone understood the business purpose for the change and the game plan for execution.
  3. A doable way to monitor, reinforce and report on the requisite behaviors of all the key players. (i.e. learners, learners bosses and SMEs)

Anyone who has been around a while knows that garnering and sustaining sufficient executive will and attention is always a challenge due to changing of people and priorities. When you are fortunate to have the level of support needed, success is possible.

In many organizations, ensuring flawless execution of the critical monitoring, reinforcing & feedback pieces of the training puzzle is a nightmare, requiring of lots of people with numerous spreadsheets.   The good news is that next generation learning systems like Q2 Learning’s XPERT eCampus are now becoming available to take as much of the pain as possible out of the implementation/training, monitoring, reinforcing and reporting process.

I welcome the opportunity to continue the discussion. Please comment below or contact me directly at to discuss any of these ideas!


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Blended Learning Design: Part 3

Key Practice 3We believe there are five key practices in designing blended learning programs that map against the levels of competency and learning timeline. The third of these is Reflecting. After adult learners hear, see, or experience new content (Practice 1), they need to assimilate it into their current cognitive structures. After testing it against their own experience (Practice 2), they are ready to more deeply understand the new concepts through reflection.

Reflection is an important activity for human beings. To reflect is to give a matter careful consideration, but etymologically, “re” comes from “back,” and implies the ability to stand away and distance ourselves from the matter at hand. This uniquely human characteristic enables us to consider a new idea apart from being enmeshed in it, and is at the heart of why it is so important to create experiences that actively involve the learner in engaging with the new concept, process, or skill. It is in the reflective activity that new neural connections are made, and long term memory is engaged.

What constitutes the reflection phase varies by what is being learned. In problem solving/decision making training, it might be a small group case study where we test ideas against those of others. In a leadership course, it might be a self-assessment that causes us to examine our inner beliefs and motivations. In project management, it could be an exercise that causes us to critically think about a situation – and even possibly to question some of our own assumptions.

The blended learning approach is excellent for incorporating reflection. It allows the designer to map the right modality to the activity, be it synchronous or asynchronous, small group or individual. As learning is conceived as a process, this learning practice can be given its own place of equal importance to content acquisition. And technologies like our eCampus provide a wide variety of templates that make creating reflection activities simple to do.

Key take aways:

  • Reflection is often a critical part of the learning process
  • Instructional designers are well served by asking whether they have included reflection in the courses they create.

Future posts in this series will address the fourth and fifh key practices.

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One of the things we try to do with our training initiatives is keep the activities as near to the tasks required for learners’ jobs as possible.  Of course we also want to be training space to be a place where it’s safe to make errors .  And frequently we want to make the thinking process of learners visible to leadership in the organization, so that future training can address the issues which often come to light when communicating with people in the front line. That there is an essential tension among these goals makes the life of instructional designers um, interesting!

Sometimes we learn after the fact that our prioritization hasn’t been ideal.  Recently, we helped design  a sales training course for an organization which was also in the midst of implementing a new customer relationship management system.   Our call planning course featured reviews of the plans with the learner’s managers,  a pretty natural near-to-job task.  But asking the learners to post their plans to an assignment activity in our platform was not well-received.  Learners felt that having to learn to use the training platform software while also learning the CRM software (and of course, keeping up with their normal responsibilities!) was onerous.  And since they were already in pretty close contact with their managers, going to this alternative online place to communicate with people they were on the phone with daily seemed to them like added busywork.

We probably could have done a better job of making clear to the learners that part of the reason for the structuring of the task was to provide visibility on their learning to senior management.

Alternatively, had the timing for the course been different, say, for after the CRM system had been in place for a while, it might have made sense to post those plans to the CRM, on which, of course, learners and managers both have visibility.

In future iterations of the course,  we probably will move some of the activities directly into the CRM. (Fortunately, we can track the completion of activities even when they happen somewhere other than our platform!)

Have the job tasks faced by your learners moved closer or farther away from the training activities they do?  Is it time to re-assess how close you are these days to your various moving targets?

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