Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

20 March 2009

Meeting unreasonable needs

Clark @ 10:41 AM

I was contacted yesterday by a relatively new ID person, who was in a tough spot.  This person understood the principles of Tony Karrer’s “Before You Ask” post, as the situation was well laid out.  Some help was asked for (clearly no expectation other than, perhaps, a thoughtful reply; the circumstances were quite clear).

The situation is that this person is the support for an LMS across multiple geographic locations.  The ID was hired to do ‘training’ on the system, but access to SMEs is limited at beast, the uses in the different contexts were different enough that a course model isn’t a viable solution, yet this person wasn’t clear on what alternatives to take: “I am beginning to think that the position is flawed in its design.”

For what it’s worth, here’s what I replied (slightly modified for clarity and anonymity):

First, I’d offer a pointer to John Carroll’s minimalist instruction (via “The Nurnberg Funnel”).  He taught a word processing system via a set of cards that trumped the instructionally designed manual by focusing on the learners’ existing knowledge and goals.  It’d be one way to ‘teach photography’ instead of ‘the camera’.

Of course, I also recommend teaching ‘the model’, not the software *nor* the task. That is, what is the LMS’s underlying model, and how does it lead you to predict how to do x, y, and z.  If you can teach the model, and through a couple of examples and practice get them to be able to infer how to do other tasks, you’ve minimized ‘training’ and maximized their long-term success.  Your lack of access to SMEs means you have to become one, however, I reckon.  Doing good ID does mean more responsibility on the designer in any case.  Sorry.

On top of either approach (common tasks, or model-based learning) consider that your role is to put out some basic materials (don’t think training, think job aids), and then serve as a ‘consultant’.  Have them come to you to ask how to do things, and either create FAQ’s or more job aids, depending on their need and your assessment of the value proposition in either.  So don’t think your only solution is ‘training’.

Also consider gestating a ‘community’ to surround your wiki, and grow it into a self-help resource that people can get into to the level they can handle.  Have discussion board where people can post questions. You’ll be busy at first, but if they find value, it can grow to be self-sustaining.  People will often self-help, if it’s easy enough.

BTW, another organization had some success many years ago starting with a central office, bringing in and training local ‘champions’ who gradually moved the locus of responsibility back to their unit.  Of course, they got buy-in to do so, but you might try to work with your early adopters and help them become the local resources.

Overall, don’t try to accomplish everything with ‘the course’, but look to the broader range of performance ecosystem components (if you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m talking job aids, ecommunity, etc) and balance your efforts appropriately.

The response was that this was, indeed, helpful.  I feel for the person in the situation of having to do a particular role when the ‘received wisdom’ about how to do it is at odds with what really is useful, and is underresourced to boot. A too-frequent situation, and probably not decreasing, sigh.  But taking the broader performance perspective is a useful framework I also found useful in another recent engagement, professional development for teachers.  Don’t just worry about getting them the basics, and develop them as practitioners, even into experts, as well.  Moreover, help them help themselves!

This is just the type of situation where taking a step back and looking at what is being done can yield ways to rethink, or even just fine-tune the approach.  I typically find that it’s the case that there *are* such opportunities, and it’s an easy path to better outcomes.  Of course, I also find that years of experience and a wealth of relevant frameworks makes that easier ;).  What is your experience in adapting to circumstances and improving situations?


  1. The person who sent this responded with a subsequent note, which would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic:

    Just thought you might be interested…

    I attended a conference on my software this past weekend, and I signed up for the train the trainer track.

    Everyone was promoting tool-based instruction (click here, press this button, etc). It was kind of depressing.

    None of the ‘train the trainers’ mentioned anything about job aids, collaborative learning, etc. Basically anything that you and other prominent bloggers talk about in your blogs or anything that I learn in grad school wasn’t even mentioned.

    ADDIE, however, was mentioned plenty of times,which was really comical because I was reading your recent post about ADDIE on my iPhone during one of the sessions. I was even given a Jeopardy PowerPoint filled with questions about buttons and their functions so learners could “memorize” these.

    Again, it’s tough for young IDs who are trying to do things based on recent research, emerging practices, and new ideas from prominent ID bloggers when you have folks who haven’t learned anything about the field for 30 years ‘training the trainer”.

    Anyway, all in all, It was very disappointing.

    No doubt. Sigh.

    Comment by Clark — 28 March 2009 @ 1:23 PM

  2. That last sentence reminded me of Roger Schank’s comment: it took the training profession 30 years to get the overhead projector out of the bowling alley.

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 8 April 2009 @ 4:47 PM

  3. […] Wickham gives a great example of ‘the model’ approach Clark Quinn recently wrote about. The idea is to think less about ‘training’ and think more about job aids. […]

    Pingback by Training others on things you know next to nothing about…by not ‘training’ | Workplace Learning Today — 9 April 2009 @ 5:02 AM

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