In the e-learning business we are increasingly hearing the mantra, “Resources not courses.” It sounds simple – replace courses with resources that are accessible at the point of need to deliver seamless just-in-time learning. In some circumstances it can be a good strategy, and when it comes to mobile devices resources are much simpler to access than courses, but before we get too carried away with this idea let’s take a deeper look at the difference between a resource and a course.
A resource is a piece of information covering a specific topic or sub-topic. It could be a document, an article, a blog post, an image, a video or an infographic. Some resources may be fairly comprehensive (e.g. a 10 page PDF guide to Project Management) while some might be fairly simple (e.g. an image showing the project lifecycle). Most resources are indexable by search engines though additional metadata may need to be supplied for images and videos. This makes them easy to find in a hurry. Resources are normally discrete and unconnected. There might be a collection of resources relating to a specific theme (e.g. Project Management) but it’s up to users to make the connections and to infer meaning from a resource collection.
A course moves things up a gear or two. It differs from a resource in that it has been developed using pedagogical principles. What does the pedagogical approach add? The course designer has identified the areas where understanding is weak and developed strategies to overcome these blocks to understanding. The course designer uses a range of instructional techniques to overcome these issues ranging from metaphor, analogy, stories, visual aids and learning scaffolds. They then check that the material is understood though practice, questioning and reflection.
Some of the best resources are almost like courses while some of the worst courses are almost like resources but it’s important to recognise the role of each as part of a hollistic approach to learning.
There is a lot of value in sharing and using resources (like this blog post) but added value comes from either collecting resources together under a common theme or curating resources to create a narrative journey through a specific topic. To add further value those resources can be developed into a course complete with the whole gamut of instructional approaches and techniques. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses but it’s important to remember that they aren’t always interchangeable.
Towards the close of a recent E-learning Network (ELN) event the discussion got around to whether organisations need learning in the shape and form in which it is currently supplied by the L&D department. The point is that learning feels like an activity that is disconnected from the business. Very few organisations would place L&D in the mission critical category. Often it’s seen as a cost which should be minimised wherever possible. The question was asked – ‘Would the organisation survive if L&D was axed?’ And the answer is probably a resounding yes! Learning would still go on of course but it would be self directed, informal (even social). This disconnect from the business is a big problem for L&D and it always has been.
Would the organisation survive if L&D were axed?
The name learning and development is in itself an issue because when we use the term development we are referring to the individual. We put people through learning interventions to develop them but we struggle to check whether this ‘development’ provides value to the business as well as to the learner’s themselves. If I send an employee on a management development course they may learn a lot but does what they learn make a difference to the business or are we just using L&D opportunities simply as an employee benefit.
During the discussion we suggested that a name change might be appropriate. What about going back to ‘training’ which somehow seems closer to the coal face. More popular was the idea to use the word ‘performance’ to make the link between learning and performance. Most organisations will happily allocate resources to activities that improve performance – especially if those improvements can be measured in some way. There is increasing pressure on people these days to do more and to perform better but L&D seems increasingly disconnected from this competitive imperative.
New approaches are being explored with the emphasis on the learning that really goes on in an organisation – the 70:20:10 framework and the focus on informal learning and social learning. It’s not really possible to manage social/informal learning – only support or encourage it and provide tools that improve it’s effectiveness. Maybe this is where L&D needs to go? Trainers should become ‘Performance Support Consultants’ and instead of delivering programmes to those who happen to turn up they should be facilitating performance improvements in specific areas of the business. This would place learning at the heart of the business and turn L&D from a cost centre into a profit centre – a potentially powerful one if we could get the metrics right. But it also needs L&D to be closer to the operational coal face and to really engage with the DNA of the business. In an increasingly competitive global knowledge economy learning (in all its guises) is way too important for it to fall between the organisational silos.
A case in point…
I have been involved in a number of sales training e-learning programmes over the last couple of years. In all cases the learning need came from the recognition by management that sales people were ‘resting on their laurels’ and that now the marketplace was much tougher they would need to ‘up their game’. The solution – some extra training. Now I wasn’t involved in any of the post learning evaluation (if it happened) but I’m sure that although the training would have been ‘useful’ it wouldn’t have solved the underlying problem (not enough sales). The reason is that training is a top down solution that is very rarely targeted effectively. Think ’Bomber Harris’ not ‘Stealth Bomber’. What would have worked better would have been localised performance support initiatives. What might these have looked like? Well that’s a question for another post!
Learning Metrics – Kirkpatrick in 2012
The ROI of Learning
What we can learn from KM?
Performance Support and the Five Moments of Need