Coincidentally I entered into the discussion in separate occasions with others on how to sustain the impact of learning interventions. Whilst achieving 100% learning transfer all the time is not possible, I think the question is more about ‘How to sustain learning impact to a larger extent?’ Among all the ideas we discussed, it seems to me the ARL (Action Reflection Learning) practice is still the key. (Yet, it is not without implementation challenges)
I may have written some of the following points before. Allow me to refresh my thought (to myself) by possibly repeating some.
I think ARL, or the practice of ‘Learning whilst Earning’ is the future. I once was asked a question ‘What do you think the future of leadership development will be?’ Ideas came to my mind and I said:
“I think we will not have any traditional openly-nominated classroom-based workshop. We will not have a fixed schedule and thick binders for the learners. We will not do Just-in-Case learning anymore. In the future, we will do Just-in-Time learning. Our facilitators will go into business meetings, perhaps those annual strategy planning meetings. We facilitate their real business discussion. More than that, we will pause the leaders to reflect on their behaviors in the meetings and if necessary we will introduce some concepts or tools for them to use on spot.”
There are a few reasons why this is probably the future:
Learners’ Commitment – There are lot of problems in the Just-in-Case setting. I become more and more skeptical of ‘prisoner’ type of learners. They are in the learning event because they are asked to. Everybody suffers – themselves, the fellow learners and the facilitator. Time is wasted. However, if the event is a real business meeting, everyone will be much more engaged. Things are relevant and real. And if we can introduce tools and concepts to be immediately used in the on-going situations, learning retention is high by definition.
Sponsors’ Commitment – No matter how well one learns in a workshop, learning retention will drop a great deal if he or she is not supported to apply the learning back in the workplace. And the line managers are the most important factor determining whether there is enough support. A typical example – one learn the GROW model to coach. He applies it back to the workplace but is challenged by his line managers on why he asked so many questions instead of just telling. And the line managers in fact always just tell. This will kill his learning on coaching skills right away.
On the other hand, if we install learning in a real business setting, the sponsors are likely involved and in fact become learners as well.
Effectiveness Measurement – Learning professionals have been struggling how to measure effectiveness on leadership development initiative. There is no perfect solution yet. However, in the Just-in-Case setting, the intervention effort can possibly result in better business result e.g. cost saving / attrition rate, on top of developing leaders.
Cost Pressure – Given the more and more difficult operating environment, learning resources will likely be cut ……. unless we can prove the effectiveness. When the next financial crisis comes, it is not unlikely that corporations will further either cut down the stand-alone learning department or outsources majority of the work. It will however be a different proposition if the so-called learning department can facilitate both earning and learning. I wrote more about this idea in my previous blog post Forget about ‘Training’
Despite the above, the move from traditional practice to ‘Connecting Earning with Learning’ is still a big paradigm shift for most organizations. Essentially, it is ‘safe’ to run traditional classes. And there are often stakeholders with vested interest to the traditional practice.
To me, the key outstanding questions are:
- How to balance the need for consistency in learning across the organization in adopting Just-in-Time learning approach?
- Should we adopt a higher balance of conformity for more junior learners i.e. less Just-in-Time? And if so, how much and where to draw the line?
- What kinds of quality are needed for the facilitators or Team Coaches to be able to conduct Just-in-Time learning?
- How to build the initial success in order to influence other stakeholders?