Predictive Learning

In todays L&D landscape, the way businesses determine who should participate in what training isnt far away from some sort of conjuring act. More often than not, the result of this is a mixed bag, and many of the L&D professionals I speak to tell me that the L1 scores (based on the Kirkpatrick model) are more often than not tending towards the lower end of the spectrum.

There are typically two ways a business determines training participation. One is based on mandated training (usually related to promotion/growth), while the other is nomination by the business manager. Both of these are based on picking up from a ‘menu’ of available programs, and neither really takes into consideration the actual learning needs of the individual.

This is where the idea of predictive learning comes in. The idea here is simple … today, with the technology available to us, especially in the Big Data/Analytics domains, the data about what has worked in the past in what context is available to the organization in a large scale. This data is available based on training, HR, and operations/business data. This rich data can be leveraged to determine what is the best training solution which would likely work in a particular employee context. Like Big Data, this neednt look at the reason (or connection) between cause and effect, rather, look at the linkages as they have been seen in the past.

An important aspect of this picture is that this shifts the focus from training and learning, and from L&D to the individual learner, and makes the entire process people-centric.

One concern with this, though, could be that the outcome of the requirements could be way too granular, and too tailored to individual needs, so as to be unviable from the delivery perspective. More about this later …

Blended Education

blog post I had written recently was what I was reminded of when I read this one about the Blossoms program, reason being that this was quite the type of delivery mechanism that I was talking about.

The idea here is simple … video recordings of lectures by a panel of expert teachers which form the backbone of education delivery across schools. This enables standard education delivery, while at the time making sure the best teachers are available to deliver classes to students across cities and villages, including in places where these top teachers would typically not want to go. Follow up this lecture with interactions at the classroom level, where the teacher running the class builds up on the video, and takes the students into interactions to discuss the content delivered, and ensure understanding of this content to all the students.

This logic of interactions can be extended to lab exercises too, as well as project reports, where the theoretical concepts are delivered in an electronic way, while the application of these concepts, including lab experiments, and the discussions among students are conducted face-to-face.

Needless to say, this method can also be extended to the L&D domain. The idea here being that with this mechanism, the L&D team can bring experts from across the world to the desktop of the learner, but the learning interaction doesnt necessarily end there (which it would in the classical e-learning method, which is still a dominant method in most organizations), and is extended with the learning interaction being extended to face-to-face (now face-to-face here could either be an actual face-to-face session, or a virtual face-to-face session), where learner interactions can happen, and learners can be presented with illustrations, case studies, and more detailed inputs, including, very importantly, inputs which are company-specific. These, of course, could be applicable both in traditional one-to-many training interventions, or in one-to-one coaching methods.

L&D Aligning with TM

Whether you are a Talent Management practitioner, or a Learning & Development practitioner, you would have the question about how these two should align. The question is one of how one can enable the other. To answer this, one must explore the source of L&D initiatives, with which L&D initiatives must be aligned. This source is higher people performance. If we take this as the premise, then it stands to reason that L&D must be strongly aligned with TM strategy.

People performance is defined based on the performance management framework the organization would have in place. Broadly, the levels of this framework (in a theoretical scenarion, and many organizations differ widely from this) could be seen here, and one can also see the levels and ways in which L&D can align with, and enable this TM strategy.

As you can see, the inputs from L&D initiatives at different levels need to be aligned to the requirements of that level, and the learning objectives which need to be met at that level.

At the level of KCAs, where the need is to build behaviourial capability, the training requirement primarily is for soft-skills, the details of which are based typically on a combination of role and the level in the hierarchy of the employee (commonly called band).

At the employee-goals level, the requirements are either in terms of organization needs from the employee, or in terms of employee aspirations, and these are primarily met in the form of technical training, or in form of training designed to meet the needs of succession or progression. From the perspective of succession or progression, organizations usually have programs aimed at equipping people for meeting specific roles, wither at the same level or at a higher level, and these would typically form part of the training needs at this level of the framework.

At the project/operational level, the training needs are primarily project-focused, to build capability inventory aligned with the requirements of the project or operations, and this forms a large part of the training requirements, mostly technical or functional.

A Gamification Scenario

Let me describe a scenario that i came across, of gamification changing the way one tends to interact with something. I have been playing, as i suppose a lot of you have been, sudoku for some time. I have a version of sudoku which is a straightforward one. You select the level of the puzzle you want to play, and it generates the puzzle for you, and you go ahead. It tracks the best times for completing puzzles with different levels of difficulty.

Some time back i got another version of sudoku which has puzzles at different levels of difficulty. The difference is that in this one, the higher levels of difficulty need to be unlocked. Only once you have solved the puzzles at easy level, with a particular best time, and some other parameters, does the medium, difficult, and super levels get unlocked. You cant just jump to a higher level puzzle.

The same game, with simple functionality included creates a different level of motivation to solve the puzzle less time. Earlier, i wasnt too aware of the best timing for the different levels, but now, i was keeping track. And unlocking the level gave a sense of achievement. In short, i tended to look at two versions of the same game in different ways, and this was because of the small component of gamification introduced.

This is the impact of gamification, and this could be harnessed to create the motivation, engagement, and a sense of achievement, like in a game, in learning.

Training’s Khan Academy

Theres lot said about the way the principles of Khan Academy can be applied in the world of education. However, i see education and training as two essentially linked areas, and so, if there are lessons for education from Khan Academy, there must also be lessons for corporate training teams.

