CORPORATE INSTRUCTION IS STILL DISCONNECTED FROM MILLENNIAL LEARNING STYLES – A LIST BASED ON OBSERVATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE

By this time we all know the tropes that define who millennials (M) are, how they act and their fundamental personality characteristics. You’d think with all of this proven—and nowhere is it more evident than in large corporations—that learning programs would have been adjusted to align instruction with M proclivities for workplace education.

Having just spent some time at an F100 company I can affirm with great certainty, most instruction is still a series of bland courses and in some cases long and winding webinars. It bears remembering we are in business of transmitting only three things: knowledge, skills, and behaviors. I saw few instances where any modifications to training accommodated the ways in which young employees would spark to, tolerate, let alone benefit from anything being taught unless it was compulsory. And of course, pushing training down to a M will just shut down their attention. So, with a grudging acceptance of what had to be learned, skills absorbed only if they had immediate utility, and behaviors, well…let’s just say the millennials I was working with and around were not among the receptive.

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You can refer to two articles I had written back in 2014 about multi-generational learning and see even then, there was a clear rubric and tactics for reaching millennials. Unfortunately, making a case to adjust corporate learning programs and actually rewriting and modifying delivery are at polar ends and still out in the frozen tundra. [Overcoming Generation Differences When Building Learning: Part 2

NOW EVERYONE WINS: OVERCOMING GENERATION DIFFERENCES WHEN BUILDING LEARNING]

So, what to do. CLO’s it seems, unless really enlightened, have not passed down by policy the need to make learning aligned to what will soon be their largest contingent (25%) of employees. The company I just left dictated to the CLO that webinars would be the mode of choice for sales enablement and product knowledge – and they were level set to be 60-90 minutes. For sales staff! A double whammy there, right? A young millennial in sales is being taught essentially in the exact opposite learning style that would yield useful results.

A LIST OF WHAT MIGHT ATTRACT AND DELIVER USEFUL LEARNING TO MILLENIALS

  1. Learning has to be in small bits and any of these learning elements I’ll mention need not be delivered in any particular order– but they will be repeated in what I call a multi-touch ecology. Hyperconnectivity is baked in to millennials as is multitasking. Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to embrace and use new technology. This approach has elements of microlearning but it benefits the learner because it is repeated in other modalities & technologies.
    • For instance, in a short form course, organizations might deliver one or two elements of knowledge, skills or behaviors, make it interactive and/or with gamification and require responses. Consider collaboration within the methodology. Those responses are recorded and then the course is revisited for learners to rectify any incorrect responses. Nothing radical here except for the amount of time on learning – short attention spans will be honored.
  1. Learning with multi-modal exposure. Consider the power of a short, sharp podcast (or many) accessed and aligned to courseware – further amplifying recently introduced content.
    1. Questions posed in the podcast might be pushed out to mobile devices where, once again responses would be entered and tabulated.
  1. We’ve just laid out three modes: a short course, a podcast, and mobile learning. Let’s not forget dedicated pages on Facebook for content, polling and collaboration, and Twitter or SnapChat for instant feedback. Short videos right off Smartphones – 10 seconds worth – carry incredible power to influence, to convince, to give testimony. New tech must serve the learning purpose and be considered ‘cool.’ Finally, a mentor or coach would have the opportunity to not only work with the individual millennial but also learn what modalities worked best – and what components of this ecology yielded both cognitive results and emotional commitment. Multiple touches of the same knowledge, skills and behaviors are vital to retention and even more so for sales staff.
  1. These elements have all the benefits of autonomous learning, can be collaborative if so designed and tend to be informal. All three criteria are in the personality set of younger employees.

