Last month when I was in Sri Lanka, I tried a local dish called Kottu. Kottu's a simple, yet complex street side dish and it contains roti bread, carrots, beans, onions, other vegetables, eggs, meats, coconut oil; well almost everything you can imagine, thrown onto a pan and tossed together.
Hold on - did I just say 'everything'? That's a bit of a magic word for anyone in the learning world.
"Teach them everything that they need to know."
"Let's ensure we cover everything!"
"In this course we'll teach you everything you need to get started."
I'm sure most of us have heard each of those statements and more and perhaps said some of those things ourselves in our career. The funny thing is, that at the back of our minds, all of us realise there's no way we can teach people 'everything' they need to know. That said, with stakeholders breathing down our necks and the demands of each role at the back of our minds, it's tough to figure how we can let people get off training without teaching them 'everything' they should know.
In recent days, I've been using Learning Paths to determine the right learning strategy to develop capabilities for specific job roles. In fact we've tried this approach with some success in some of our strategic consulting initiatives as well and I'd like to share this really simple technique with you. Read on to learn more...
Introducing Learning PathsA learning path is nothing but a chronological representation of an individual's learning journey from Novice to Expert in a specific job role. It can look as complex as a multipage document, but for me it looks like a variant of the picture above. There are a few key elements to a Learning Path:
Job Expectations & Recommended ReadingEvery job has some expectations against it. As a L&D professional, not only do I like to know the expectations for the role I'm supporting, but I also think that the learner deserves to know without ambiguity what the role expects of her. That way there's a tangible set of goals to work against. A lot of roles have recommended texts to support people at all levels. Making a list of the most important books and resources for the job is always useful not just for new starters, but also for us as learning professionals to design the right learning experience.
Foundation SkillsFoundation skills are the absolute bare minimum skills to start a job. As simple as that. An amateur journalist will not start editing articles on her first day. A novice salesman isn't going to generate regional sales reports. The key to determining foundation skills is to ask yourself (or the SME), "What are the things the novice performer will absolutely not do in their first month on the job?"
Intermediate SkillsIntermediate skills are usually tricky to figure out. The best I can define them is by saying that these are skills people need after having spent some time on the job and after having gained sufficient mastery with their foundation skills. For example, I can ask a novice analyst to elicit and articulate customer requirements as a foundation skill, but it make take the novice some time before she can lead sessions with the team to estimate these requirements or to lead showcases with the customer or to run planning meetings. These will be intermediate skills for the individual.
Advanced SkillsTo pick up advanced skills the learner needs to work with other experienced people. No amount of teaching can give people confidence with advanced skills. It takes time, support and on-the-job support. Coming back to the example of the journalist, if she is expected to take over a complete beat with no experience of doing so in the past, she'll most probably need some apprenticeship before she is ready to go on her own.
Acquired SkillsLastly, there are acquired skills. These skills come with experience alone. Only when people try, fail, try again and get their hands dirty with a number of things and start building appreciation for a their surrounding ecosystem do they pick up these skills. As an example, a business analyst will gain the skill of facilitating workshops and managing requirements pipelines only over a period of time and with experience.
Adopt the right Learning StrategyThis bit of simple, upfront analysis helps us in a few ways:
- Individuals know where they stand in their learning journey at the company.
- Instructional Designers know what the pre-requisites and assumptions for designing learning for any stage are. This way we can avoid throwing the kitchen sink at any module we create (elearning or not).
- Stakeholders know exactly what kind of support to invest in, to help people grow in expertise
- We know which skills we can influence with teaching and traditional elearning -- foundation skills and an initiation to intermediate skills lend themselves quite well to these modes.
- We know that practicing intermediate skills and learning advanced skills needs mentorship and coaching.
- We know that it takes not just on the job support, but perhaps also interaction with other practitioners and a robust knowledge sharing strategy in the organisation to develop acquired skills. Most importantly this takes patience, because people need experience to develop these skills. Informal Learning, can perhaps shorten the time to mastery, though!
I'm still trying to develop my thinking around Learning Paths and your feedback will help me in finding the most effective way to apply this technique. Please share your thoughts by commenting liberally in the comments section.
If you liked this article, you're likely to enjoy my other posts on similar topics:
The Agile Elearning Design Manual - Think Small (Iterations, Action Maps, Storyboards, and Mini-Modules)
Using the Dreyfus Model to engage people in your Online Learning program
Put your learners on a diet - consider a pull based approach
Empowering learners in an Induction Program