Of late, I’m working in a couple of engagements where the issue of learning and performance strategy have come up. It has prompted some thoughts both on my part and the part of my clients. I think it’s worth laying out some of the issues and thinking, and of course I welcome your thoughts. So here are some reflections on whether to use learning or performance strategy as an organizing concept.
In one case, an organization decreed that they needed a learning strategy. Taken with my backwards design diagram from the learning science book, I was tasked with determining what that means. In this case, the audience can’t be mandated with classes or tutorials. So really, the only options are to support performance in the moment and develop them over time. Thus we focus on job aids and examples. I think of it as a ‘performance strategy’, not a learning one.
In the other case, an organization is executing on a shift from a training philosophy to a performance focus. Which of course I laud, but the powers-that-be expect it to yield less training without much other change. Here I’m pushing for performance support, and the thinking is largely welcome. However, it’s a mindset shift for a group that previous was developing training.
I general, I support thinking that goes beyond the course, and for the optimal execution side of a full ecosystem, you want to look at outcomes and let that drive you. It includes performance consulting, so you’re applying the right solution to performance gaps, not the convenient one (read: ‘courses’ ;). Thus, I think it makes more sense to talk performance strategy than learning one.
Even then, the question becomes what does such a strategy really entail, whether learning or performance. Really, it’s about having a plan in place to systematically prioritize needs and address them in effective ways. It’s not just design processes that reflect evidence-informed principles, though it includes that. It’s also, however, ways to identify and track problems, attach organizational costs and solution costs, and choose where to invest resources. It includes front-end analysis, but also ongoing-monitoring.
It also involves other elements. For one, the technology to hand; what solutions are in use and ensuring a process of ongoing reviews. This includes both formal learning tools including the LMS and LXP, but also informal learning tools such as social media platforms and collaborative documents. Another issue is management: lifecycle monitoring, ownership, and costs.
There’s a lot that goes into it, but being strategic about your approach keeps you from just being tactical and missing the forest for the trees. A lot of L&D is reactive, and I am suggesting that L&D needs to be come proactive. This includes going from courses to performance, as a first step. The next step is to facilitating informal learning and driving innovation in the organization. Associated elements include meaningful measurement and truly understanding how we learn for a firm basis upon which to ground both formal and informal learning. Those are my thoughts a learning or performance strategy, what am I missing?
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