This blog is excerpted from episode 25 of the Performance Matters podcast where Bob Mosher speaks with Elliott Masie, host, speaker, and curator of many Learning and Development events, around where we as an industry have been and where we’re headed.
Bob Mosher (BM): I can’t think of a better way to kick-off our first “Industry Matters” episode than with my friend, mentor, and one of my heroes in the industry—Elliot Masie.
Elliott Masie (EM): Absolutely an honor Bob. And for everybody listening, Bob is my mentor! I think what we ought to know in the world of learning is that mentorship is never a one-way process. We give to get and we get from giving. So, it goes both ways.
BM: Through the consortium, the many conferences you host, the journeys across this globe you take, and the work you’ve done from public to private to government, you see across the industry like no one else, in my opinion. You’ve seen where we’ve come, some of the wrong turns we’ve taken, how we have gotten here intentionally, and how sometimes by kind of tripping over ourselves.
Please share your view of how we got here and where it’s taking us.
EM: If we go back to the beginning of my time in this field, what our field was about was very specific job training. Everything we did in Learning and Development was really about training somebody to do a job to a very specific set of criteria, and for the most part, to do it either in a “one size fits many” or an “on the job, shoulder-to-shoulder, very personalized” way.
Over the years our workplace changed, and it changed what the learning field was. Bob, you were very much in the middle of the growth of the computer training industry, particularly once PCs came out.
Then, we weren’t necessarily training people for their jobs, we were training them for systems, for capabilities, for capacities, and we were training them on tools that may or may not be used directly for a specific job. This put a lot more pressure on us. We had to accept a lot more ambiguity, you know.
We then moved from a “computer training” focus to where work in the workplace was much more agile, where things evolved to where now we were teaching people for readiness. We were training them to get ready to do something even if they were not yet doing it, even if the organization was not yet doing it, and we were teaching them to teach people to go into a workflow or work environment and need to learn as that changed and as that evolved.
And all the way through that, we’ve made the shift from developing to a job to also developing a capacity for an individual. And then how do we build a collective of the workforce.
I will say that “tomorrow” is an interesting question. Just last night I sat with a number of workplace learning leaders from around the world working for labor departments. I was there with McDonald’s and a few other corporations and they kept asking us, “Okay, what do we need? What does the worker of tomorrow need?”
I think they were wanting us to say something like, “Well, they need to learn coding.” Or “They need to learn X.” And what we said to them was, “We don’t really know.”
What we do know is that we need a worker who comes ready to work, ready to communicate, and ready to learn how to perform in an environment that’s going to change pretty rapidly. It was not what our government colleagues wanted to hear. Yet I think they got it in the end.
BM: You were the first to, in my opinion, coin “personalized learning” and “finger-tip learning.” You pushed us on “Big Data.” I think the learner would laugh at the difference between what we in the learning world call cutting-edge, like LXPs and these other acronyms that they are throwing around, and the apps we use on a daily basis to get from A to B, or check our health for example.
Why do you think we, as an industry, have struggled with taking these things from an obvious reality to implementation? Where do you think the struggle comes from and how can we get beyond that? Or be better at it?
EM: The problem, Bob, and you’ve seen this at various conferences that you and I have helped host and keynote, is that it’s much easier to talk about doing something than to do it. You probably have all gone to a workshop on how learning is changing and have the person get up and use a PowerPoint presentation to tell you how learning is changing.
EM: There is a delta. There is a gap between our aspirations to be different and the extent we are tribally locked in. Then, many of us teach the way we were taught. Many organizations use the word “agility”, but the structure doesn’t promote that. And I think one of the really interesting ones—and it does go back to data—is that we’ve looked at all the wrong data. Look, I could beat up Kirkpatrick but he’s not the problem.
What we have is that we often try to measure our delivery rather than measure our impact. And if we were to measure our impact, and if we had really good trustable and immediate data, we would do it very different.
So, let’s just imagine that you were in charge or running orientation and onboarding and you were literally able to get, a week after an orientation program, to see the extent to which those individuals had integrated into their workplaces. They felt comfortable being there, they were aspiring to “x” and you might actually start to say, “Well, I got to this point, but I would actually like to be better. What could I change about what I do?”
And I think our problem is that we are still in the publishing mode in work. We know how to tell our stories, how to put up our slides. We even know how to have them turn to each other and do a work activity together. But we’re not really basing it on what personalized learning is all about.
And what we would argue in those situations is very simple. Let’s teach them what they really need to know now. Let’s index it against what they know already. Use the language. Let’s prepare them so they are now able to learn it more at that moment of need or change. And let’s look at—from a user design point of view—when am I giving them information, examples, that aren’t sticking. They’re just not sticking.
BM: Love that! Let’s pivot on this content a little bit, Elliott, if you don’t mind. You’re gracious enough to invite me into your curation lab and I so enjoy it because it’s a fresh look at a topic. Can you share with us some of your takeaways from that lab? What’s the reality of content curation? Because it’s the backbone of “personalized.”
EM: Yeah. A lot of stuff—
BM: It’s getting us away from “everything’s a course, everything’s a PowerPoint.”
EM: Yeah. I try to use examples from outside of our Learning world. Everybody that has ever stayed at a hotel, nearly all of us, has trouble with the TV. It’s a different cable system and you can’t figure out where your regular news or real estate show is. But my problem is I’m often in an area when the weather says there’s a hurricane coming in “Chanooza County” and I don’t know what county I’m in and I don’t know whether to duck or what.
This is what curation is about, Bob. Meaning that the learner has an avalanche and an overwhelming panorama of content. The key is not to give them more but to give them the right stuff in the right format at the right moment. And then to make sure you get the right impact with that. So, I use the word “optimize.”
Now our dilemma is that nobody owns curation in organizations. Maybe—and it’s always a difficulty—somebody will say, “Oh, by the way, we’re using LinkedIn learning for curation.” And I go, “No, you’re using LinkedIn learning for their collection of content. And that’s great. But they’re not curating the PDFs from the safety department. They’re not curating the TED Talks that people are watching. So, we don’t yet have a curator.
Probably I can think of five major Fortune 500 companies that have a curator. And the other piece of this is that—and this goes back to—people learn differently. Some person really wants to see a bulleted, 16-point step-by-step, some want to see an infographic, some want to watch a video, some want to have a job aid that’s right next to them.
And in the old days, they were lucky to get one. Now, if they go to Google or Bing and they type in the topic, they are liable to get a hundred and fifty—and some of it is crap. Some of it violates the standards of their organization. Some of it is fake news. And some of it is awesome. But there’s no “Yelp” for content.
This is the overwhelming element and bluntly, nobody can lock the gate anymore. Even if you build a firewall, they’ve got a device in their pocket that doesn’t stop at the firewall.
I actually believe that we may get to this, Bob—and that is to provide more and more curation at the individual level rather than at the enterprise.
Where in a sense, the learner has a curation tool and then they wire in filters and recommendations and other things from their organization.
BM: Wow! Hey, my friend, as always, I’ve so enjoyed the conversation. I so value your friendship and our relationship. Congratulations on the fifty years. I’ve been blessed to be a part of some of that and I can’t wait for the next.
For Elliott and Bob’s entire discussion, along with insights from Elliot’s new book, “Everyday Learning”, download or listen to the entire episode. And be sure to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in the 5 Moments space.
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