Sunday, August 30, 2009

Using the Dreyfus Model to engage people in your Online Learning program

The success of your Knowledge Management or online learning initiative depends on how well you can engage different people in your organization and really, how apt is your mode of delivery, to the content you're delivering. Very simply, the purpose of any online learning/ knowledge sharing implementation is to make capabilities explicit in an organization. I've been thinking about this recently and I think the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition is a great way to articulate the different levels of expertise in a certain area, in an organization. If we use the Dreyfus model to map out our learning strategy, it quickly illuminates the different mechanisms we need to provide, so that people can participate in your learning program.

Mechanisms to engage various Dreyfus personas


A novice is someone who needs strict rules to follow clearly. They need monitoring to accomplish immediate tasks and unambiguous instructions to succeed. Some of the tools and resources that can help a novice are:
  • Checklists
  • How-to's
  • Focussed elearning for specific job actions
  • Ability to seek out help and mentorship

Advanced Beginner

For an advanced beginner, rules start to often become guidelines and they can start to apply these guidelines in similar contexts. Most new beginners tend to start here. The advanced beginner is keen to start new things, though they struggle with troubleshooting. They are therefore still focussed on their immediate tasks and aren't so fussed about the "big picture". I believe that an Advanced beginner needs a safe environment to try new things. Some of the following tools can be useful:
  • Controlled Simulations
  • Virtual Worlds to try out things in safety
  • Mailing Lists/ Social QnA and Communities to ask questions and find solutions to common problems.
  • Online Assignments to practice their new found skills.


People at this level tend to build conceptual models to organize complex rules. They can often go a step beyond the Advanced beginner and troubleshoot issues. Most importantly, they like to plan their work, make decisions and take responsibility for their outcomes. A competent practitioner probably needs some of the following tools:
  • Case Studies to help them understand various real world scenarios.
  • The ability to participate on Forums and social platforms to "listen into" real problems and solutions
  • Access to blogs documenting peer experiences.
  • Podcasts and media that help them see work patterns and various applications of their skills.
  • And of course, all the experience they can get from their day job, helps!
Most elearning and knowledge sharing gigs tend to ignore the last two levels of the Dreyfus Model. OTOH, its imperative to involve people at these last two levels if a learning initiative has to be successful.


Proficient practitioners tend to look at problems as a whole, than in terms of individual aspects. They need the big picture, and like to gain practical knowledge from unhindered experimentation. Oversimplification, rules, policies and guidelines frustrate them. Given that they already have sufficient mastery over skills, I believe that Proficient practitioners need the opportunity to connect with other practitioners at a similar stage of learning/ skill acquisition. People at this stage are looking to create their own models and frameworks to apply their skills. So, connecting with their peers identifying problems - defining solutions, using their experiences and that of others to adjust their performance is a learning need for these individuals. Social networking is a core tool to involve such individuals. Being able to mentor others only broadens their skills and helps them on their learning journey. I look at proficient individuals a community leaders, virtual facilitators and content contributors. Using their frameworks and models creates standard work for the rest of the organization. They need to have ownership for courses, communities and mailing lists.


Experts are as the name suggests, masters of their trade. They intuitively solve problems without much analysis and planning. They've had enough experience in identifying problem patterns and applying generalities to solve these problems. The trouble is, that experts have trouble articulating many of their conclusions. That said, experts need to expand their knowledge and experience by evaluating boundary cases. Despite the fact that a few of these people can tend to be lurkers on most mailing lists and communities, I feel facilitative leaders should call out their opinions during discussions and debates online. In fact they're a great resource for content creation. Think standard work analysis, interviews, experience reports! Experts may not be such great teachers, but great role models -- so its exciting to hear from them, see them work. Its important to tap into them as great resources!

Finding the right mechanisms to share knowledge

I find it strange that training managers and instructional designers in particular get married to a certain mechanism. In fact, I've seen instructional designers stuck to elearning as if its the only technology available to us in this world. I look at content as a function of two parameters -- criticality of content and the duration of its shelf life. This helps justify the cost of creating content and justify community involvement in its creation. I've drawn out a 2 x 2 matrix to map out various tools depending on the criticality and shelf-life of the content.

The interesting thing to notice is that Elearning (Rapid or not) fits in three separate slots of the matrix. Its important to note that Rapid elearning (not traditional elearning called "rapid") fits in two of these slots. This is the kind of learning where I wouldn't recommend spending any more than 40 hours behind each hour of online engagement. I recommend traditional high cost elearning only in certain situations - rapid elearning fits most content and its important to weigh the cost of production with the actual value of the content.

Thinking through your Dreyfus personas and the right knowledge sharing mechanisms ensures that you create the right mix of elearning/ knowledge sharing mechanisms for your customers. Use these liberally to define an instructional strategy for your customers - hope you find this useful.

If you liked this post, you may like some of my other posts.
Think Small (Iterations, Action Maps, Storyboards and Mini-modules).
The role of social media.
Screencasting - A simple way to create bite-sized learning.
Why Synchronous Learning makes so much sense today.
Do let me know what you thought about this post by liberally commenting on the blog!
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