Thursday, March 24, 2016

How Instructional Design Can Accelerate Learning

cartoon of a man's head being filled with books

Thank goodness we understand much more about adult learning now than in the past! 

For example, experts on adult learning theory have taught us better, more effective ways to deliver new information and skills. It is not just by reading books or attending lectures…the best learning occurs when there is a questioning strategy, lots of interaction, reinforcement of concepts, and application of new skills. That’s what instructional designers aim for…they figure out how to deliver learning experiences so that the acquisition of knowledge and skills is more effective, more efficient and, in the final analysis, more interesting, lasting and fun. 

One of the most challenging groups of learners are corporate executives. They are pressed for time and are rightfully reluctant to leave their posts for any kind of “training.” Besides their pressing schedules, many executives don’t believe they have much to learn and, if they admit to needing improvement, it is hard to find someone with the experience and credibility needed to address them effectively.

Some time ago we were faced with the challenge of working with a group of high-priced and very successful partners at a prestigious law firm who needed help in dealing more effectively and sensitively with their staff to improve employee engagement, retention and performance. We found a facilitator who had the credentials and the savvy to gain their respect. But first we had to get the attorneys to recognize they needed help and could not make the changes on their own. 

Here was our instructional design consulting approach:

1. We gathered and presented the business case.
Their dealings with the staff had created serious performance problems. There was painfully high and increasing turnover.  The staff that remained was seriously demoralized.  Productivity, client satisfaction and collections were sliding drastically across the board. We quantified the hard and soft costs of the attrition and slowdown of work in terms of the metrics that mattered most to them – billing rates, billable hours, collections and client satisfaction.  The numbers were startling.  The most senior lawyers were ready to pay attention.

2. We described the success of our program in a similar environment.
By telling the story of a turnaround in a similar company in a similar situation, they were ready to make the commitment of time and effort to learning and adopting the new behaviors required to get different results.

3. We coached them in the new behaviors and measured resulting changes in staff attitudes and work production.
When we could prove that their efforts toward dealing more positively with their staff and toward creating a high performance environment were aligned with their business strategy and made a difference, the program became institutionalized throughout the firm. 

The first step in delivering effective learning is to create personal and professional relevance.  Typically, we work with the target audience, their bosses and the leadership team to define success in a way that matters most compared to other business priorities. The relevance has to be high enough to convince the learners, their boss and the company to set aside the time and make the effort required to drive true behavior and performance change. Then you need to frequently monitor and recognize progress toward the desired results. This is how to keep your learners learning.

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