It’s easy to talk principle. (And I do. ;) Yet, there are pragmatics we have to deal with, as well. For instance, with ‘clients’ (internal or external), giving us their desired outcomes that are vague and unfocused. We generally don’t want to educate them about our business, yet we need more focused guidance. Particularly when it comes to designing meaningful practice. How, then, do we get from platitudes to pragmatics?
To be clear, what’s driving this is trying to create practice that will lead to actual outcomes. That’s, first, because our practice is the most tangible manifestation of the performance objectives. Also, because it is also the biggest contributor to learning actually having an impact! We need good objectives to know what we’re targeting and then the next thing we need to do is design the practice. After we design practice, we can develop the associated content, etc. How do we get this focus?
I see several ways. Ideally, we can engage with clients in a productive conversation. We can do the advocated ‘yes and…’ approach, where we turn the conversation to the outcomes they’re looking for, and ideally even to metrics. E.g. “how will we know when we’ve succeeded?” When we hear “our sales cycle takes too long” or “our closure rate isn’t good enough” if the topic is sale, there’re metrics there. If we hear “too many errors in manufacturing” or “customer service ratings aren’t high enough”, that’s quantifiable, and we have a target.
There are other situations, however. We might not get metrics, so then we might have to infer them from the performance outcomes. When we hear “we need sales training” or “we need to review the manufacturing process” or “we need a refresher on customer service”, it’s a bit vaguer. We should try and dig in (“what part of sales isn’t up to scratch” or “what are customers complaining about”), but we may not always have the opportunity. Still, we can make practice assignments around these. We can provide practice around the specific associated tasks.
What really is the biggest problem is ‘awareness’ courses. “I just want folks to know this.” (Which begs the question: why?) I fear that part of the answer is a legacy belief that we’re formal logical reasoning beings and so new information will change our behavior. (NOT!) It can also be because the client just doesn’t know any better, nor have any greater insight than “if they know it, it is good”. However, I still think there’s something we can do here. Even if it’s a case of ‘easier to get forgiveness than permission’.
I think we can infer what people would do with the information. If they insist we need to be aware of harassment, or diversity, or… we can ask ourselves “what would folks do differently?” One decision is to intervene, or report, or ignore. Another might be where and how to do those things. In general, even though the requester isn’t aware, there’s something they actually expect people to do. We have to infer what that can be. Then, they can critique, but it’s more effective for the organization and more engaging for the learner. That, to me, is a reasonable justification!
Whether it’s mapped to multiple choice questions (see Patti Shank’s seminal book on the topic), scenarios (Christy Tucker is one of our gurus), or full games (I have my own book on that ;), we need to give learners practice in dealing with the situations that use the information. I think we can work from platitudes to pragmatics, and should. What do you think?