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Designing Learning for “When Things Go Wrong”

by Michele Medved

February 8, 2012

Tip

by Michele Medved

February 8, 2012

“While job aids provide guidelines or best practices, it is also useful to have a real-life input into how to address problems. Community discussion groups provide real value.”

A manager needs to respond to an angry customer. An employee can’t find the right command to use a new proprietary tool. A printer breaks down and someone has to get it working.

Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson have defined “When things go wrong” as a key moment of need in their learning ecosystem. (See the References at the end of this tip.) Problems are a part of everyday working life. They are bound to occur when learners encounter both common and new situations.

When learning professionals anticipate that things can and will go wrong, they will design performance support tools and facilitate resources to provide answers. Providing access to social media (and where necessary, showing or teaching how to use it) and positioning it appropriately leverages performance support, enables people to solve problems quickly, and increases the organization-wide knowledge database. This is a strategy that works for any approach to learning, whether formal (face-to-face, online, or blended) or informal.

Here are some tips for designing learning for when things go wrong.

  1. Harvest typical problems. When things go wrong, the natural response is to seek help – from a manual, colleague, knowledgeable resource, or database. Learners should have easy access to problems that typically occur and their solutions, on the Web or mobile device.

Troubleshooting advice may be in a structured format, such as a FAQs or troubleshooting document, or more informally, for example, a community generated discussion group.

Social media tools like wikis enable users to generate their own list of problems/solutions. This increases the range of issues addressed and the quality of the responses. Learners should be given incentive to write up their problems and solutions to share with their team. Take care to monitor your formal and informal problem-sharing repositories to ensure accuracy.

  1. Provide SME support: When rolling out a new product, identify specific employees and provide them with advanced training in the tool. You can also give expert users responsibility following the product rollout for answering questions by phone or e-mail, facilitating a community of users, creating blogs to teach best practices, and/or facilitating FAQs.

Beyond a product rollout, a useful strategy is facilitating micro-blogging with specific tags to indicate a problem so that any issues can be immediately addressed.

  1. Reduce problems with Job Aids (Planners and Sidekicks) The integration of planner and sidekick job aids into learning helps support performance and avoid common problems. (If “planner and sidekick job aids” is a new phrase to you, see the article by Allison Rossett and Lisa Schafer in the References.) Planners allow learners to plan for a challenge, for example a checklist for a performance review, or, in the initial example, planning for difficult customer conversations. Sidekicks help learners when they need it, for example a spell check or a mobile, searchable database. 

When designing and implementing job aids:

  • Analyze the task thoroughly
  • Interview star performers
  • Find out when and how things may go wrong. Look at the evidence, which may be the error rate or specific feedback from customers
  • Gather input using existing discussion feedback on discussion groups
  • Get feedback from SMEs on the job aid before introducing it to learners
  • Introduce and practice using job aids during formal training
  • Conduct periodic checks to ensure the job aid is relevant and useful
  1. Coach for far-transfer tasks: You perform near-transfer tasks in the same manner each time. You must apply far-transfer tasks differently each time because there is no one correct answer. (See the article by Ruth Clark and Gary L. Harrelson in the References for an explanation of near- and far-transfer.) While job aids provide guidelines or best practices, it is also useful to have real-life input into how to address problems. Consider identifying experts with specific expertise so that they can be approached in person or virtually if a problem occurs. Community discussion groups provide real value. Consider formalizing existing communities or arranging for SMEs to facilitate new communities so problems can be immediately solved. Furthermore, encourage SMEs to blog on complex topics to provide insight into successful strategies.

By considering the inevitability of things going wrong and building support into the learning strategy, learning professionals can reduce frustration and facilitate employee productivity. Furthermore, the process of solving problems can be learning experience. When solutions are discovered and shared, learners can increase their knowledge and contribute to a company-wide knowledge base.

References

Performance Support 101: Learning at the Moment of Need, Dr. Conrad Gottfredson And Bob Mosher

Job aids and performance support: the convergence of learning and work: Allison Rossett and Lisa Schafer

Designing Instruction That Supports Cognitive Learning Processes, Ruth Clark* and Gary L. Harrelson


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