“Learning is one of the defining aspects of being human. Truly profound learning experiences change who we are – we change through learning. All learning involves thinking and doing, action and reflection. Learning changes what we can do – it is always active – you haven’t learned to walk until you walk.”
Using Senge’s ‘walking’ analogy, the questions decision makers should be asking when considering the training of learners in their organisations are:
- Does your organisation need learners to ‘‘walk’’,
- Do learners need to learn to ‘walk’,
- Can you training provider demonstrate a capacity to teach learners to ‘walk’,
- How will your organisation evaluate learner ability to ‘walk’ after training,
- Does your organisation have the capacity to evaluate, mentor and coach learners once they have learnt to ‘walk’,
- How will learners be required to demonstrate on an ongoing basis that they can ‘walk’,
- How will your organisation regularly evaluate the benefits of and value added to the organisation after teaching learners to ‘walk’,
Organisational leadership, decision makers and key stakeholders need to assess training needs as a business case. The alignment of training needs to be linked to long term strategic business objectives. It is necessary to know What, Why and How the training intervention is going to benefit all Stakeholders. The resources invested in the change have to provide tangible, measurable and sustainable value for the organisation, (as is required by any other utilisation of shareholder capital expenditure which requires time, resources and financing), or it will ultimately impact negatively on organisational outcomes in the medium to long term.
Organizations with the ability to create a clearly defined business case for training, coupled to organisational strategic requirements, will be able to maintain a long term sustainable competitive advantage.
Building A Learning Organisation
Learning is change. The organisation is looking for behaviour change where the learning process changes the physical structure of learners brains. When developing training for business environments, training developers spend a lot of time focused on the content they want people to know rather than how the learning will take place. In many cases organisations allow outside training providers to determine how outcomes to learning objectives will be determined, with no real understanding of the organisation or learners actual requirements. The result is training fails to keep learners engaged, and fails to help learners transfer their knowledge into action.
Good instructional design is a key factor in appropriate and relevant organisational learning, however, it can miss out on some powerful new insights into how the brain works – insights that can help learning professionals create learning experiences that are more effective and efficient. Two aspects of successful learning need to be considered; firstly the organisational perspective and secondly the learner perspective.
Senge et.al. (1999), propose five disciplines for learning in an organisational environment which are outlined below;
Personal Mastery – This discipline of aspiration involves formulating a coherent picture of the results people most desire to gain as individuals (their personal vision), alongside a realistic assessment of the current state of their lives, (the current reality in their working environment).
- Mental Models – This discipline of reflection and inquiry skills is focused around developing awareness of the attitudes and perceptions that influence thought and interaction. By continually reflecting upon, talking about, and reconsidering these internal pictures of the world, learners gain more capability in governing their actions and decisions as they relate to the organisation.
- Shared Vision – This collective discipline establishes a focus on mutual purpose (succession planning, teamwork, and inclusion). People learn to nourish a sense of commitment in the organization by developing shared images of the future they seek to create, and the principles and guiding practices by which they hope to get there.
- Team Learning – This is a discipline of organisational group interaction. Through techniques like dialogue and skilful discussion, mentoring and coaching, teams transform their collective thinking, learning to mobilize their energies and creating an outcome greater than the sum of individual members’ talents.
- Systems Thinking – In this discipline, people learn to better understand interdependency and change, and deal more effectively with the forces that shape the consequences of their actions. Systems thinking is based upon a growing body of theory about the behavior of feedback and complexity – the innate tendencies of a system that lead to growth or stability for the organisation and the individual over time.
Taking the five related disciplines into account when developing a training intervention, will culminate in a well researched, robust, learning and development plan, linked to organisational, team, and individual strategic business objectives.
Davis et.al. (2014) suggest it is possible to transform employee specific learning programs into events through which people do retain their knowledge and use it. Their neuroscience approach suggests four principles that embed new learning so that it sticks. The four principles, which they term “AGES,” summarise the big drivers of memory systems in the brain during the learning process:
- Attention – there must be sufficient attention and interest in the new material – attention has to be very high as distractions and multitasking dramatically reduces recall. Chemical processes to encode memories in the brain only activate when learners are very focused,
- Generation – learners must generate their own connections to knowledge that they already have, forming mental maps around new ideas. They can’t just watch or listen; effort is central.
- Emotion – emotions need to be high for effective learning to take place, learners only remember things they feel strongly about,
- Spacing – learners need time to grow their memories, so regularly spaced learning episodes are critical for knowledge retention.
Davis et.al. (2014) admit that while understanding the whole human brain is a long way off, neuroscience has made great strides in the past few decades in understanding how learners retain knowledge and information. They go on to suggest that; ‘although recall is the first step to behavior change, it isn’t the only step, but without it the organisation has nothing’.
Understanding the AGES approach to learning and recall helps learning professionals think about learning programs by beginning with how the brain works. This means focusing on creating a learning environment and process where; Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing are non-negotiable and then creatively exploring how best to execute the program. The goal being the long-term embedding of ideas identified as essential for behaviour change required by the organisation using the five organisational learning disciplines.
Successful Training Interventions
Robert O. Brinkerhoff, Ed.D., professor emeritus at Western Michigan University, said that after training, learners typically fall into one of three categories:
- ‘They do not try to apply training.
- They attempt to apply it but realize no worthwhile results.
- They apply training and get some positive results’.
Learners who have positive experiences when applying their new skills for the first time are more likely to continue to do so. Brinkerhoff (2014) estimates that successful application, (group three), is as low as 20 percent. The remaining 80 percent is considered by Brinkerhoff to be scrap learning – learning that was delivered but unsuccessfully applied, as in groups one and two, and is therefore wasted.
