In a recent blog post, Tony Karrer asked a number of questions about models for learning in a new world. He summarises his post as follows: ‘The bottom line is that Learning and Development needs to do more with less these days or they will be marginalized. We also have so many more kinds of solutions we can offer. I described some common eLearning 2.0 patterns that are emerging much along the lines of my previous post, Examples of eLearning 2.0.’ Perfect summary! He then asks a number of questions, and his seventh question, ‘Is there a method to map different models of learning to different types of projects?’ got me thinking. I believe that the key is to focus on the performance of the individual and the context in which they need to learn to help them perform. Technology may facilitate the learning, and hence the performance, but it is not the right place to start. I’d suggest that whenever we are faced with a task, problem or challenge, we tackle it using one of three modes of learning:

  • Just-in-time
  • Explore
  • Deep dive

In each of these three modes, there are a number of different channels we can use to get the information and support we need:

Learning Need Description Learning channels
Just-in-time Employee seeks help and support at the time they need it to deal with an unfamiliar task, challenge or problem.
  • Ask a colleague
  • Review notes from a course
  • Web search
  • Short-term coaching
Explore Employee realises that the issue justifies investing some time to investigate the task, challenge or problem. This activity is regarded as research or investigation work.
  • Web search
  • Library
  • Video
  • Traditional e-learning
  • Seek out subject matter expert
  • Short workshop/meeting
Deep dive Employee recognises that they need time away from work to immerse him/herself in ‘learning mode’ to acquire new skills and perspectives.
  • Structured learning experience
  • Courses
  • Qualifications
  • E-learning, assessment and testing
  • Longer-term coaching/mentoring

So rather than starting with the type of project, start with the performer: what they need to learn in order to perform and what help and support they need at different stages. Let’s say Judy is going to be asked to run a large project for the first time and recognises that she would benefit from learning about project management. A formal course will be a great starting point to give her a framework for what’s involved. However, as soon as she starts to perform she will run into all sorts of questions and issues in how to apply the learning. After all, any project management course can only provide a framework, but it’s always the unanticipated events that make or break a project. At this stage it is worth keeping in mind Will Thalheimer’s Learning Landscape model which shows where learning fits into a performance situation. As Judy faces these situations she will normally rely on her memory to retrieve information and skills and then adapt these to the circumstances she finds herself in. Depending on how good Judy’s memory is, [1] and how effective the learning intervention was, the outcome from this situation will be better performance from Judy than would have resulted had there not been any learning intervention. As the project’s complexity increases and issues continue to arise, Judy will seek just-in-time help with issues and realise that it is worth her while exploring for answers. Can learning and development provide this type of help and support in order to improve performance in these two modes? There are lots of creative ways organisations can provide this support depending on the need, and technology can be a great enabler at a fraction of the cost of a lot of formal learning. A model where learning interventions support the different learning modes, with a focus on the performer at the centre, is a clear way for Learning and Development to focus on the bottom line and deliver more value for less. [1] And we also know from Ebbinghaus that the longer Judy waits to put those skills into action, the harder this gets.