Learning and Development – Design

20151104_145237In the last post we talked about a learning design role that recognized the primary variable affecting the potential for behavior change was an extended time frame. Where the expert or the learning content is seen as secondary in importance. This post will be looking a little deeper at design for larger numbers of people that enables higher numbers of interaction and focuses on context.

If the expert or content is secondary it is important to understand what ‘they’ are actually doing in an extended time frame design. A good place to look to investigate this is with the designs currently being used such as coaching, mentoring or action learning.

Interaction Model

When you look at what happens in these designs through the interaction model you see continual movement around the model with shifting intentions based on interactions, incremental shifts in redefining experience and numerous ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ as new gestures are attempted and responses received as a new left loop is potentially built.

The expert or the content is actually quite a small part of the overall process. The number of interactions they have an effect on with the learner is quite small compared to the number of interactions the learner is having over time. However there are three very important aspects they bring to an extended time frame process.

  1. Performance pressure
  2. Concepts to experiment with to change interactions
  3. A process for learner reflection

Performance pressure

The expert (coach/mentor for example) brings a level of performance pressure simply because there are regularly scheduled interactions between the expert and learner over this extended time frame. The learner feels a need to have ‘performed’ in the interval between interactions.

Concepts to experiment with to change interactions

Typical learning content tends to be quite specific (i.e. active listening, questioning skills etc.). As this content is applied through interactions over time there is less specificity since the application of the content/skill ALWAYS changes the skill. This is due to the different responses we receive as we gesture toward others using these specific skills. Learning content broadens out to become a concept over extended applications.  Active listening and questioning skills (learning content) become effective communication (concept). This is an important distinction and one not often seen as affected by an extended time frame learning design.

When power is attributed to learning content and the assumption is that power creates certainty, the assumption extends to the gesture response part of the interaction model. This means if you effectively apply the content/skill as a gesture, the response should be predictable (certain). The left facing arrowhead of the gesture response is eliminated.

Over numerous applications (actual experience in a real context!) in an extended time frame design the learner recognizes that the left facing arrowhead certainly does exist! Over time they adjust their application of the skill as the context requires and the skill is no longer specific but a focused pattern of changing applications; a concept.

In an extended time frame design content transitions to concepts and the expert works with, introduces, adapts and provides perspectives on these concepts.

A process for learner reflection

Over the years I have done quite a bit of coaching and invariably the people I work with tell me the best part of the process is having someone to talk to about their experiences as they try to change behavior. Sharing their challenges, successes, ideas, frustrations and joys. The sharing itself, the storytelling, the reflection on the left loop, the ideas for the right loop is an important part of learning design.

With an extended time frame design there are numerous opportunities for these interactions.

Over the years I have also learned that it is this process of learner reflection that is much more important than me being a specific part of it! 

I have been told I’m a good coach and I think that is true. However I also think that 80% of that ‘being good’ is simply about showing up! From the perspective of the design role we are describing here, it is important to really think this is true!

We have identified the three key roles that the expert or learning content play in existing extended time frame learning designs. Let’s add in the extended time frame for numerous interactions as another design variable and we have the four key things that make these designs effective:

  1. Extended time frame for numerous interactions
  2. Performance pressure
  3. Concepts to experiment with to change interactions
  4. A process for learner reflection

What is really interesting is that when you look very closely at those four points above from a design perspective you discover that the importance (and cost!) of the two variables typically seen as critical are not nearly as important as we currently think:

  1. The expert
  2. Learning content

So the design question, the question to be answered by the role of designer is:

What do these designs look like and how do they work?

In many ways these designs look an awful lot like normal day to day work with some important differences and we will get to the details and challenges of the question above soon.

Before we do that however it we want to remind ourselves of the four roles in learning design and their mantras:

Role Mantra

The last couple of posts have been focusing on the role of designer. As described this role tends to be quite different from what we typically think of when we think of learning designer in organizations now. The typical learning designer tends to focus on learning content and experts as key design variables. This typical role and its outputs are heavily influenced by the typical way in which we understand organizations and the assumption that power can create certainty. This is the left loop of current learning design and it is very stable.

If we take on this different design role we now will have learning designs that are quite different from what we now have. This then brings us to the next roles we need to play to reduce the OUCH! in learning and development; Educator, Consultant and Facilitator.

These will be the focus of the next two posts.



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