Monday, November 8, 2010

The Question of Big Questions: Extinction or Evolution?

Tony Karrer posts an interesting Big Question this month. Clive Shepard and Jason McDonald have already posted a couple replies; I especially like Jason's indignation over questions whose relevance is very narrow. I also like the format in which Clive answered the Big Q. So, I will rob a bit from both for my own take.

One of questions I have dealt with is: How do we get the special knowledge of top performers into training? It's a question many have had to deal with in different circumstances. My recent experience in a large, global, corporate environment shows me that, at least in very big companies, the answer to this question is likely to be a difficult thing to get a handle on. The better question should be: How do we get top performers actively involved in the training process, and put others in consistent contact with them?

Which gets to another evolving discussion, that being the question of the shift from pure teaching on the part of instructors to a facilitation model. And in an age that is moving toward knowledge management more and more - another trend I've been a part of recently - top performers are increasingly going to have to take an active role. This means the instructional designer or performance technologist is now in the role of facilitating a solution rather than simply creating and implementing. The top performers must also facilitate to a degree, but also curate their focus area. Tony Karrer has had many posts of late on the increasing trend driving curation, and I think that is also becoming true of the workplace. As knowledge management systems grow, content experts need to monitor and evolve their own content. What they contribute regularly will potentially form a significant part of their responsibilities going forward.

The question or whether or not training departments need to show value is most certainly dead. And buried. The new question is only how they do so. This new reality has also begun to have us reconsider questions about what we measure in the wake of training. Kirkpatrick answered that question many years ago, but recent trends may have us reassessing the value of measures such as those covered by his Level 1. Kirkpatrick's Level 2 may also be changing, especially considering the just-in-time nature of many training systems like EPSS, and the continuing move away from centralized, formalized training in the workplace. Level 3, Level 4, and Phillips' Level 5 are becoming the new epicenter due to their focus on real numbers. Focus is moving more toward the complex end of the assessment scale, where there is more tangibility of results. Intangible factors are still important, but in tough economic times its the numbers that steal the show for management.

So the question is, do old questions go extinct, or does discussion and practice in professional circles evolve them? Certainly technology has changed the questions, and in some cases introduced an answer nobody could have anticipated. For example, who a decade ago thought the blogging model could work in corporate environments for passing information to or interacting with employees? Many of the solutions have changed the question (evolution); however, will the original question ever be relevant again? That implies some level of extinction. I like to think of the process as an evolution more than one of extinction, but the answer is probably, both.

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