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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Learning Design: The Great, The Good and The Good Enough

This could be a story about buggy whips. You might know the classic management tale of the craftsman who was proud of building the most handsome and useful whips to spur on carriage horses at the turn of the last century. Unfortunately, as you you probably know the tale, carriages once replaced by the automobile rendered his lovely product useless.

I have watched from the trenches and sidelines as classes of learning professionals are now being divided —again by technology into two camps; those who know how learning should be constructed and craft it and those who can manufacture, at time and cost savings, the actual product.

Learning designers strategize how to solve problems to achieve performance improvement applying theory to fact and constructing course elements, flows and production processes. They gain agreement with stakeholders about content, audience, time on learning and assessment and the larger components of an experience. They scaffold the project so each step falls into place in a logical progression. In some cases, the learning designer will offer a narrative reflecting the content back to the stakeholders to ensure the critical content is captured. Additionally they might also write the actual storyboard incorporating the elements including the interactive and experiential (as well as social) elements that will make the course interesting if not compelling. The best and greatest courseware, the most inventive and exciting depends on a designer who can sculpt content into a story, then work with an interactive and/or graphic designer to sharpen the user experience across multiple platforms finally passing the work to a developer to program—as designed—for implementation.

Background3

Developers are those folks who know how to use the tools chosen by the enterprise to express content online in an effective and dynamic format. For the past number of years, while learning theory and ideas about making courses exciting have evolved growing with the speed and bandwidth available for elements like video, developer tools have been refined exponentially. Think of the industrial model—build an assembly line, now improve the assembly line and the tools—then make better products. However, this works well only when everything being made is a replica set to standardized requirements. Learning is not like that. Even when producing multiple courses with similar content, the opportunity to breathe excitement into each one is more present when designers do what they do best and developers express it. No template, no matter how sophisticated can allow for all the shadings required by great learning. Instead developers take the tools and either use them out of the box or, as I saw in a number of organizations, create, and in most cases struggle to build work-arounds expressing the designers intent while trying for hours to keep within the constraints of the software. An entire industry has been built around PowerPoint (by example) as the foundation for programs like Articulate. And the tide is with them since money flows downhill from big corporate enterprises and their subordinate constituencies. Better, faster, cheaper. And good enough.

The precedent for this was the explosive improvement in desktop publishing more than a decade back; once an associate learned the software they could generate print materials. The problem—and the connection to the current argument, is simply that these folks were not trained as graphic designers. The results spoke for themselves; a lot of bad design, quickly produced and reproduced. Moreover, when it was accepted by many managers as ‘good enough’ the die was cast for the attitudes we see now in learning design and development.

Here lies the collision and connection: In the hopes that ‘rapid’ eLearning cannot only reduce the time to create courseware the tools, ever more nuanced, allow developers to become designers as well. It’s seductive; managers cut down head count, more work can be pushed out the door by learning groups under pressure to deliver fast changing content, and costs drop when the designer, a more highly trained, often senior and knowledgeable resource can be set aside or redeployed. I don’t believe there has been a study conducted on performance improvement or even a Kirkpatrick view of which types of courses yield intended results. But I do know anecdotally that learning designed courses, where each professional works to their strength always seem to have an A-ha factor. Most other courses—those of the template kind—are utilitarian and though they might satisfy the requirements or outcomes, learner satisfaction cannot compare. This is dangerous and grows more so every day as multi-generational learners want different kinds of learning experiences.

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The facts are there is room at the learning table for both types of development. However, there is no real lobbying group or organized industry to support the learning designer model. My fear is that learning and instructional design preparation will move even further towards the industrial model, templatized learning produced by individuals whose preparation has introduced them to a fair amount about learning…and the skillsets demanded to operate the tools. Unfortunately, there is too much complexity and uniqueness in learning to allow for excellence when this mashup becomes the status quo.

Those of us who have grown up in the era of learning design are more than ever segregated from access to development. Even with HTML5 used by great developers who can customize components to meet learning design objectives with wonderful precision, I see a rending of the system that will soon go the way of the buggy whip. So much of life today, from the professional sphere to just everyday life seems to be populated by people who figure that good enough is just that. Time is precious, financial strains are everywhere, the speed of life is overtaking the human ability to sustain its own sense of equilibrium in a world of instant everything. So let it go and accept the outlier will be the customization of learning only when absolutely defended by insistent clients with the budget and care to desire excellence. Otherwise, wait for tools to exhibit their next iteration, artificial intelligence.