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Multiple touches—that is delivering the same content over different methodologies and modalities are essential for millennials. Learning is short – but repeated with multiple touches

  1. Learning can be collaborative
  2. Learning is couched inside compelling technologies
  3. Learning is interactive
  4. Learning is delivered on demand
  5. Learning is multi-modal
  6. Learning has digital with human feedback
  7. Learning is autonomous
  8. Learning content while repetitious is tolerable with multiple modalities
  9. Learning with multiple touches will be the norm
  10. Learning will be put to use because it happens over time – not a one sitting – therefore it will always be top of mind

As I looked around the work floor, I noted my millennial colleagues who, to a person were hard working, committed and extraordinarily helpful to an older geezer like me. Nevertheless, they also shared the frustrations they had with long, drawn out courses, for instance during onboarding, that might have been produced in 1999. That’s no way to motivate people who come predisposed to do good work. When learning is delivered to their particular learning characteristics, they become empowered, more loyal and see the corporate culture as honoring their personal temperament. That’s a lot of big wins. It’s up to the corporate masters to commit to modify learning, reach, and reach out to the millions of new workers whom they will be leading and managing now and more so, in the very near future.

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The Learner, 70:20:10 and Customer Experience

iStock_000008801928SmallMore so than in other efforts learning demands a careful balance of content and context. Many courses or projects chock a block with great information never quite achieve the results intended because of the way the information is delivered. Still too many learners won’t or cannot stay engaged. And it’s not for lack of effort by designers. Neither dynamic media, nor learner engagement exercises, even all the bells and whistles designers build on can always keep the learner riveted. Moreover, it’s not the pacing nor structure of events nor even the implied threat the learning or training is a job requirement. When learners are asked about courses a range of answers emerge, from I liked it but it meant little to me in my job, it was just not interesting, it was isolating, dull, the same old thing. So, if you believe, as do I, there is a missing element, hang on, I may have some insights.

Firstly, it’s important to clear off the Kirkpatrick levels. Not dismiss, just set them aside. Traditional learning and development is about pushing out information. What I suggest is a different way of thinking about the learner perhaps reflected in Kirkpatrick but not aligned to its grid like way of organizing learner uptake. Rather the lens through which we should start is Charles Jennings’s 70:20:10 approach.

Looking back to the original premise, that courses even with great content are bashed on the shore of rocks of delivery and contextual modes, than Jennings realization about how learning works is even more in line with my premise. And not to hold you in suspense, I am advocating we begin to think of learners as customers and every aspect of the learning experience as a customer experience. In the customer experience (Cx), world companies look at their service by way of touchpoints.

Touchpoints are every interaction taking place between the company, product or information—the content—the user or customer of that information and the context or channel used to communicate. Calling your cable company, speaking with a representative offers many touchpoints. For instance, how many rings did it take to get through, did the customer service representative understand the problem, how did she speak to you, could he resolve the problem, how long did it take, or perhaps you got better service using the website. The media, in this case the phone, is referred to as the channel. Companies measure each touchpoint in each channel against criteria in order to examine their process, develop standards and measures to improve customer service and contain their costs.

As learning people, we might take a lesson from touchpoints in Cx. In business, every time a touchpoint is observed, measured, and found lacking, it is improved—called touchpoint renewal. Now think of learning experiences whether virtual or face-to-face. Every interaction with content is naturally in a context (channel). So working online, the UI/UX channel might have been designed with minimal cognitive overhead in a handsome interface so information can be actuated easily. The more interactions, more touchpoints, and more reflective thought by the designer is required. Or in a classroom, instructors who focus on critical content and presents interactively have touchpoints relevant to that context or channel.

Learning designers can think in touchpoints when they build instruction or training. If we begin to think like this courses will improve simply because each action is viewed as an individual, measurable touchpoint. There are two elements, the content and the quality or style with which it is delivered (no matter the context or channel) and the learner (or customer). The smoother, faster, clearer the touchpoint, the easier it would be for learners to navigate and perhaps benefit from the experience. Customer experience thinking does not require a major pivot in the way courses are developed. Instead, it’s a mindset and reminder that learners need to be serviced as customers or even as buyers with a choice. Knowing your learner needs, your customers, and what they must achieve at the conclusion of the experience can help shape designers decisions about what to insert into a learning experience, the style, and the channel.

