Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic (revisited)

I was recently reminded of the still-outstanding discussion related to Jay Cross' (among others) take on Formal vs. Informal Learning by a new colleague.

It's interesting (to me) how portions of this discussion are still chugging along, but not nearly with the same fervor that they had when Jay's book came out. I'm honestly not sure how to interpret this - have Jay's points been tempered from their original, more extreme stance to be something that should be considered, but not seen as a 'sky is falling' situation?

The following was originally posted to the Tata Interactive Systems' Blog, but it bears repeating for (renewed?) consideration:
Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

Jay Cross recently posted some interesting (and startling) statistics about the impact of what we, in the custom learning design and development business, make a living doing.

Consider the following blurb (three times - once to allow your amazement to pass; a second time to allow your denial to pass; and a third time to slowly and deeply consider the ramifications, if this is even remotely true):

Formal training programs are not the only learning game in town. CLOs who spend the bulk of their time improving the development and delivery of training might be optimizing the insignificant. Consider this:
  • According to Tom Gilbert and Peter Dean, training only accounts for 10.5 percent of the total potential change in worker behavior. Clarity of objectives, working conditions and other factors are more important.
  • According to the Institute for Research on Learning, at most, formal training only accounts for 20 percent of how people learn their jobs. Most workers learn their jobs from observing others, asking questions, trial and error, calling the help desk and other unscheduled, largely independent activities.
  • According to Robert Brinkerhoff and Stephen Gill, people who do attend formal training never apply 80 to 90 percent of what they learn back on the job. They forget the bulk of what they’re exposed to in a matter of days.

So, formal training accounts for 20 percent x 20 percent x 10 percent of the possible improvements you can make to worker performance. That’s 0.4 percent. To account for potential double-counting and other quirks, let’s say training might influence 1 percent of worker potential. C-level officers who want the human capacity to thrive over the long haul are looking for more.

Now, I'm certainly not lobbying for the end of formal training, but perhaps there is some merit to calling for the end of the *current version of* formal training.

With all that is known about HPT/HPI, Simulations, and Story-based Learning, not to mention long-available but minorly-leveraged knowledge about EPSS, why is it that the vast majority of the eLearning work that is done today resemble electrified versions of what was used to teach our great grandparents? Why are Jay's ideas regarding "informal" and "free-range" learning (for instance) readily accepted in theory, but largely ignored in practice?

We can do better (and it doesn't have to mean a loss of business).

When will learning professionals, who know in their heart that what their client is asking for isn't going to solve their problem or have the desired impact, feel confident to act on their responsibility/obligation to say as much?

When will customers (internal and external) allow the T&D professionals they've hired (again, internal or external) do what they do best, rather forcing them to act as glorified order takers and production shops for knee-jerk/best-guess remedies?

It may be a utopian wish that will never arrive, but, as Robert Browning said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?"

Update: 11/20/06
Jay's efforts related to Informal Learning have blossomed with the recent publication of his book on the subject. Good stuff!

In reflecting on his points and how they relate to Storytelling (my current area of focus), I ran across a Breeze session he's shared at: http://jaycross.com/informl/ . It's a great overview that clicks at a deep level with many of my thoughts/experiences.

I thought I'd share a shot of one of the slides that give a visual representation of the original point I made above. It may help to communicate just how small a slice of what is done in "formal training" is making any substantive difference.

(to recap the claim: Only about 10% of all potential change factors are related to "training". Of that 10%, only 20% is "formal" (the other 80% is "informal"). Of THAT 20%, only 20% makes its way out of the classroom and into application on the job. So... 10% * 20% * 20% = <1%!)