Does Your Instruction Stop at the Classroom Door?

Mechanic using job aid
Mechanic using job aid

The past month has been a rich learning experience that has caused me to pause and look closer at the idea of learning transfer and performance support. This has led me to ask, where does your instruction on a topic stop, at the classroom door or weeks later when the learner has demonstrated proficiency? Do we support the learner enough once they have left the classroom? Have we done our job if we do not ensure they can demonstrate proficiency weeks after the lesson?

This line of thought originated at a recent American Society for Training and Development conference I attended. During this conference, I sat in on a number of fascinating sessions. During the sessions, folks like Tony Bingham and Bob Mosher talked about extending the classroom and providing performance support through mobile devices. Andrew Jefferson and Cal Wick talked about performance support and learning transfer using tools, job aids, and checklists.

These sessions resonated with me so much that I was compelled to pick up some books to learn more. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend that you read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande; The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results by Calhoun W. Wick, Roy V. H. Pollock, and Andy Jefferson; Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving From Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere by Allison Rossett and Lisa Schafer; and Designing mLearning: Tapping into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance by Clark N. Quinn.

Here are some of the takeaways I picked up regarding learning transfer.

The discussion of learning transfer was a central topic throughout the conference. It seems we do a good job training; however, we need to improve how we ensure learning transfer has occurred. Wick and Jefferson stressed improving instruction from the very beginning with the invitation to the training session. In the invitation, you should address what is in it for the learner, what is in it for the organization, what is the learner expected to transfer. They recommend providing a timeline for the complete experience. This includes time when learners are at their office. Training doesn’t end with the completion of the formal session but should extend through a learning transfer period. One of the more novel thoughts was changing the course completion certificate from certificate of completion to certificate of commencement. A certificate of completion indicates that training is done. Home Depot hands out certificates and trophies only when learners report back on how they improved operations based on the training. Educators can also support learning transfer by providing support content in both push and pull formats. With pull formats, learners visit your content and download it. With push content, you send it to learners. For example, it is possible to schedule email messages to go out to trainees on regular intervals reminding them or encouraging them to work on different tasks. Finally, training and support must also be provided to managers and supervisors. Basically, everyone stressed that organization leadership had to have buy-in and be directly involved or learning was going to suffer.

I believe closely related to the idea of learning transfer is the idea of performance support; a key piece being mobile support. Performance support can take the shape of planners, job aids, checklists, or software help screens. These performance support aids can be print or digital depending on the need. Expect to see an increased emphasis on mobile learning in the coming years. Mobile learning in the United States is on the rise. There were 1.6 billion mobile devices sold in 2010. More time is spent outside of the classrooms, yet only 15% of organizations are supporting mobile learning. Mobile devices are so important that business leaders would rather lose their wallet than their phone.

“You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know.” ~ Papert

Mobile learning should support formal and informal learning before, during, and after a learning session. Mobile learning is a great tool to augment learning and tasks. Checklists are an example. In order for learners to use performance support aids outside of the classroom, they should be used during the entire lesson from beginning to end.

Mosher points out that there are five moments of need when learners need job aids or performance support. The first two are used primarily in the classroom; however, most learners are using the last three items. Disney, for example, designs for three through five and backfills with one and two.

  • When learning for the first time
  • When wanting to learn more
  • When trying to remember and or apply
  • When things change
  • When something goes wrong

We should be pushing out reminders, new content, and collaboration opportunities for subscribed learners. We need to be flexible because learners are gathering information through a number of different devices and programs. When people list tools, none of the tools listed were specific learning tools, e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Google, Evernote, etc.; however, they were used for the purpose of learning.

Clark Quinn, a leader in mobile learning, stresses that the key to supporting mobile learning and mobile support is to start designing and implementing now. We can build native applications, web applications, or both. Quinn recommends starting slowly with pilot projects and then design for a specific platform. He does not recommend designing courses specifically for mobile devices. Instead, he recommends creating mini-lessons or modularized content.

After listening to others and reading what others had to say, I came to the conclusion that I need to do a better job providing performance support.  What are your thoughts?