Untidy, Disorganized, Unexpected Learning Works! – Tip #112

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6 thoughts on “Untidy, Disorganized, Unexpected Learning Works! – Tip #112

  1. Thanks for another great post, Ray!

    I agree that traditional task analysis is often not the best use of time for instructional designers. Really, formal task analyses are more likely to be conducted by technical writers – the people who create the formal (i.e., approved / official / legally compliant) instructions for work processes, including the operation of equipment and software. These instructions are later condensed into job aids, etc., that provide the just-in-time performance support.

    That being said, there are a great many work tasks in countless career fields that absolutely must be performed in a specified sequence.

    A surgeon can't just choose to insert the step "Suture the incision" anywhere he/she likes during an operation – that step belongs at or near the end. Same with a nurse changing a patient's wound dressing, a lab technologist crossmatching blood, and any number of other tasks performed by healthcare professionals.

    It's not just healthcare: Truck drivers need to inspect their vehicles before they get on the road, not later, and some items need to be inspected before starting the engine / some only afterward. Chemists and other researchers know to follow a set process in order to ensure valid results. A cashier can't ask the customer for payment before ringing up their purchases. Steelworkers, miners, machinists, chefs, …

    The list goes on and on where people need to follow an established process for their job, not "jump around" to what they think they need to be doing. And this doesn't even address efficiency – i.e., how to complete a given task to minimize cost and maximize profit. Really, the number of jobs where an employee has license to DIY their task flow is probably pretty limited, at least in my experience.

    While micro-learning and performance support are helpful to recall details later, IMO there is a distinct advantage when a "newbie" learner follows the same sequence of tasks that they will need to follow later. It helps them organize their knowledge and begin building good habits from the start.

    At a higher level, I wonder if giving employees total freedom to learn in the sequence they choose wouldn't eventually have an unintended consequence of leading them to believe that they can just skip steps in their actual job tasks?

    I don't see this as a "generational" thing – I think everyone enjoys the satisfaction of a job well done, and in many (most?) cases, it will take both traditional learning and micro-learning to get there.


  2. Kim, Thanks for your reply. I truly appreciate your insights.

    I wholly agree with you that task analysis has its place in training design. This is foundational. Sadly, we see many done properly.

    You are right, there are plenty of work that are musts as step by step in the process.

    In fact most jobs are done following steps. However, at the moment of need, when steps don't work, workers find solutions to fix or change the problem.

    Although step by step are the way we teach people, in actual situations, workers may have some experiences or approaches that we never cover in the step by step training that they discovered to be important to do in their own situation. A good example would be for example in step 5 of steps 1 to 6, the bearing does not fit and the training has not covered that the bearing has been changed recently, hence, it does not work. In this step, therefore, the worker must find or solve the issue on the spot.

    Similarly, a surgeon follows steps, but each case present its own different case. A gallbladder may be remove following steps, but what happens when there is bleeding and complications?

    There are steps to most jobs, and we design training to cover all steps. But in our design sometimes we become too rigid and focus on the step by step without helping workers think that things may be different on the job.

    In some industries and work where workers are highly technology assisted, this becomes prominent. Software developers follow steps, but they learn mostly as they discover how to learn things (somewhat fumbling through.)

    I once interviewed a scientist about the process of adjusting a GPS when they launch a rocket to deliver a satellite. Mostly, the computers run the system, but the corrections and troubleshooting and problem-solving becomes a discovery and trial and error process.

    As we see more work becomes routine and technology assisted, I sense we will continue to need step by step training, but the need for more micro-actions will be needed for problem solving and troubleshooting and critical decisions.

    Micro-Learning is not a substitute to step by step training or tasks, it simply suggests that conditions of rapid change, complex environments, workers need to think and act quality, learn and find answers to help them deal with real issues on the job, might it be within the steps, outside of the steps, or without the steps.

    Furthermore, each step can be made tiny learning units (micro) so that learners can jump an go back to them easily when they need them on the job. Today, most programs limit or present constraints to this flexibility. May be this inflexibility is rooted in our desire to train on step by step, and yet make it difficult for learners to access knowledge as they "jump around" while they are solving problems on the job.

    Thanks, Ray

  3. "… helping workers think that things may be different on the job" – wow, what a great point. Strict step-by-step training may not add a lot of value above what's contained in written instructions, whereas workers need to be thinking about how to generalize information and apply it in varying contexts. Well-designed courses / curricula will do this. Since I took your (valuable!) workshops on scenario-based and story-based instructional design, my company has included those formats in our learning strategies to convert several whole curricula into 5-10-minute "snippets," and more and more of our clients are requesting this bite-sized strategy. Your posts and webinars are hitting the mark and making an impact, because it's so obvious that micro-learning.simply.works.

  4. Kim,

    Wow, That's a great insight and feedback. This is why I keep on writing blogs and running webinars. I want to bang my head to the wall and hopefully I learn from others.

    Thanks for sharing. Best, Ray

  5. This makes me think of Immersion Training. Sometimes the learner has to dive into the job and the learning happens naturally on demand!

  6. This makes me think of the value of Immersion Training for some job tasks. Sometimes the learner must dive in and the on demand "Micro – Learning" occurs naturally.

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