iStock_000004786684SmallJennings research clearly says most learning, over 80%, takes place in the workplace not the classroom (and I assume not the screen either). He has demoted formal learning to the ’10’. This diminishes the role of the learning designer or at least, as far as I can tell reshapes it. Experiential learning through contact and information with others yields—according to Jennings—better development and business outcomes. A conversation with a colleague in the pursuit of a solution or the sharing of an incident that leads to an A-Ha moment is planned. Keep in mind, these interactions all have touchpoints, too. That ‘20’ doesn’t mean we can easily measure the import of every utterance and seek to improve coaching or mentoring conversations by observing or eavesdropping continuously. However, it’s worth considering just how powerful informal, professional language is and how worthy it might be to bring to daylight the concept that everything one says or does has a value that is measurable in terms of utility and effect. This would include sharing via social media as well. As we know, a useful point made in Twitter, evinces a piling on of like-minded comments. These touchpoints will have extraordinary reach and thus value if the sources are trusted and adds to the validity of the single point under review. Most importantly both Cx and 70:20:10 are performance and productivity focused.

It would seem terribly logical for learning designers, ID’s, courseware, and content builders to become aware of the customer experience. If our product is the transmission of knowledge, skills and behaviors—and we expect change to result from each learning event, than designing with care and scrutinizing each touchpoint is another valuable way to look at and improve learning outcomes. Perhaps the designer’s role will change toward one of director; scripting a full 100% development experience—composed of 70:20:10 where every action or activity plays a role in the education of a learner and the idea of the total customer experience is viewed via touchpoints ensuring all actions are focused on results.

THE TEACHER-BUILT TEXTBOOK REVOLUTION IS HERE: A GIFT TO PROFESSIONALS OR A POX ON INSTRUCTION

In the modern era, the textbook is still the spine from which teachers deliver information. Despite the ubiquity of Wikipedia and the web, most teachers rely on a single source to reference the bulk of instructional material for knowledge transfer to their charges. Some texts are terrific; contemporary information well researched, written and compelling with story-based content attractive to the mass of students. However along with soaring prices, how up-to-date can they be—and how often will new editions replace dated volumes?

Textbooks are generally written by more than one primary author and reviewed by committees of content experts, practitioners in that field, and university educators. They are often generated as often by changes in information in the field as by publishers whose teams of researchers not only scan for the latest information but for the need to sell books.

Which text is selected is as much political as pedagogical; sometimes by fiat resulting from state or national tests to which the textual content must align, or on the local level by committees of educators who select from a narrow range of choices that must satisfy the same requirements. Texts compel teachers adhere to the proscribed curriculum so a higher percentage of students will pass their state’s test. Text selections can, unfortunately become an expression of political or cultural orientation. When school boards—think Texas or Kansas here—demand textbooks align to standardized or ‘high stakes’ tests that themselves are replete with prejudicial, politicized and questionable information the truth dies in the false rhetoric among the vehement and vocal critics of modernism . Darwin, the barometer of scientific objectivism and generally accepted fact, like climate change, Reagonomics, the Civil War, the canon of literature and other hot issues—might be revealed in a realistic and balanced manner in some texts, but meet fierce opposition in these municipalities. In such places you can be sure publishers will accede to the wishes of the textbook purchasers—customers—and modify their product to sell. Put succinctly, in some states, school districts and schools, dinosaurs died and became oil, yet in those same oil-producing states, dinosaurs were domesticated as transportation.

Into the fray steps the software, Apple’s iBooks Author:

“So, the big story is really about how this effects the billion(s) dollar industry of textbook publishing. Apples iBooks will sell for no more than $14.99. So, if the publishers are looking to keep their profits at current levels that most likely means someone is going to get cut out of the deal. It’s obvious that someone is the author. But the good news is that with a free authoring tool and the iTunes/iBook marketplace, I think the authors may end up getting the better end of this deal.
I’ve been it for several years now but I’ll say it again, “Teachers will be the next millionaires.” (Emphasis by the author) With today’s technologies, and the new technologies just around the corner, there is no reason why a great teacher couldn’t produce content for sale, and mentor students for a fee, and make a very good living.” (“Apple Announces Textbook Revolution.” www.elearndev.blogspot.com, 19 January 2012)

