A Design Framework for Learning – 1

20151104_145237There is no real magic to an extended time frame and context focused learning design. As we have noted they are quite common with things like coaching, mentoring and action learning.  They are not so common with larger groups however.

Currently in learning and development there is also quite a bit of interest in the 70 20 10 learning framework. 70 represents the percent of learning occurring through direct experience (usually on the job), 20 as the percent of learning occurring through exposure to networks, working with others and perhaps coaching/mentoring and 10 representing the percent of learning occurring through formal learning initiatives. In essence 70 20 10 is what is being referred to in these posts as extended time frame context focused designs.

Interestingly the 70 20 10 concept has been around since the 1980’s resulting from work done by the Center for Creative Leadership. Interesting as well is that this concept/model although generally accepted as accurate still typically only gets applied at senior levels! In addition, many applications of this concept have reinterpreted the 70 to simply mean the experience of accessing learning content while on the job… OUCH!

Like many concepts (no matter how different) when they are filtered through current theory and understanding of how organizations work (the left loop) the concept ends up as simply another tool or technique supporting that current theory or understanding.

In an effort to avoid this let’s review the key design elements of extended time frame context focused designs:

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

In addition, it is understood that the primary variable affecting behavior change is the extended time frame and both the expert and learning content are secondary in importance.

The statement in bold above is very important and is an important design consideration as well. When we look at the interaction model, with complex learning we are trying to change patterns of interaction and behavior that have become stable over time.

Interaction Model

What this means is that in order to affect behavior change not only are you trying to establish a new left loop but within the process of learning itself you need to disrupt current patterns of interaction. Otherwise the current patterns of interaction are very likely to overwhelm new content or concepts, overwhelm attempts at new interactions and you do not get behavior change.

This is why simply introducing learning content into day to day work is so often ineffective. It just gets swallowed up into the existing patterns of interaction. Keep in mind that a new behavior is a gesture yet the responses to that gesture may not recognize a new gesture since the current pattern of gesture and response is so established. Thus it is important to alter patterns of interaction during the process of learning itself and as it happens this fits very well into extended time frame context focused designs for larger groups.

Below is a framework for an extended time frame context focused design that I find works very well. The framework described illustrates a fairly extensive initiative when an external consultant is used but you will see the connections if internal resources were used. Each design element has a short explanation referring to points made in previous posts that are important to this design. In the next post we will look at some variations of this design but for now have a read and think how this might work for some of your learning initiatives.

Prior to the points below, agreement has been reached with the organization and the external consultant to move forward. The primary roles played by the external consultant to this point are Designer and Educator.

  1. A small internal learning ‘steering committee’ is formed to oversee the initiative. This group is composed of volunteers that are directly involved with the learning initiative. The purpose of this is to drive internal capacity plus to continually promote the value of this design to offset the power of existing ways in which learning and development are understood.
  2. The steering committee meets with the external consultant to overview the process and determine the role of the steering committee. Educator and Consultant roles are being played by the external consultant to explain the rationale of the design and to continue developing internal capacity.
  3. The steering committee determines the composition of the learning groups that will sustain the learning (most often these are intact teams). Again, driving internal capacity and ownership.
  4. The steering committee communicates to all participants as needed to overview the process and details.
  5. The first ‘learning event’ is held which provides an initial learning concept to all participants and modeling of next steps (typically no longer than 1/2 day or less if virtual learning is utilized). This is the Facilitator role with a bit of Educator and Consultant mixed in. Note that ‘concepts’ are provided as much as possible rather than content (see this post).
  6. Learning groups meet once a week (minimum) to apply the learning concept to a real business issue for a period of 4 – 6 weeks. The learning is therefore focused on business context. Normally these meetings are regularly scheduled intact team meetings so no significant disruption to the business is required.  See below for a critical component to this design element.
  7. The steering committee monitors the process and interacts with the external consultant if changes to the process need to be made. Monitoring may take many forms including measurement of impact. We will look at this in a future post.
  8. Steps 5 – 7 are usually repeated two more times with different concepts being provided for each learning event. This increases the potential for behavior change plus establishes a new pattern of interaction for applying learning which is building internal capacity.

Note to design element 6: It is here where it is very important to disrupt the normal pattern of interaction that a group may have established during the process of learning itself. This is especially true of intact teams applying new learning concepts in regular team meetings. Below is one way we do this and we insist the group follow this process through the entire first meeting cycle:

  • Two people are assigned to bring an actual business issue to the next team meeting.
  • At the meeting one of these people describes their business issue to the rest of the group. They have 3 minutes to do this and the rest of the group can only listen.
  • The group then has 3 minutes to ask any ‘clarifying’ questions of the ‘presenter’.
  • At this point the presenter turns their back to the group and the group discusses the business issue and applies the learning concept introduced in the learning event to better understand and make recommendations for action on the business issue presented. The presenter can only listen for these 5 minutes.
  • The presenter turns back to the group and for an additional 5 minutes the group discusses what has been learned and what steps can be taken moving forward. No more discussion on the issue happens at this point.
  • The process is repeated for the second person assigned to bring a business issue.

You may recognize the above as a process or exercise often called Fly on the Wall. It is very effective at disrupting stabilized patterns of interaction. This is vital for groups to really interact differently with a new learning concept.

The design framework above works and makes a tangible difference to the business. It has all the elements important to extended time frame context focused designs:

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

Costs are reasonable because the two variables that drive cost up with traditional designs; experts and content are not designed as the primary variables affecting behavior change. It is this change, placing the expert and learning content as secondary variables in behavior change that is most significant; and often the hardest to deal with in the Educator role. As you can tell, there is no magic to the above design; but it does incorporate the change in bold above.

The next post will look at some variations of this design framework as well as a little deeper look at why it can work.



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