 

Overcoming Generation Differences When Building Learning: Part 2

When we last visited this topic about a week back I promised to create a visual—a chart of sorts—to encourage learning and instructional designers to consider how generational bias in training delivery. Just looking to start a conversation.

A Quick Review
You might want to pop back to the original article: http://tiny.cc/qpsrax

We know we’re engaging three distinct groups in today’s workplace, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (Millenials). Each has specific preferences for general communication and they carry over in training as well. Whether creating a training program when all three groups are in the room or accessing courses online demands the learning designer incorporate specific ways of delivering information with the appropriate assets, techniques, and technologies. Initially, we would hope learners, right from the first word or screen, slide or handout, would buy-in and see value; a predisposition that his will be a good experience. During the training, we build formative experiences to keep all groups interested and motivated to continue, committed that the investment in time is worthwhile. Finally we would want participants to exit the training experience appreciating it was translatable into their work life. If this is accomplished, the next training experience will be viewed much more favorably and meet with less resistance.

Acknowledging their generational age, and considering their technological age (how savvy are they to tech) as well as comfort with social media, influences how they will respond to courseware. Though there are three distinct groups, many learners exhibit the preferences for learning outside the generational ‘norm’. These people are to be commended for either learning new technology, appreciating other ways of ‘seeing’ learning or just curious enough to drop a toe in the fast flowing stream of change. We need to depend on these folks to help convert those who tend to be inflexible.

Caveats abound:

  • This is not a fully scientific approach nor based on academic, androgogical research
  • It is the product of crowdsourcing, anecdotal research and discussion with hundreds of learning/instructional designers and clients not to mention intuition
  • My professional experience over thousands of hours of course building across more than twenty verticals and five geos and over 25 years of design have informed these findings, too

I am fully prepared to hear from all quarters. It’s a living document—a work in progress— so send your ideas to rshadrin@wonderfulbrain.com. I’m hoping criticism will help improve this instrument not merely tell me where to get off or how narrow-minded, oblique or stupid this exercise is.

Anyway, someone had to put a stake in the ground. Apparently me. I hope it doesn’t end up in my heart.

Ultimately, the learning designer has to make everyone happy if information transfer is to take place. Elements that ‘favor’ one group more than another will always be necessary. If knowledge, skills and behaviors are to be transmitted, absorbed and used than instructional design should seek balance. Occasionally this compromise is not appreciated nor well tolerated across the generations. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to honor each aspect of the generation’s learning preferences and mitigate those that irritate others. Skillful designers know how to navigate these choppy waters and subtle mixtures of learning preferences can always be developed. Can the design ever be perfect. Well, no. But reasonable learners in all generations can recognize when attempts are made to entice them into a learning experience. And the organization expects each generation, besides tolerance, adapt as necessary to improve performance and solve problems through learning and training experiences.

GenCon

LEADERS ARE TOO FAR UPSTREAM TO EFFECT CHANGE—TALENT MANAGEMENT MUST BE FOCUSED DOWNSTREAM ON MANAGERS

Who hasn’t been the recipient of the exhortations of motivation? It seems everywhere; used to suggest, cajole and inspire workers. Indeed exhort all of us to get out in front of a task and get going. I remember, I think, a professor or mentor of mine in the education business who consistently said that motivation, a mental state, is not what we want to create. No, he said, what we really want is movement.

Movement is measurable, while motivation lies within us affected by a variety of mental attitudes and internal prejudices. Whereas movement can be evaluated against expectations or scales of achievement, motivation is opaque to the organization seeking its presence.

This may not be news, but in the context of leadership and management, the misapplication of either motivation or movement in an opposing context can often lead to problems. Furthermore, with the push towards the nurturing of talent; talent management as its referred, it’s worth a look at how these states might be aligned to justify the effort, time and resources placed in readying current employees for more responsibility.

The End of Motivation?
No discussion of motivation can take place without clearing up the idea of incentives. Leaders continually seek ways of extracting more or better from their minions, only to find most systems never seem to yield consistent results. Incentivizing workers of any level with rewards, extrinsic or intrinsic seems to work only when there are simple goals to achieve and solid rules to guide performance. The problem of if-then reward schemes is a narrow focus on the task at hand. In many studies, incentives have been shown to effectively kill creativity. In sales and mechanical tasks, incentives may work but only sometimes, and not for long. However, as Daniel Pink has noted, as soon as performance requires any additional cognitive skill (e.g. reasoning) even a larger reward leads to decreased performance. He notes that the London School of Economics has found financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance. And not to be overlooked, robotics are increasingly eliminating the types of work for which incentives would prove even marginally valuable.

