Saturday, December 6, 2014

Instructional Design in the VUCA World

The current trends of technology, globalization, shifting demographics and a connected globe clearly portend a dramatically changing world. We are feeling the impact in all spheres of our lives -- professional, personal and private. In my last post, I took a macro-view of the changing landscape of work and learning. In this post, I am trying to dig a little deeper and take a micro-view to see how these changes impact us as individuals and as a part of L&D. 

L&D team's work has become more complex and challenging. The L&D needs to comprise some of the following roles to cater to the changing needs of the future of work:
  1. Instructional Designer/Learning Designer-someone who will do needs analysis, design learning in line with adult learning principles, structure learning events for different delivery channels, and so on
  2. Learning Delivery-tasks like facilitation / presentation of learning events, engaging learners, making best use of different media
  3. Learning Management-tasks include programme / project management, learning evaluation, stakeholder management, supplier management
  4. Community Manager
  5. Performance Consultant 
  6. Leadership Development (Coaching Skills)-coaching and developing leaders is going to be of significant importance in this era of rapid change and ambiguity
  7. Technology Enabler-someone who explores new technologies with an eye on how it can be used to enable learning at an organizational and personal level
  8. Business and Data Analyst-maybe the same person or two different people, this role essentially requires someone to see the patterns and trends being revealed by the data captured (via LMS, through feedback, interaction of ESNs, queries raised)
  9. Social and Informal Learning Evangelist and Guide 
  10. Organizational Development Expert
It is not necessary for an individual to play a single role. On the contrary, it is to the advantage of the individual, the team and the organization if people are poly-skilled in different aspects as per inclination and requirement. Some of these roles have existed for years (the ones in bold). Some are yet to become recognized roles. I have highlighted the ones that have been a part of L&D from times of greater stability and lesser complexity. However, even those roles can no longer function the way they used to. The roles need to be revisited and explored keeping in mind the shifting paradigms, their impact on workplace learning, and the place of L&D in the organization. It's critical for a CLO to have an eye on the changing landscape and enable new skill sets within the t 

Historically, L&D has been vested with the responsibility of keeping skills and knowledge of the workforce updated based on: 
  • Inputs from managers 
  • Current business requirements
  • Skill-gap analysis 
Most of the training programs were designed around "best practices" and explicit know-how gathered over the years. Training design, therefore, was not only top down but also past focused drawing insights from what worked in the past, getting expert inputs built in, and putting the content together in a linear and logical flow. This would then be packaged (ILT/elearning/blended learning) and delivered to the workforce in need of the said training. Context, conversation and collaboration weren't given much thought. These continued to happen but outside of the purview of the formal training. 

With the advent of big shifts and disruptive technology in the shape of Social, Mobile Computing, Cloud Computing and Big Data, all the old notions of work are falling apart. I wrote about L&D's Role in the VUCA World some time back. Here, I am narrowing my focus to the role of Instructional Design in the VUCA world

There have been paradigm shifts in what drives workplace learning today. And these in turn influence the role of instructional designers. Instructional design skills have existed as long as formal learning existed – from the designing of school curriculum to e-learning modules. However, it has changed in some very fundamental ways: In the past, instructional design presumed stable content and a fixed set of skills and knowledge. Design was linear. Children or adults – it was assumed that everyone had a set of skill and knowledge gaps that training programs could resolve. Today, that stability has been snatched away. We cannot design training programs for skills that are emergent and still unknown. Today, instructional design needs to be future focused. ID’s need to leverage existing and emergent power of technology that are inherently social and mobile. 
The table below summarizes the key shifts that impact how we design learning experiences today:
All of these together have fostered deep rifts in how we work and learn. As Instructional Designers, these are critical paradigms we have to consider when designing the learning experience in our organizations. In the infographic, Futureproof Your Careers shared by Jane Hart, we can see the top 10 skills that will increasingly be required by all. Instructional design thinking must not only keep the skills in mind but also be cognizant of the forces of Social, Local and Mobile (SoLoMo) that will drive user behaviour. 
Each of these forces have a transformational effect on our behaviour. Learning design must take these new usage patterns into account. Some of the emerging behaviours range from:
  1. A preference to view a short 2 minute video to know about a something over reading a 2 page PDF
  2. A predilection for images over text - with a smartphone at their fingertips, today's users prefer to share experiences via real-time video and images rather than long descriptive texts. Apps like WhatsApp makes it seamless to share.
  3. An inclination towards accessing one's network for answers to queries over taking a formal course
  4. A just-in-time, "let's get the problem solved attitude" over "let's learn in case we need it"
  5. An expectation of finding courses, programs and access to their learning communities on their personal devices 
These shifts have slowly but surely crept up on us one at a time. And now their cumulative effect is being felt in all spheres. A summary of how these paradigm shifts may impact the work and skills required of instructional designers are given in the table below. 
One of the implications of the shift is that instructional designers can no longer think about designing only formal training programs that will go on the LMS. They have to think of the entire spectrum and see it holistically. Jane Hart's Workplace Learning Continuum illustrates the learning spectrum very effectively. Instructional designers need to take both ends of the continuum into consideration and leave the choice of access to users. 
Depending on the need of the hour, users can access any end of the spectrum -- taking full-fledged training programs if they feel the need, or connecting and collaborating on the enterprise social network to solve their work-related challenges. The choice is theirs to make. 

Since we are so used to thinking of formally designed, LMS-driven learning programs, we flounder when it comes to thinking about Learning Ecosystem design. Based on the framework above, I have tried to put together a visual representation of what such an ecosystem could be. 
The ecosystem brings the offline and online world together. An instructional designer must think of all modalities of learning when design thinking. 

Some questions to ask could be:
  1. Are groups of users co-located? If yes, think of including some offline activities like Lunch & Learns, Hangout Sessions, and so on to strengthen informal & peer-to-peer learning. 
  2. Is expertise distributed? Have an Ask the Expert section. Anyone could be an expert on any topic; in this manner, the organizational tacit knowledge will get captured, interesting questions will surface, and the value of weak ties will be explored. Learning from the edge will come to the center.
  3. Do users work out of different locations, including home, hubs, etc? If yes, inculcate the practice of narrating one's work
  4. Is the churn in workforce high? If yes, have a robust online + offline on-boarding program which includes adding users to relevant communities, an online buddy/mentor, a clearly defined roadmap based on their current role.
  5. Does the workforce consist of different generations working together? Add some scope for mentoring and reverse mentoring. If the culture of the workplace is conducive, pairing individuals of different generations could be beneficial although it is important to keep in mind that stereotyping generational characteristics can be detrimental. 
None of these are likely to happen overnight. Nor are they one-time activities. Putting in place a learning ecosystem where individuals engage as self-managed learners require constant vigilance, robust design thinking, application of sound community management principles and a strong change management focus. Some of the core tasks are illustrated in the diagram below. 

Thus, an instructional designer today is required to not only understand the fundamentals of good instructional design but must also expand his/her skill sets to include an understanding of community management, the spectrum of learning from formal to informal, the impact of social, local and mobile on user behaviour, the need to equip users with self-managed learning skills. The latter is increasingly critical as we encounter unique challenges and requirements that call for emergent skills. No one can be "trained" for emergent skills. But the ecosystem can be designed to facilitate continuous learning, collaboration and communication. 

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