This made me think about what could be the key take-aways for a training manager from the way content is structured in Khan Academy. And an immediate answer that comes to mind is brevity.

Today, organizations are under pressure to increase productivity so that organizations are able to deliver more with the same number of employees. This means that employees need to deliver more in the same period of time. In consulting organizations, this is a euphemism for utilization pressure. Many of us would have heard those, havent we? And while L&D managers are under pressure to deliver training to enhance employee capabilities, there is also the constraint of getting participants away from their work for a few days to attend classroom sessions. There is of course e-learning, but can e-learning be an en bloc alternative for classroom or virtual education? I dont think so.

And this is where the Khan Academy concept comes in. This is something i had championed to some extent over a period of the last few years. I am talking about training modules which are a twitterized form of training. In other words, module videos which are to youtube what twitter is to blogs.

In this scenario, the fundamental idea is that people are more interested in training to enable them to do their jobs more effectively. This means that they would be more interested in short, crisp programs (not more than 5 minutes) which help them learn how to do specific tasks as part of their job. Just the things which are required for them to become more effective in their work.

Think job aids meet youtube meets twitter.

Learner-Centric Assessment

For quite a while now, students have been enduring something on a regular basis … Exams! The purpose of these exams is to separate the high-performers from the rest. Economic theory tells us that exams and performance in these exams is a form of signaling … So, good scores in school exams signals to the colleges that the student is bright, and good scores in college exams signals to employers that this student will make a good employee. However, and this school of thought has been around from relatively recent times, exams/tests/assessments should be used more as learning aids rather than performance evaluation.

Until recently, the technology for doing this wasn’t readily available, while the principle has been around for a while, I must say. I remember, as a school student, upon getting the answer sheets after the exams, going through them, and trying to analyze which areas of the subject I would need to focus on more, probably because I got some of the answers wrong on those areas. Well, in theory at least … Practice, ah … A different thing! I mean, come on … How many schoolboys have you see doing this!

Now, imagine doing this kind of analysis for an entire class of 30 or 40 kids. The task is humongous. Though this sort of thing would be quite helpful as this would enable learners rather than simply assess them, it wasn’t quite feasible given that we didn’t have the means to do this. Today, however, we do, and doing this can actually be quite simple.

First step, develop assessment taxonomy. Simply put, this could be a way of classifying questions, and assigning them to specific topics within a subject, for example, on a test for mathematics, one question could be tagged to circles, another to linear equations, and so on. This means that we can identify which area of the subject the question belongs to. Second step, develop topical tutorials. Now, at first sight, this might seem to be a humongous task, but it’s not necessarily so. Short, focused tutorials can today be developed relatively easily, and besides, this would, in most scenarios, be one-time effort (given that this sort of modularity would enable us to use or re-use these tutorials in whichever scenario they are required), or probably something which wouldn’t change too frequently, depending on the topic.

With these foundation blocks in place, it’s a simple step to map these tutorials to the same taxonomy that is defined for the assessment questions, and here, we have a system which, based on learner performance, can get o a granular level of performance and hence a granular level of learner understanding, and based on these, can recommend suggested learning titles to enable the learner to work on areas where they more need to. In this way, we could have an assessment tool which at the same time also enables learners, with applications ranging from school education to training, and so on,

Education or Learning …

The more i delve into the topic of education the more i am hearing of the same thing. Sugata Mitra talks about something similar to what Sir Ken Robinson talks about … that today’s education system, while being relevant to the economic order of the last few centuries, is not relevant to the global realities today.

In the realm of education, we need to make the distinction between teaching and learning. Teaching comes from outside, but learning is from within. This can be seen in the fact that in the same classroom, being taught by the same teacher, some students fare much better than others. Given that the teaching environment is presumably the same for all students, there must be some internal factor which makes the difference in the learning rates of different pupils.

What implications does this have for those of us in the training domain? The implication is this … the future of training is in the shift from training to learning. To achieve this future, learning professionals need to create the environment which is conducive to learning (from inside). This includes the content, the infrastructure, and more important, the frameworks which would create the motivation for unleashing the learning from within.

And what would be the role of the instructor in this scenario? The role of the instructor would be that of a facilitator who creates and manages the environment in which learners can interact with content (study), and interact with other learners (collaborate), to enable learners to explore and discover.

This is something i am seeing happening in some schools. The classroom structure when i was in school was that there were benches for the pupils, and there was separate space for the teacher, which was distinct from the space of the students. In my son’s school, i find that in the classroom, there is no separate space for the teachers, the teachers are to be found in the midst of the students, observing the discussions of the students, and guiding the exploration process.

To take an example, when introducing the Archimedes principle, the students got a homework to write a one-pager about why they think the Titanic sink. Not the right answer, mind you, but what they think is the right answer. From these essays emerged a number of stories, and eventually the students were guided to “discovery” of the Archimedes principle.

Coming back to the realm of training, the role of instructors, as i said, will be more and more that of a facilitator. If learning is from within, and of course, the trainer cannot feed learning to the learner, then it stands to reason that the only thing the trainer can do is to facilitate the process of learning, with the learner being at the centre of the learning process. These instructors can be virtual, given the spread of organizations, and the need to reach out to people across the world, and from different parts of an organization.

So what is the role of the organization in the learning process? This is simply to give the incentive, the reason for the learner to learn. Why should the learner be motivated to spend effort in the discovery process which leads to learning is the question that organizations need to answer. This means that learning, or training must be close to the centre of the organization strategy.