In order to mitigate the risk of wasted learning, it is recommended that organisational managers meet with the learner prior to the learning intervention in order to set learning and performance expectations, and create a joint action plan addressing learner and organisational goals. The process helps to ensure that training is valuable to the learner and is aligned with business goals, preparing the learner for the actual training event. Post training, the manager needs to review the action plan with the learner and determine if it still aligns with what was taught. The manager must supervise and provide meaningful praise and feedback when the learner applies training on the job. This will reinforce success and correct mistakes affording the manager the opportunity to seek projects, events or situations where the learner can hone their new skills in the organisational context. By participating in the training process pre- and post-event, managers can ensure that employees retain and apply more of what they learn (Mattox, 2011).
Successful Training Interventions must unlock some form of positive Change and need to be managed as a project. Organisational training interventions are an investment for the future and will have the four characteristics of investment;
- Learning is an intangible asset and is not purchased directly; it is created by the training intervention.
- The costs incurred in a training intervention are firstly, the price to be paid, and secondly, the opportunity cost. The decision by the organisation to undertake a particular intervention is simultaneously a decision not to use those same funds to undertake any other project or intervention.
- The training intervention must d a Return on the Investment (ROI). This is the reason for the Organisation agreeing to undertake the training intervention. ROI is the presumed future benefit of the learning and behaviour changes as defined in the training intervention scope.
- The scope is created speculatively without any real certainty that it will deliver the desired benefits, which unlocks the fourth characteristic of any investment, Risk. Risk is an essential element of any training intervention and needs to be identified, evaluated, documented, and managed.
It is the responsibility of an organisations leadership and decision makers to ensure that learning programmes are aligned to business strategy and meet learner developmental needs. All learning material needs to be outcomes-based (OBE), and learner-directed. Learning guides need to state the learning outcomes upfront and provide post training assessment criteria. The learner’s competence has to be assessed against the learning outcomes pre and post training and then re-evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure long term benefits are being achieved.
Outcomes Based Training
Buchanan and Huczynski (1985) define learning as:
‘the process of acquiring knowledge through experience which leads to a change in behaviour’.
The concept being that learning is not just an acquisition of knowledge, but the application of it through doing something different in the organisation in order to meet strategic long term goals set by the organisation. They suggest that “intermediate outcomes” of knowledge management are improved organizational behaviours, decisions, products, services, processes and relationships that enable the organization to improve its overall performance.
King (2009) maintains that Organisational learning is the process of embedding what has been learned into the very fabric of an organisation. He goes on to suggest that by ‘motivating the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge, knowledge management initiatives pay off by helping the organization embed knowledge into organizational processes so that it can continuously improve its practices and behaviours and pursue the achievement of its goals’.
According to Senge (1990) ‘Learning Organisations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together’. Senge further suggests that the basic rationale for organizations to embark on training interventions is that in situations of rapid change it is organisations that are flexible, adaptive and productive that retain a sustainable competitive advantage.
In OBE understanding and flexibility are as important as content. Outcomes do not depend on the content. Outcomes are the results of learning, and can be measured or assessed (FASSET, 2004).
- is a learner-centred process,
- is developmental: it encompasses both what learners learn and are able to do at the end of the learning process,
- is an activity-based approach to education designed to promote problem-solving and critical thinking,
- the process of learning is as important as what is learnt,
- emphasises high expectations of what all learners can achieve (and apply in the organisation post training).
Organizations need to identify training needs that will result in demonstrated behaviour change and outcomes that support the organisations strategic objectives, and simultaneously address learner growth and developmental needs.
Organisational learning is an ongoing process that builds on past learning and needs to be structured to support business strategic objectives whilst simultaneously addressing learner needs. The learning process begins with connecting with what is already known, identifying what is required to bridge the gap with where the organisation needs to be, and structuring an appropriate training intervention that will produce the required behavioural outcomes. The organisation needs to create a structured environment that learners can perform in as well as design learning interventions that take into account how learners learn. Brain structure dictates that learning design should begin with what the learner knows, taking into account that each learner is different. Organisational Management are responsible for preparing employees for learning and controlling the work environment to allow learners new opportunities to apply, practice, and perfect learned behaviour and outcomes after training.
- Brod, G, Werkle-Bergner, M, & Shing, (2013), “The influence of prior knowledge on memory: a developmental cognitive neuroscience perspective”, Frontiers in Behavioural Science, October, Volume 7, Article 139.
- Brinkerhoff, R.O.,(2014), ‘Making Training Work: Lessons Learned’ Health Community Collaboration Initiative Presentation.
- Buchanan, D and Huczynski, A (1985) ‘Organizational Behaviour’, Prentice Hall, London.
- Davis, J, Balda, M, Rock, D, McGinniss, P, & Davichi, L, (2014), “The Science of Making Learning Stick: An Update to the AGES Model”, Neuroleadership Journal, Volume 5.
- FASSET, (2014), “Aligning Learning Interventions to the National Qualifications Framework.
- King, W.R. (ed.), (2009), Knowledge management and Organizational Learning, 3 Annals of Information Systems 4, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-0011-1_1, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
- MATTOX, J.R. II, (2011), “Scrap Learning and Manager Engagement”, Chief Learning Officer, Business Inrtelligence.
- Senge, P. M. (1990), The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization, Doubleday, New York.
- Senge, P. M, Roberts. C, Ross, R, Roth, G, Smith, B, & Kleiner, A, (1999). The Dance of Change: The challenges of sustaining momentum in learning organizations. New York, Currency/Doubleday.
Next – Part 5/7 The Ever Changing Organisational Environment