Monday, January 14, 2013

The Need for Workplace Learning Designers

According to Wikipedia "Training is the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies .....it has specific goals of improving one's capability, capacity, and performance."

This is the heart of the challenge for training or learning professionals, designing learning solutions that help their business or team to improve capability, capacity and performance. I would generally define this as workplace learning design, simply put designing learning solutions to improve performance in the workplace.

I would argue there is a critical need for workplace learning designers who:
  • start with an understanding of the performance objectives and context
  • appreciate the balance of formal, informal and on the job learning; and the blend of classroom, coaching and elearning
  • understand the importance of assessment, progression and accreditation or quality standards to perform the role
  • can design mature and comprehensive workplace learning solutions
In my personal experience we don't have enough senior workplace learning designers in the industry. Furthermore, there is a real danger in a new breed of designers that focus on specific technologies or interventions rather than their role in the overall workplace learning solution. A learning technology or intervention is only valuable to the extent that it helps us achieve our goals of improving capability, capacity and performance.

Too often I see companies trying to sell the latest innovation without an understanding of the wider workplace learning solution. Some of these innovations have a role to play but vendor hype around say games, mlearning or social learning can distract from the core work required to design effective workplace learning solutions. It also leads to a focus on technology led solutions rather than effective blended solutions. For example, the Wikipedia page on Blended Learning has just two paragraphs and two references, compare this to the elearning page which is extensive and has over 50 references, or MOOCs and flipped learning which have 21 and 18 references respectively.

I am not opposed to learning technology innovation, there is no question elearning, defined by Wikipedia as "all forms of electronically supported learning and teaching" has a significant role to play in the learning blend. It brings many benefits, for example in extending capacity, speed to deliver, accessibility to learning, enabling practice in simulations, understanding concepts, assessing knowledge and lowering costs. Where elearning is deployed it should also take advantage of developments in technology to be developed efficiently and ensure a single version can run on multiple devices such as desktops, tablets and phones as a matter of course.

However, we should not be led by technology but by the workplace learning need. A good workplace learning designer understands technology and should be aware of the benefits of of specific technology innovations such as responsive elearning design, but their focus should be on improving performance over time through a comprehensive workplace learning strategy. In  my view this will inevitably be a blended solution that integrates assessment and progression as part of a learning path.

In my view what is required as we move into 2013 is a real new breed of designers that understand workplace learning and how to design, deliver and assess mature, blended solutions.