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Learning Leader Julie Dirksen Advises: Diagnose the Problem Before Turning to Training

by Pamela Hogle

March 8, 2017


by Pamela Hogle

March 8, 2017

“Effectively diagnosing the problem helps instructional designers understand what can—and cannot—be fixed by training. This, in turn, helps set appropriate expectations for eLearning and can turn the focus to solving the actual problem.”

Training can’t solve everything.

Guild Master and consultant Julie Dirksen of Usable Learning wants instructional designers, managers, and others engaged with creating and using eLearning and other corporate training and performance support to internalize that essential message.

When managers want to see behavior change—whether it’s getting learners to start doing something new, stop an unwanted behavior, or apply a new procedure to an existing task—they often turn to training. But when behavior doesn’t change? “A lot of times it isn’t necessarily a training problem,” Dirksen said. She’s specifically referring to situations where people know what to do or how to do it, whatever the new or desired behavior is—whether it’s following hand-washing protocols in a medical office or providing effective feedback to direct reports—but they are either not doing it or doing it ineffectively.

“These are complex human behaviors; they need a whole lot of analysis—and there are some really good models out there for how to structure that analysis so that you can feel that you’re being thorough in looking at the problem and breaking it down.”

Dirksen mentions the behavior change wheel, based on the COM-B model, out of University College London, as a good diagnostic model. COM-B looks at capability, opportunity, and motivation; behavior is an interaction of these elements; behavior change requires a change in at least one of these elements. 

If it’s not a training problem, what is it? According to Dirksen, the problem could be:

For example, in the case of hand-washing protocols: “One of the things when they teach hand-washing classes is, they tell you to talk to other people when you see mistakes being made. They tell you to talk to your co-workers if you see that they’re not washing their hands,” Dirksen said. “Nobody wants to do that!”

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Tricia Ransom: I once worked at a consulting firm where we were rewarded for the number of hours we billed to the client. One day we were all forced to take 2 hours of training on how to use our time system - specifically focused on how to request vacation time. The problem? We all knew HOW to request time off. If we did, we wouldn't reach the basic minimum hours of billable time for a raise/promotion.
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