I recently learned something as an instructional designer that I feel like I should have known for some time. There exist official competencies for the job title instructional designer that are recognized internationally. The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction was formed in 1984 as an international, not-for-profit service organization whose mission is “to improve individual and organizational performance.” In 1986 the IBSTPI came up with competencies for Instructional Designers, Training Managers, and Instructors.
I read about these and then checked out the IBSTPI site for myself, and sure enough, there they were. Very detailed competencies for the aforementioned fields. Quoting from the website for Instructional Designers in particular:
The original set of Instructional Design Competencies was developed in 1986 and was the result of more than a year of research, discussion, and validation by a group of instructional design professionals and academics.
Over the past 15 years there have been several developments in the major theories that underpin the instructional design field. In recognition of this the ibstpi Board set out to review and revise the ID competencies. The 2000 set contains 23 competencies and 127 performance statements. The new version still retains the essential elements of the 1986 set, but also:
reflects the influence of advanced technologies, team-based design, and business management skills
addresses the professional foundations of design, as well as planning and analysis, design and development, and implementation and management skills
categorizes competencies as Essential or Advanced; and
has been validated globally
The Instructional Designer competencies are organized into four domains of Professional Foundations, Planning and Analysis, Design and Development, and Implementation and Management. I found it quite helpful to know and read these competencies for the first time, and found that I currently perform, or have performed in the past, most of the competencies. That was good to learn. I think these competencies can serve as a good guide for any ID professional’s career development.
As we all know in the training and development world, many things hold the potential to frustrate us in our job. For me, perhaps the most frustrating is when I see designers and trainers alike forgetting about their audience, the learners. And I cannot exclude myself completely from that company, for I have been guilty of it more than once.
The reasons, I think, are many. We get so caught up in the “cool” work that we are doing, in what we are creating, that before you know it the learners are the furthest thing from our minds. Laziness could also be a factor. Instructional designers can get into a routine of creating what’s easiest, especially if deadlines drive the design. Or perhaps we are just so far removed from the learners that it is difficult to know what is best for them.
I recently learned in a graduate class about the push in academia to put all of the focus on the students and their needs. And while studies show that it is an effort worth undertaking, making it happen is another story. Many teachers are so stuck in their routine of years, if not decades, that making the move to student-centered learning is proving to be quite difficult.
The same may be true for instructional designers. But no matter the reason, we need to refocus on the learner. After all, if we didn’t have our “students” we wouldn’t be needed.
So what is the most effective method of instructional delivery for adult learners? How do our learners want to be trained? What type of training “sticks” best with them? Training professionals have many opinions about this, and many studies have been conducted on this topic. But what is often lost is an attempt to discover what the learner thinks is the most effective, most meaningful, and most appealing method of training.
The good news is that, with all of the available methods of instructional delivery available to adult learners today – classroom setting, self-paced learning, computer-based training, web-based training, distance learning, mobile learning, and now even social media methods – there is a lot to choose from. The not so good news is that our job as T&D professionals is to determine which method is most effective.
Perhaps the first question we should always be asking is, “Which method do my learners find most effective and satisfying?” If the learners themselves do not find their training effective or enjoyable, how can we expect it to “stick” back on the job? In other words, how can our training be delivered so that adult learners will retain the skills and knowledge and be able to apply it back on the job?
I recently put forth a research proposal to attempt to figure out just that. This was a grad school class assignment, but it could be the basis of a legitimate study. The purpose of my study is to discover which training method adult learners prefer in terms of bringing the most satisfaction and success to them in their daily jobs. The research proposal is included below if you want to learn more about it.
So what does your learner audience tell you is the most effective method for them? Have you asked them? Have you thought about the answer to this question?
A recent Wall Street Journal article by Bret Stephens, To the Class of 2012, reminded me once again of the troubling evidence that today’s youth are “becoming” less and less employable in a more and more knowledge-based economy. I guess, to put it most concisely, today’s youth simply are not “becoming” at all. They are not developing, or being developed, into the productive citizens that our country needs to ensure a strong economy. And sadly, it doesn’t appear that the people who should be developing them – parents, teachers, and even college professors and advisors – are doing their jobs either. Woe to today’s recruiters and training professionals.
Of the many stories I’ve read, it seems that true work experience, work ethic, and useful knowledge (and the ability to apply knowledge) are what’s lacking in today’s graduates. And I think it’s safe to say that this applies to ALL graduates: high school, college, and even PhD grads. I read another story recently, Even a PhD Couldn’t Keep This Man Off Food Stamps, which plays the “violin of sympathy” for a PhD graduate who cannot find a job. Apparently he is surprised that with a PhD in History his job opportunities are limited. Really? During all his years of studying, do you mean to tell me that it never occurred to this guy that his PhD would likely limit his employability to, umm, “teaching History”?
Here are some of Stephens’ insightful quotes that capture the mood for today’s recruiters:
* “…in our “knowledge-based” economy, knowledge counts. Yet here you are, probably the least knowledgeable graduating class in history. A few months ago, I interviewed a young man with an astonishingly high GPA from an Ivy League university and aspirations to write about Middle East politics. We got on the subject of the Suez Crisis of 1956. He was vaguely familiar with it…(and) he didn’t know who was president of the United States in 1956. And he didn’t know who succeeded that president.”
