• David Sharp
  • 1 November 2017

Why learning intervention is not always the answer

We reported in April this year that International Workplace had become a signatory to the Serious eLearning Manifesto, a list of 22 principles designed to underpin best practice in digital training.

I won’t repeat all 22 principles here, but you can find reference to them on the Manifesto website itself. What is interesting, when you do read them, is the very first proclamation, Principle #1: Do not assume that learning is the solution.

So not only does the manifesto encourage training providers and L&D professionals to avoid eLearning unless it really is a good solution (that’s Principle #2). It absolutely requires them to disregard learning intervention as a solution, unless they are certain that it is the right path to take. What the manifesto specifically says by way of explanation is “do not assume that a learning intervention is always the best means to helping people perform better”.

As a company and a group of professionals who are putting a good deal of effort and investment into eLearning, this is an intriguing – and I must say – very welcome doctrine. It forces people who think they know what is needed (like us) to seriously challenge their own thinking. And to start with a completely clean sheet of paper. 

This first principle has seriously helped us in countless conversations.

Most notably, in discussions with clients, who may think they need a training course to bring about a desired improvement or – as happens fairly often – who share a list of their current classroom courses with us and ask us if we can ‘convert them’ into eLearning format. This is a perfectly natural way of working, and we welcome conversations like these. But if we are doing our job properly, and thinking about Principle #1, then we may well end up talking about different things than training or eLearning courses, or we may agree we are not the right people for the job altogether.

Principle #1 is also a huge help when we sit down to look at what a performance solution might look like, and especially where we’re looking to develop an eLearning course either for the International Workplace library, or for a client. One of the constant – and often justified – complaints about eLearning is how hard it is to use it to replicate some of the benefits of face-to-face training. For example, encouraging learners to share experiences with each other, or introducing knowledge in an unstructured way that more closely maps the way we learn, live and work.

It’s a simple principle, but it actually makes it very difficult, in a good way.

You might be wondering: if learning intervention is not necessarily the right solution for our situation, then what is?

It obviously depends on the situation and the people involved. More specifically, it is necessary to understand the required performance outcomes. That is, what doesn't work now and how should it work once the intervention has been delivered? Only once this is clearly understood can you design an appropriate intervention (or interventions). The outputs then could be anything: a poster on the staff noticeboard; an email campaign; revised job guides or check lists; through to hi-tech, specifically designed phone apps. If training does form part of the solution it may well be something other than a formal classroom or eLearning course. You might find that coaching or mentoring can deliver better results, or maybe ‘learning by doing’ i.e. allowing people to practice in a safe environment and encouraging them to reflect on what they have learnt.

None of the above is particularly new – after all, the 70:20:10 principle has been around a long time. But like all good mantras, Principle #1 can help you start right, so that you can finish right. After all, to add value you don’t always have to learn something new – sometimes (if not often) there’s a lot to be gained from rediscovering a lesson learned long ago.