At first blush, this seems fantastic. Taken from a purely instructional perspective, the ability to create a multimedia text that will surely fascinate this generation of learners and incorporate disruptive technologies is profound. Kids live in this world every minute. Finally school catches up to real life. Wow! Couple this with online sharing and collaborative ventures and we are in reach of best in class teaching and reference materials. Note the author quoted above (Brent Schlenker in this case, a very sharp educator and aware blogger) grows misty over ‘great teachers’ producing ‘great textbooks.’ This presumes only great teachers will master the tools and build terrific texts–up to the minute, media rich and iconic.

What about the mediocre teacher who also has the technical chops to produce a compelling volume? Even if their books are clearly viewed as insipid, who is to say they won’t be adopted somewhere? The contrarian in me (a former teacher, administrator, university professor and state consultant—and textbook author) worries that we may be launching a confabulation of substandard information produced by competent software manipulators with substandard or politicized content. And where will teachers get the energy and time to organize and design and develop unique interactive texts. Even with the relative simplicity of the tools. It’s possible they’ll default to the lowest common denominator amongst content to push out material viz, rapid elearning, to speak to students in their ‘umwelt’ and that looks close to entertainment or at best edutainment.

Schools of education are totally in the Stone Age here so don’t expect teachers to experience development techniques to help them become instructional designers. Not all teachers are good writers, nor have they been trained in the profundities and nuances of graphic and interactive design. Besides the very real daily issues of keeping groups of students on task and in line are still job one in most classrooms.

Here’s a rubric that I believe tosses into the ring a way in which to examine what teacher-built texts could be.

It’s certainly not comprehensive, rather a point of departure. I’d like to start some dialogues here, look forward to a debate about the realities that will eventually present themselves as the tools roll out, and teachers commit to self-authoring. So I’ve drawn my line in the sand. I hope great teachers can not only master the technology but gain the time to produce first-rate contemporary texts—ones that can change as real facts become known. And students will be the real beneficiaries to the extant they can respond in kind by building their own materials questioning and inventing other realities. But it’s all too likely that without standards that had better evolve quickly, there’s an equal chance given the history of school progressivism, teacher built texts can be equal to the worst produced by publishers.

THE ACCIDENTAL LEARNER

There seems to be a revival of interest about informal learning. I suppose the definitions range from information gleaned from informal sources—everything from Wikipedia to People Magazine to storytelling, to disruptive media like tablets and smartphones. Some suggest it’s content discovered while looking for something else. Kind of like an accidental scavenger, a web surfer. No matter how the information is presented, gathered or used it appears the single best notion is that it was unintentional and/or secondary to the main thrust of what is or was to be learned.

Let me suggest we might think of informal learning as ‘Ad Hoc.’ This is not to say passive though it could be serendipitous – just because you ‘come across’ something worth spending time with doesn’t mean it won’t support formal content. If learning is as brain scientists tell us, empowered by the relationships of ideas, the gymnastics of making connections provides meaning and quite often enrichment; then hurrah for informal learning.

Here’s an example of, at least for me, the best kind of informal learning. My wife and I recently saw Woody Allen’s terrific film, “Midnight in Paris.” Aside from the story and plotline, the director paints the cityscape with a loving hand and inhabits it with characters from the Parisian heyday of the early to mid nineteen twenties. We get to meet Picasso and Dali, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds and Ernest Hemingway among others. And they are brought to life with dialogue they might have, and in some cases actually spoke. This is particularly true of actor Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Hemingway. Spurred on by his characterization I decided to read ‘A Moveable Feast’ the author’s description of his life in Paris as a young and struggling writer. Then too, the soundtrack with familiar tunes in some cases—and quite arguably—performed as in the case of Cole Porter just as he might at an evening soiree, that made the movie even more potent. So I purchased the soundtrack as well.

Let’s add up the ‘learning’ from a movie I intended to watch for entertainment only.