* “Many of you have been reared on the cliché that the purpose of education isn’t to stuff your head with facts but to teach you how to think. Wrong. I routinely interview college students, mostly from top schools, and I notice that their brains are like old maps, with lots of blank spaces for the uncharted terrain. It’s not that they lack for motivation or IQ. It’s that they can’t connect the dots when they don’t know where the dots are in the first place.”
* “Your prospective employers can smell BS from miles away. And most of you don’t even know how badly you stink. To read through your CVs, dear graduates, is to be assaulted by endless Advertisements for Myself. Here you are, 21 or 22 years old, claiming to have accomplished feats in past summer internships or at your school newspaper that would be hard to credit in a biography of Walter Lippmann…”
* “In every generation there’s a strong tendency for everyone to think like everyone else. But your generation has an especially bad case, because your mass conformism is masked by the appearance of mass nonconformism.”
So is it really all that dire? Don’t we complain like this about every generation that is entering the workforce? In recent years I have been in a position to see these youth entering the workforce, not to mention the fact that I also have a teen of my own who is getting close to entering college and the workforce. I wonder if I am just too close to the situation and have acquired a jaundiced eye.
My wife regularly hires people in their teens and mid-twenties, and when I trained new-hires not so long ago, I saw a regular stream of today’s youth coming in the doors. We gained solace from each other’s railings about the utter lack of work ethic in today’s youth and their simple grasp of what it means to work: be on time, work hard, work selflessly, be polite, work your shift, don’t call in sick on a monthly basis, “act like” you’re in a professional setting.
So if it really is that bad, what’s a recruiter to do? And what’s a training professional to do with the new-hires they are given?
Stephens sums up that answer pretty well. He says, ”…the best of you don’t do this kind of thing at all. You have an innate sense of modesty. You’re confident that your résumé needs no embellishment. You understand that less is more. In other words, you’re probably capable of thinking for yourself…There will always be a market for people who can do that.”
It is up to recruiters to see through the “BS” and hire those modest candidates who can think for themselves. And I can say from experience that it is the training professional’s job to decide, when they do come across the “BSers,” whether the BSers can be converted into productive employees or not, and whether it is worth the company’s and your time and effort to convert them.
In a recent ASTD I read about the idea of trainers serving, among their many other roles, as the company “curator.” The story was by Clive Shepherd, Director of Onlignment Ltd. and in it he talks about what I had experienced in a role that I myself had mixed feelings about.
It seems that it wasn’t just me, or my workplace, but apparently this is a role that many trainers are having to play, that of curator, or what I call “the go-to person for information.” I think that in my workplace this became a default role of the trainer, and it kinda makes sense. The trainer trains everything, so he or she is believed to know everything, or at least have the secret key to access all of the information about the company. It gets to the point that even the CEO, Vice Presidents, and other management staff rely heavily on trainers as, well, the “subject matter experts on everything.”
That is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it certainly doesn’t hurt the ego to be considered by peers and superiors alike as the expert. But a curse because, well, it just never felt quite right that a trainer should be the SME of Everything. Not to mention that in many situations, the trainers are not available to field questions from the entire organization (trainers do have to spend time training, after all).
This is a great reason for implementing a solid electronic performance support system (EPSS), and/or Intranet site for employees, a topic that I hope to discuss in the near future.
In the meantime, click to read more about Clive Shepherd’s concept of Trainers as Curators at his Onlignment site.
In this month’s issue of T+D Magazine, published by the American Society for Training & Development, is a great article with advice on performance feedback. The article, Delivering Effective Performance Feedback, by Deborah Busser, discusses just how critical performance feedback is to the learning process. Most of us in the training and development industry already know this, however. The hard part is convincing our management teams.
Busser says that some of the best informal learning can spring from consistent and candid performance feedback. She adds that when feedback is given effectively, “employees feel respected, invested in the company’s success, and committed to their own learning and development.”
Trainers and HR professionals universally understand that consistent, effective coaching and performance feedback can do wonders for high turnover rates and excessive need for remedial “training.” (I put “training” in quotes because what supervisors and managers too often label as “remedial training needs” are things that can easily be solved by some good coaching.)
Am I preaching to the choir yet?
When I trained for a call center environment I typically witnessed brief and irregular coaching sessions, followed soon enough by employees who have left the company, with managers and HR staff wondering “Why the high turnover rate?” This, then, results in the need for more frequent new-hire training classes, to replace those who quit. It can become a vicious cycle that frustrates everyone involved: the trainer who gets stuck in a continuous new-hire training loop, the supervisors and managers who continue to lose people, the employees who abandon the job, and even the coworkers of those who quit. After all, the coworkers are stuck picking up the slack when otherwise good employees quit, or when otherwise good employees are not productive due to lack of coaching.
Busser ends her points on performance feedback with some wise words:
Creating a culture where co-workers feel comfortable giving and receiving performance feedback requires commitment and perseverance. It cannot be a one-time or annual event, and it shouldn’t catch employees off-guard.
When leaders deliver performance feedback well—as an expression of organizational values such as growth, mutual respect, excellence, and service—the resulting dialogue serves to reinforce those values and strengthen the workplace culture. Giving timely, meaningful feedback is an opportunity you can’t afford to miss.