Many learning leaders are still using the same techniques they used in the 90s – and even the 80s – to educate their developers and engineers. If it was fashion, this kind of technical training would be called vintage, and not in a good way. It wouldn’t be the mint condition Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress found languishing in a thrift shop. It would be the dusty polyester jumpsuit that smells like a night at Studio 54 complete with a mysterious stain down the front.
DevelopIntelligence caught up with Apply Synergies’ Chief Learning Evangelist Robert Mosher – who has more than 20 years experience working for companies like Microsoft and Skillsoft – to discuss why technical training is stuck in a time loop, and how companies can get out of it.
DevelopIntelligence: How was technical training done in the 80s and 90s?
Mosher: Software has always been about deployment not implementation. IT departments and software vendors are incented to deploy by a certain time. The problem is software is all about usage. It’s about implementation and adoption, not deployment. The vendor often steps out; they leave some e-learning behind, maybe you buy some classes, some certified training. The training department picks it up if they can. Or, often it’s outsourced because it’s looked at as a standard offering or commodity, so it’s given to a vendor’s resale or training channel.
That makes sense on the software deployment side. But candidly it’s a broken model on the implementation side because every deployment is different. Every use for software, especially these days, is highly tailored. Web enabled, SaaS-based stuff, agile software design, its changing constantly, and learning is not – nor has it ever been – an event based thing. It’s ongoing.
You’re trying to fit an event-based model that’s highly standardized and off the shelf into a workflow, SaaS-based world where content is highly specialized. The connection between application and learning is broken.
DevelopIntelligence: How can we fix it?
Mosher: We have to change the pivot. We always pivoted on content: Here’s what you should know about the CRM, so when you’re a sales rep you can use Salesforce. That’s leading with, what about the software does the learner have to know to use it? But the pivot in any learning should never be on content. We pivot on context.
It should be, yes, we bought Salesforce. But my sales force follows the workflow process here. It’s our own proprietary sales strategy, tailored it so that we are unique in our market. Therefore, we beat our competitors.
If training would change its focus from content design to context workflow design, the probability of adopting these IT systems goes up exponentially. Design for workflow: What do they do from 8 to 5? I don’t care about the CRM. I don’t care about the system yet. Those are tools to enable work; they’re not work.
DevelopIntelligence: So, training has to be done in the context of work, or it won’t stick.
Mosher: Absolutely. And this is not an IT problem. This is a problem with the learning industry. Our industry has always pivoted on someone walking into the office saying, “We need leadership training.” And we run and say, “Can we buy leadership training off the shelf somewhere?”
Are you serious? The person probably walked into my office because we have bad leadership here. Here. Therefore, I want leadership training that maps to our needs.
It’s the same in IT. Someone bought a system to solve a business problem in the context of that company, not generically. That’s what we miss, and that’s why technical training has lagged for years behind what’s going on elsewhere in the business.
DevelopIntelligence: What do we need to do to pull technical training away from this broken model, so it can keep up with the pace of technological change?
Mosher: Software went agile years ago, right? They don’t sell software by versions any longer. Almost all software is SaaS based. It’s being developed in an agile, water approach, but our training is still being made in a staged version approach.
One, we have to adopt a more agile learning model to keep up. Or, fundamentally we’ll be behind in versions let alone context. We have to map to that world better from a design perspective. Second, we have to adopt workflow design tools and stop leading with the classroom and e-learning all the time. That’s so old school it’s embarrassing.
There are wonderful workflow context learning embedded tools like Panviva, Ontuitive and Assima that would let us lead with context first. We can teach in the workflow. We can let learners learn while doing, which is the highest form of learning we’ve known for 100 years.
We adopt those tools first, then we back fill with classroom because those tools aren’t going to cover everything. Everything shouldn’t be taught in the workflow. But when we lead with that our classrooms become smaller, more focused, shorter.
DevelopIntelligence: The classroom will have labs so that people can try things.
Mosher: Yes. The classroom becomes a place for experimentation, trial and error, troubleshooting, which is so important to software adoption. But for years when you left the classroom you spent days clicking through menus and practicing rote steps and skills. No. We’re going to move all of that into the workflow.
When you come to the classroom we’re going to put you in scenarios. We’re going to put you in the most common place where people screw up. We’re gonna let you bring your work and apply it with an instructor there to guide you and jump in. We’re not going to start with PowerPoint lesson one, and plow through 37 lessons in six days. That was done in 1983 when I got into this business. It’s still done today, and that’s irresponsible.