I had lunch with John Darling of Q2Learning today. They’ve got an interesting positioning, going beyond just learning events to a learning experience with a stated goal of achieving proficiency. I’d known him from before through the eLearning Forum, but we’d never really sat down and talked. We’d gotten connected via TogetherLearn, and naturally our conversation ranged around formalizing informal learning.
We were talking about a conversation he had with a CFO, where the CFO estimated about 3% of their budget was going to training, and admitted that they needed 20-25% improvement in their ability. Obviously, there are issues of whether traditional training could have that big an impact, but clearly there’s a mismatch.
Now, I believe that learning is more than skilling up to some minimal baseline. I believe it encompasses the information access to support performance, mentoring from the top end of novice through practitioner, and communication and collaboration that supports problem-solving and innovation. And the associated skills. Not only do novel inquiries and problems get dealt with, but new products, services, customer experiences, and more are the outcome of the full performance ecosystem.
There are two obvious questions here: where would an organization get 20-25% performance improvement? Not just from training, I’ll wager. You need to create a more coherent learnscape, where people are continually moving to the center of their communities of practice, where more people are effective learners, self-learners, and together-learners, where the cultural values and learning skills are as explicit as the organizational goals and individual roles. I’d suggest that you’ll get more from wrapping structure around informal than investing purely in formal! (Which is not to say that formal isn’t needed, though if it’s no better than most of the training that’s out there, it may as well not be done…)
The other question is: where’s the money? I want to suggest that when it gets into problem-solving, innovation, etc, it goes beyond a training budget to operations and R&D. R&D will undoubtedly have some infrastructure costs, but I’ll suggest that the innovation and problem-solving skills that are supported across the organization will have a substantial impact on R&D outcomes as well as more operational metrics. Similarly, operations has some ancillary costs, but support costs should be minimized by both empowering staff to augment their resources and sharing their learnings. For that matter, marketing gets into the picture when you consider bringing customers into the learning equation (they will self-help if they can with a reasonable amount of effort!).
My point is that we’re thinking about organizational learning wrong, and consequently we’re thinking wrong about outcomes and budgets wrong as well. Training departments are often encouraged to be strategic. What I want to suggest is strategic, at the organizational level, is thinking of learning as a continuum from formal to exploration, and recognizing that it is an increasing contribution to organizational success.
In short, we don’t deserve a budget if we’re not contributing to real outcomes, and the outcomes that matter are going to shift from mere ability to excellence, from following the procedure to solving problems, from product life-cycles to customized solutions.
So get strategic, and start thinking about systemic support for ‘learning’. You’ll get the budget you deserve, so deserve a meaningful budget!