  1. A study of Parisian architecture from photographic angles and perspectives not seen in guidebooks, documentaries or even after a couple of visits.
  2. Information about art and artists, music and musicians, writers and their works.
  3. How the relationships all of these young and vibrant talents thrown together, that made what Stein coined the ‘lost generation’ such a roiling pot of creativity.
  4. Finally, the effect of this environment and people on the protagonist with whom we as an audience bond transported in a personal way.

Anyway, we went to see a movie for pleasure. However, I was encouraged to study the writing and music of the time and received enrichment and delight.

Is this informal learning? In a sense yes because the information I sought afterward was assembled organically and from curiosity. So is that a bad thing? Is the learning less important or salient? No, if you want to learn what you want to learn. When there is great enjoyment, the endorphins kick in and there is potential for exponential personal growth. Everything will have meaning to the learner.

Tablets and smartphones have made made information more readily available; time and space mean even less. If you’re intrigued about a topic then follow a thread until you are sated by a sense of completion or as has been known to happen, sensory overload.

Once we formalize the process of learning and form expectations, objectives, outcomes, KPIs, and other performance measures two things happen. The core information is delivered in a linear and focused way so it can be measured and the the opportunity to ‘drift,’ that is find casual connections is diminished. One might be told to look elsewhere for examples and so on, but nonetheless it’s scripted. There’s no denying we have to learn things we might not find particularly entertaining or mind expanding. There’s no adrenaline rush from studying topics of minimal interest even when they have career importance and possibly tied to an extrinsic reward. Nevertheless it must be done. Even if there is useful information on the periphery learners are not encouraged to seek it out.

In the field of education, one of the latest trends is that of open courses, called MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). Such courses are based on the theory of connectivism and on a network where a lot of  people are doing independent but interrelated work. It’s collaboration on a global scale. Generally, everyone is working to assemble knowledge and learn about a particular topic but individuals are free to come at it from any angle. In this way, the subject is examined from multiples of different approaches. The content is infused and enriched. I wonder if MOOCs are the beginning of a hybrid of formal and informal learning.

Could this be a model for schools?
In most secondary schools, separate classes and courses compartmentalize instruction. Students have no one place to put their learning’s together to make a cogent whole. The relationship of one course’s content to another’s goes unexplored—there is neither opportunity nor invitation for reflection. Instead of individual courses we might allow for the type of learning…based on discovery… that will resonate with students, inform them factually and humanistically. Just like “Midnight in Paris,” was a nucleus from which students set off on explorations of culture, history, literature, art, and architecture, each strand could then be explored in depth, individually. In fact, what made Paris the center of creativity in the twenties was in some part the result of the First World War, so there’s another even more potent theme just waiting to be revealed. Of course, this mean school needs to be reinvented and there really is no interest in a meaningful reconstitution of education. But let’s not get into that.

The Corporate Venue
This might be tougher, especially if the topic is narrow, technical, and the skills learned must be applied in a direct and rigid way. In addition, this is often necessary. Learning to run an application, program a website, or design a manufacturing process to take costs from production offers few opportunities for exploration of happenstance. And yet, ask anyone who programs in code how they get into a zone and become fabulously productive for a given and fixed period of time. What sets this the ball in motion? Creativity is spurred on, we know, when there is a deep emotional response or a rich intellectual insight within the grasp of an individual. Could it be the distillation of informal and passive explorations can provide this jump-start? Moreover, if so, how will corporate educators adjust for that kind of opportunity, the kind that seeks to spur on creativity on a wholesale basis? I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn the greatest creators in the past few decades have emerged not from formalized training programs in education settings but rather from the fringes of experience earned by ‘messing around’ with ‘stuff’ that captivated and later drove them to explore more formally ways to capitalize on their ideas.

And so…
I’m afraid I’ve raised more questions than provided answers. I suppose that keeps in the spirit of informal learning though. We do know that both formal and informal education is important and each has utility. If I pose any argument it’s that in our rush to inject learners with information we leave out experiences that will not only make the learning more colorful and retentive but we perpetuate the perception that there are two kinds of learning; formal for school and work and informal for pleasure and personal growth. And that’s just unfortunate.