So what to do? Firstly, let’s accept motivation for movement lies in the realm of management and distinct from leadership. The traditional definition of management says if you want compliance then create a linear system of compartmentalized tasks and add people adequately skilled to so function. Then stand back and measure, doling out cash to the top performers. The disconnect between this conceit and the new working environment fails to account for the types of problems so prevalent now—devoid of a clear set of rules, or a single solution or only one right answer. More often than ever before, business problems demand more right brain, conceptual activity. When challenges are mystifying and abstract, if-then reward systems/incentives don’t work. Since most jobs that demand compartmentalization and linearity are so easy to outsource (or robotize), tradition bound incentives, or motivation through rewards are useless. Nevertheless, what about managers who must raise the performance of workers, achieve cost/time/efficiency savings, another top, or bottom line positive changes?

Science and Business
There is a mismatch between what science knows and business does. For instance, we know, and studies show when people want to succeed because the problem matters, because it’s important or interesting or because it is bigger than themselves, they require no external rewards to perform at high levels. An operational paradigm that recognizes mastery, autonomy, and purpose will encourage workers to respond with energy to the types of business challenges in today’s workplace. If managers want workers to perform up, then the challenges and types of work that must be solved have to be designed to respond to these human factors. Is it the job of managers who require relatively simple tasks to be executed to re-form the jobs not into compartments of interchangeable elements but to something more interesting? The answer is yes. If we need new managers capable of thinking this way than that’s where talent management learning might start. Remember it’s not the manager who does the work…but managers need to set conditions where others can and do to their utmost abilities. Some might say this is starting to sound like leadership. But leaders themselves are too far distant from actual work.

Why Managers Need to be Leaders
The 20th century business model erects a formidable wall between management and leadership. Yet in this century it should be clear anyone in authority—having the responsibility to move (not just motivate) people to perform must embody both managerial skills and leadership qualities. When companies speak of talent management they still, in most cases, make distinctions among the types of employees who earn or receive the types of learning that prepares them for one role or the other. That distinction might best be obliterated. If managers are incapable of leadership perhaps they should not be managers. Not to be harsh but given the types of conceptual as well as practical business challenges that will engage enterprises big and small if there is no leadership in management (and the converse it true) success will be most difficult. Workers as people are different; those who guide their tasks had better be aligned to their ways.

Leadership Is Too Far Upstream
We know leadership has two distinct functions particularly in large enterprises; imbuing the business mission with vision and tone and setting priorities and policies. However to change performance I suggest unless a leader is in total control—think Jack Welch or Steve Jobs—they are too distant—to far upstream from the action to make a difference in how people move and their commitment to performance. Even Jobs, perhaps the most hands-on of any modern executive even with supreme governance required intermediaries, subordinates…managers to transfer his visions into reality.

Without direct control of how problems are phrased and scoped, organized and aligned, leaders may exude all the power their words can muster but won’t help a local team produce better or faster solutions.

Here’s a descriptive chart breaking down leadership and management from different perspectives:

    Leadership   Management
Core Art Science
Visionaries Technicians
Process Upstream–Strategic Downstream–Tactical
Personality Driver Charismatic Pragmatic
Foundation Situational Empirical/Formulaic
Modality Front, top, prior to action Within or during action
Structure Ideas, theory Hands-on, get it done
Action Thinking Scheduling
Metric KPIs FTEs
Skill Motivation Movement

The Talent Management Function
There’s no question leadership is vital to any enterprise. In addition, leaders can come in all shapes and sizes, talents, strengths, weaknesses and deficits. Many companies thrive with lousy leadership—but none can survive without skilled managers, especially those who can meld some of the qualities of leadership into the organizing behaviors of managing.

I suppose the final tally of all the characteristics in the chart can be boiled down to the simple idea that talent management learning programs should be less focused on building leadership and more attuned to managerial competence. Bringing management into a 21st century paradigm will directly encourage people to do great work. Employees will move towards excellence when problems support autonomy, permitting their own way of working out a problem, provide opportunities and tools to allow mastery to flourish and offer a clear purpose that serves the greater service. Incentives, no matter what type are contradictory to this type of cooperative milieu. Managers who are skilled in creating this type of work situation, who have received the education and training they need to create such an environment will be the backbone of every successful enterprise. Shifting resources from building leadership qualities for leaders only to ensuring hands on managers have the skills and knowledge, techniques and tactics they need, will lay a foundation to ensure the survival of the enterprise even as leaders wash in and out with the tides.