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Monday, March 10, 2008

Who's Responsible for This?

ASTD's Big Question this month (March) is actually two questions and since I helped Tony Karrer tweak the question a bit, I feel I must offer some type of answer (plus I aways enjoy the discussion around the Big Question.)

So, here is the big question for this month:
  • Do educational institutions and corporate learning & development departments have responsibility for supporting Long Tail Learning? Do they have responsibility for learning beyond what can be delivered through instruction? If so, what is their responsibility? Where is the edge of responsibility?

  • Similarly, does the instructor have a responsibility to help students make sense of or deal with content he or she did not teach the students? In other words, if a student finds information on the Internet or some other place, how much time and attention should the instructor allow for the discussion of such content? Should it be discussed at all if it is non-conventional or generally thought of as not credible or contradicts the instructor? Who determines credible research? Is all non-referred research questionable?
I think corporate learning departments need to go through the same evolutionary process that the quality control departments of manufacturing companies have gone through over the past 50 years.

Prior to the 1980s, most manufacturing organizations "inspected in" quality. In other words, there jobs were like policemen, they randomly stopped and inspected products to find defects. If a defect was found the entire box or lot or whatever measure was used was scrapped and the production workers simply re-did that production run with, hopefully, better results.

Then in the 1980s with the advent of all types of quality movements, philosophies and ideas, the quality department changed from inspecting in quality to helping create processes and procedures that helped to ensure quality was part of the standard operating procedure. They didn't inspect a part after it was manufactured, instead they showed the operator how to determine if a machine was running in tolerance or trending toward non-tolerance. They didn't hold a product up to the light to see if it had defects, they looked to see if the SOP was followed and whether or not the process was accurately performed time and time again. People at first thought that quality would be prohibitively expensive but found that quality actually reduced costs, less mistakes, less recalls, less rework. The quality department became experts in the quality process and taught others how to create quality products through quality processes. They weren't the police any more, they were the architects.

Training and development departments need to become the architects of learning within an organization but not the sole builders. It is the responsibility of the learning organizations to create the standards, best practices and suggested SOPs for creating content and then let the learners within the organization create the content under those guidelines. Trying to hoard the creation and dissemination of knowledge in one area is non-sense but so is expecting a line manager to know how to create good instruction. However, if the line manager follows guidelines created by learning and development professionals (who have a degree) then he or she can create something that meets the needs and is acceptable at a basic level.

This is a model that can work with large organizations where every person may need to create some type of instructional piece for someone. Organizations need to have training SOPs that can be followed by others to create instruction in a wiki, blog or PowerPoint when needed. Learning and development professionals must stop trying to create all the needed instruction (loosing battle) and start creating templates, guides and performance support systems that can be used by others to create instruction on an ad hoc basis.

Turning to academia, I think the instructor has an obligation to the learners to allow all types of content into class (as long as it is related) so an open debate can be had about its appropriateness. No one person can know everything and every field as a story of a rogue researcher that is ridiculed and then, much later, the field finds out the researcher was, all along, correct and the entire field was under a terrible mis-conception. On the other hand, there is a lot of quack research in all types of fields. In a classroom, in academia, I think one must discuss the fundamentals and basics to give the students a solid academic leg to stand on. Then, other contrarian views can be discussed, weighed and considered. It is a bad practice to dismiss an idea out-of-hand. Academia, of all places, should allow a healthy debate and discussion of many views and ideas and allow the learner to ultimately decide what is correct based on an understanding of the facts.

We in academia must teach our learners how to examine research for flaws and how to interpret studies. Careful consideration of many view points is valid but we must also teach our learners how to tell the "snake oil" salesperson from someone with a legitimate alternative point of view....much easier said than done...I admit.


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for stressing the importance of open discussion in academia. Too often, there is this idea that the professor is the "expert" and she is imparting her knowledge on the students. It is important to realize that the classroom should foster open discussion and the professor-student relationship should be one predicated on reciprocity. Even if students present an idea that is false, they must feel comfortable in their ability to propose differing viewpoints. This act of research and questions can be more important than the actual question at hand. This will support an inquisitive nature and reinforce the need for academic research.