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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Creating Learning is Not Always the Answer

There are often times when learning interventions (training classes or modules) are designed and implemented but are not really needed. This happens with traditional classroom instruction and with newer technologies like Virtual Immersive Environments.

Why does this happen? Let's look at some things.

Suppose for a moment, a person or persons can perform a job but are not interested in doing it to the fullest potential. This could be because of improper incentives, poor tools or poor working conditions. An e-learning module or classroom instruction won't help this type of situation. Yet, often training is put forth as a solution. As instructional designers we need to push back on such requests.

Other times the task may be so large and complex that an employee really needs help and not more instruction (this is happening now in organizations because companies are operating below adequate staff levels due to budget constraints.) In these cases, if a learning intervention is delivered it won't make the additional work go away, in fact it might make the employee further behind because they've lost time "learning". This just causes frustration and leads to a bad image of learning and development initiatives because they seem to "just waste time" when real work needs to be done. Management doesn't get the blame, the learning and development people take the hits.

This is why needs assessments are necessary no matter what. We need to help organizations avoid unnecessary training. Here is an example of why an assessment is so critical:

At a manufacturing plant, employees consistently failed to reach their production quotas. The manufacturing manager believed the reason was because the employees were inadequately trained in the proper production techniques. He believed that if employees were better trained, they would produce more parts and meet their quotas. So he allocated $250,000 for the training to be developed and hired an e-leanring firm to get to work.

The first step the firm did was to conduct a needs assessment (against the protests of the manager who "knew" what the problem was.)

The assessment revealed that the workers actually did know proper production techniques but purposefully slowed down production because previously whenever quotas were reached, management increased the quotas without any corresponding rewards. The recommendation to management was not to spend the remaining part of the $250,000 on training but to develop a reward system that provided incentives the workers to reach the quota and not punish them every time they met the numbers.

If they would have developed the learning modules, no changes would have occurred and the money spent on the learning would have been wasted. Remember to always conduct a needs assessment to avoid creating learning events when they aren't really needed. And if this is part of the "long, rigid, outdated instructional design process", then so be it! Building inappropriate instruction faster and more efficiently is a waste! Taking the time to avoid creating the wrong solution to the problem is of value in any organization at any time.

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Amin Marts said...

Performing a needs assessment is a sound practice. In the case study you provided there’s an abyss. It exists between the responsibilities of an organizational development firm and an e-learning organization. It makes sense that through an analysis of the issue, the true reasons for employee unrest would be uncovered. I am doubtful the same e-learning firm would be capable of formulating an actionable, deep dive employee compensation plan to mitigate management missteps.

Likewise, from my vantage point it would be appropriate to consult with or defer to an organizational development firm to truly solve the issue.

Karl Kapp said...


Thanks for the comment. You point out a clear disconnect (maybe not so clear to me since I included it in my example) but you are absolutely right.

Many e-learning firms would not have the ability to address the issue (and few would probably leave the "money on the table") by walking away.

As a possible solution, perhaps e-learning firms should consider having partnerships with performance improvement, OD or HR firms, so they could bring in their partners in these types of situations.

And when Organizational Development, or HR firms run into truly e-learning development they could return the favor.

Thanks for taking the time to make an excellent point about the skills necessary to solve the problem once discovered!

Veronica said...

good post!
thank you!