How to Save the Training Department

May 30, 2007

I’ve written before about various industries floundering due to their lack of adoption of new technologies and their inflexibility. Today it was a Jake Ludington’s post How to Save Newspapers that caught my eye.

I think I take a special interest in the reports on the state of the mass media industry because my undergrad degree was in communications/journalism/broadcasting. I wonder what my curriculum might look like if I started my undergrad degree today. Blogging? RSS? Quick, inexpensive video? Search engine ranking tactics? Nope, just checked…running my fingers through my hair in aggravation!

Jake said newspapers are no longer printed paper businesses but news gathering and distribution companies. I say that training/learning departments are no longer traditional training providers but knowledge gathering and distribution departments. To thrive, Jake says newspapers need to reach the widest possible audience engaging all viable means of delivery. The same is true for learning departments.

Is it inevitable that learning professionals will lose their jobs just as some journalists, photographers, copy editors, and their managers are? What can we learn from Jake’s observations about the newspaper industry?

Learners need to be able to find you.
The learning department needs traffic and search capabilities. There should be no silos “everyone, everywhere should know what “knowledge” you have available and should be able to access it whenever they want. If your LMS can’t do this or if you need an LCMS to manage the content or if you need to mash together a bunch of tools,  figure out how to do it. This is pull time not push time!

Learners need engaging content. The learning department needs to gather and distribute content in new (non-traditional) formats based on what their learners expect. Open the channels of distribution! One orientation program I can think of was revamped from straight face-to-face to a traditional blended format (f2f + e-learning). Blended in this case meant taking the stuff you’ve got to know like security procedures, compliance, etc. and putting it online in text form. Then  get this- learners took the online portion together in a classroom with no interaction. The ‘instructor’ checked email while waiting for them to finish the e-learning course reading. This is like taking the newspaper and putting it online to be read at a designated place and time. This type of program had new employees looking at one another with WTF expressions. It was not engaging and offered nothing new and something worse than before.

Think Global About Your Locale Become an expert on your organizational communities. Communities in this context are departments, work groups, locations, etc. Promote those communities across the entire organization. Quite often, the learning department is the best kept secret within the organization. I didn’t know you had that! I didn’t know you could do that! Other times, the learning department is their own worst enemy- competing internally (my stuff is better than yours), hoarding information, controlling – its development, creation, distribution). As if the content created by others will be anymore right or wrong. Get everybody involved and be the hub.

Think Local about Your Locale Become an expert on the learners within your organizational communities. What’s the nitty gritty day-to-day stuff that’s having an effect on their performance? Get the little picture. Get learners talking about their work. Blogs with RSS feeds, Wikis, networks, text chat, etc. come into play here.

Keep Your Best Assets Perhaps is we stopped evaluating our performance with old-fashioned measurement tools (Kirkpatrick, etc.) we could focus more on building communities, nurturing communities, creating new channels of distribution, and opening up those channels. Do you have active and engaged learners? Are you doing your fair share of grunt work in making that happen? Taking the time to figure out how to blog, podcast, create quick videos, or utilize virtual communities is time well spent. This is the new job! Become an asset or don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Walter Mossberg has been a reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal since 1970. He is based in the Journal’s Washington, D.C., office, where he spent 18 years covering national and international affairs before turning his attention to technology. He holds degrees from Brandeis University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was and still is a heck of a reporter.
From his blog: Everyone can now be a video producer. YouTube and other Web sites are filled with short amateur videos created on typical home computers. Even print journalists like me have joined the trend. For the past couple of months, I’ve been recording brief video commentaries to post along with my columns on The Wall Street Journal’s Web site, WSJ.com.

Walt saved himself. I’m a researcher saving myself. Are you a learning professional saving yourself?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/weblogs/tomwerner.htm Tom Werner

    Janet, these are excellent points!

    This one sentence of yours deserves long pondering by everyone in the learning field: “I say that training/learning departments are no longer traditional training providers but knowledge gathering and distribution departments.”

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/weblogs/tomwerner.htm Tom Werner

    Janet, these are excellent points!

    This one sentence of yours deserves long pondering by everyone in the learning field: “I say that training/learning departments are no longer traditional training providers but knowledge gathering and distribution departments.”

  • Beth Griese

    The funny thing about your excellent list of lessons to learn is that those central rules of organizational training and learning haven’t changed. It’s as important now as it was twenty years ago to create engaging content, be accessible, keep your skills updated, etc., and those rules will still be important twenty years from now. The tricky part is that they’re moving targets. As technologies, coworkers, and learning styles change, we must change too. The rules are constant, but the answers to them aren’t.

  • Beth Griese

    The funny thing about your excellent list of lessons to learn is that those central rules of organizational training and learning haven’t changed. It’s as important now as it was twenty years ago to create engaging content, be accessible, keep your skills updated, etc., and those rules will still be important twenty years from now. The tricky part is that they’re moving targets. As technologies, coworkers, and learning styles change, we must change too. The rules are constant, but the answers to them aren’t.

  • Mick

    I’ve been unfortunate enough to deliver an Induction program exactly like you described. We started with a fun engaging Face to Face course and replaced it with a bunch of flat e-page turning exercises.

    Seeing an organisation embrace a new technology to enhance learning is fantastic, but please please please ensure that you have people who understand how to make it come to life!!!

  • Mick

    I’ve been unfortunate enough to deliver an Induction program exactly like you described. We started with a fun engaging Face to Face course and replaced it with a bunch of flat e-page turning exercises.

    Seeing an organisation embrace a new technology to enhance learning is fantastic, but please please please ensure that you have people who understand how to make it come to life!!!

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    What do they say Mick? …the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem? : )
    How true your words are. We can’t just embrace technology without thinking about the impact on our audience. Einstein said “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” so feel good about recognizing mistakes. I’m sure you’re program ended up better in the long run. I’d be interested to know how you’d change the program? Did you go back to f2f?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    What do they say Mick? …the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem? : )
    How true your words are. We can’t just embrace technology without thinking about the impact on our audience. Einstein said “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” so feel good about recognizing mistakes. I’m sure you’re program ended up better in the long run. I’d be interested to know how you’d change the program? Did you go back to f2f?

  • Mick

    Thats an intersting question! Funnily enough met the organisation’s requirements. It was cheep and consistant, their outcome was to get it done; not necessarily get it done well.

    I decided that didn’t fit with my philosophy, so I moved on, one can only bang their head against a brick wall so many times.

    It was however a valuable experiance of what not to do when rolling out a blended learning program.

  • Mick

    Thats an intersting question! Funnily enough met the organisation’s requirements. It was cheep and consistant, their outcome was to get it done; not necessarily get it done well.

    I decided that didn’t fit with my philosophy, so I moved on, one can only bang their head against a brick wall so many times.

    It was however a valuable experiance of what not to do when rolling out a blended learning program.

  • http://www.mctoonish.com/blog Heather

    My undergrad is in journalism as well and I suspect that you’re right about the significant difference in the courses we would have taken. I remember writing a feature/fluff article for my magazine writing course on the use of the Internet in meeting prospective mates. This was about 12 years ago and not nearly as common as it is today.

  • http://www.mctoonish.com/blog Heather

    My undergrad is in journalism as well and I suspect that you’re right about the significant difference in the courses we would have taken. I remember writing a feature/fluff article for my magazine writing course on the use of the Internet in meeting prospective mates. This was about 12 years ago and not nearly as common as it is today.

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