How to Successfully Go Virtual

This blog is excerpted from episode 24 of the Performance Matters Podcast where Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher discuss our new “normal” and the absolute need to go virtual with our training—in the workflow.

Bob Mosher (BM): Welcome back friends! It’s an interesting time in our world and industry. I am more than honored than to be joined by my dear colleague, Dr. Con Gottfredson, as we go into our topic today.

Con Gottfredson (CG): Thank you, Bob. As always, it’s great to be with you and talking about these important things that we are privileged to discuss.

BM: It truly is. This is a challenging time. We are thinking of all of you. Thoughts and prayers are out in our industry as we all struggle to deal with this personally, while at the same time, we continue to do our best to serve those that we do through learning. In many ways, re-evaluating and re-inventing who we are. And that is what today is about.

We’re hearing a lot, Con, in the world today about virtual instruction. I was on a call the other day and I must have heard, literally 50 to 100 times, “We’re going virtual! We’re going digital!” And we all get it. That’s the only current option as we are being required to literally work out of our homes. But almost immediately after those comments, came, “Who knows how to do this? How do you design it?”

Just “going digital” is the easy part. How do you design learning and how do you deliver it? That’s tougher, right?

CG: Yeah, well. There’s a vast chasm between the word virtual and the word learning. Or the word virtual and the word instruction. Making sure that people can actually learn virtually and that we are instructionally sound in what we do virtually. That’s a big deal. And unfortunately, it’s not going to happen if you just dump a traditional face-to-face learning model into the virtual world.

BM: And Con, I think I’d push it a bit farther than that because, of course, this is our rallying cry, I’d even push it past learning to performance. How do you go virtual and impact performance? I think the means is instruction. The means is delivery. The design. But I think with The 5 Moments and our performance-first mentality, I think we have a unique opportunity.

Out of anything in life there is opportunity. Now is the time to get the funding, to get support, and to do things radically different. And I think our opportunity here as learning professionals is to turn this industry on its ear so that when we emerge from this, we may not be who we were.

BM: So, let’s talk about the GEAR model which we came up with a number of years ago.

CG: Yes, our virtual workflow learning model. We have since operationalized it again and again and again with remarkable success. Today, we want to take a high-level look at this model to help you understand the instructional elements behind it.

BM: So, friends, GEAR. G-E-A-R—the word “gear.” I’ll take a crack at the first part, Con. And to Con’s point, we’re going to stay fairly high-level today.

“G” for Gather. Why not? That’s what we pivot on now. We get people in the classroom. We gather virtually. I think when people think of virtual instruction they put a whole lot of weight, if not everything, on the fact that this is what we’ll do. We’ll get people together virtually versus physically and we’ll teach them.

So, one to two-and-a-half hours was the average people could cognitively handle, depending on the complexity of the content. The other thing that’s powerful because we have that EPSS running—we’re going to keep coming back to that—you do not need to, nor should you, teach everything. Don’t chop up eight hours of class into eight different hour breaks. You probably can do four hours of an eight-hour class in smaller chunks because you have the EPSS to help during the workflow work. So, the Gather is saved as a gather should always be—physical or otherwise—for what we call the most critical skills that you identify that an instructor must be sure are taught, practiced, and communicated.

CG: Gather initiates the learning process. It doesn’t close it. Gathering initiates learning and then you move from that Gather, or virtual session, to the workflow where with the help of an EPSS or performance support, you have what we call Expand and Apply activities.

The Expand activities in the workflow are intended to provide access to resources that would allow people to deepen their understanding of what they need to know. But also to translate what they’ve learned in that Gather session and what they need to be able to do in their Apply activities to translate all of that understanding to their own work environment—to think about that, to reflect on that in terms of their work. So, it’s a deepening and expansion of knowledge and adapting that to their world.

That’s the Expand—the “E” part of GEAR.

The Apply part of the Gear Model is just that. This is where, in the workflow, the learners apply what they have learned and what they have picked up in their Expand activities to the real world of their work in meaningful chunks and in meaningful groups of activities that will further their skill development. All of that supported by the EPSS.

BM: Sure. And one another thing with Apply that I think is important to emphasize too, Con, is that in Apply you can go beyond Gather. Right? We said earlier we were only going to cover the critical skills in Gather. But in the Apply activity—and when you wrap a real-life scenario around it—the less-critical skills are going to be needed. They are going to need to be learned. They are going to need to be discovered.

One of the common things we get with Critical Skills is, “So you say you’re skipping stuff.”
We’re not skipping anything. Especially with the Gear Model, we’re going to move those lessons, those learnings, into the workflow while doing. They’ll still be covered, they’ll still be learned, and in the final stage of Receive feedback, we’ll be sure it’s all understood.

So, here’s where I want to circle around to the beginning. When we do our final analysis, you Gather them in groups. You let them review their work. They turn it in. We give them feedback. We use rubrics to give all kinds of feedback and such. They learn from each other. They Gather as a group. They hear each other’s experiences and they see some remarkable examples.

And in the end, friends, this is where the real learning happens. Because we’re not talking and reflecting on a practice. We’re not talking and reflecting on something said during Gather. That’s all covered during Gather.

Here, they get to talk about what they did in Apply, which is the application of true learning. And they get great feedback, positive and otherwise, and they get to learn from each other. And the pilot group said unanimously—that in the end—through Gather we think that’s virtual learning, getting them on line, virtually gathering—they unanimously told us that of the four letters G, E, A, and R, R was by far the most popular, that’s where the most learning occurred, followed closely by Apply. The last thing was Gather. They knew it was important, they knew they had to do it. But the least impactful part was what we think of as an industry and traditionally view as virtual instruction.

So, a really powerful model to take people through.

To learn more on the GEAR model and how you can begin implementing it—listen to the entire episode.
And don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

Axalta’s Road to The 5 Moments

This blog is excerpted from episode 25 of the Performance Matters Podcast where Sue Reber, APPLY’s director of practice, sat down with Bill Hickey, a 5 Moments Designer and learning practitioner with Axalta, to discuss what led him to search out “something more” than traditional training.  

Sue Reber (SR): Today I’m going to be talking with Bill Hickey from Axalta about the journey that he made shifting from traditional instructional design to The 5 Moments design. Bill, welcome!
Bill Hickey (BH): Hi Sue. Thanks for having me.
SR: You started out as a high school history teacher, Bill, then you got your degree in instructional design and that was traditional instructional design. Because back then it was Dick & Carry and Gagne—right?
BH: Oh, yeah, very much. “Back then” it was very much a traditional type of background. And very solid. Not criticizing that traditional background. It really has served well. But it was very much focused on the learning, how do we write the appropriate objectives, how do we make sure all the multiple choice questions have the appropriate plausible distractors in them, how do we make sure the design of our performance evaluations is very oriented to  the lesson at hand. Good experiences. Great background to have. But as I continued to progress in my career and as business challenges started to come faster and faster, you started to say, “Wait a minute. This doesn’t quite get us exactly where we need to be. It’s good. It’s addressing some things. But it’s not really getting us where the business needs us to be and, frankly, where our learners need us to be.”
SR: Bill please share a bit more about that, because in your experience—in your world—the trainers were training people and they were going back on the job and what was happening?
BH: Most of what I have done in my career and most of what the groups that I have supported throughout my career have been focusing on end users of the product. And so, they usually spent two, three, four days with those students in a very traditionally designed learning event.
And at the end of that event and we would have our Level 1 Reaction Forms completed and folks would tell us how wonderful it was. And we had our tests at the end and our knowledge assessments and everyone scoring 85 and above and we would have a performance evaluation. We could watch people perform on the job they had been trained on, and sure enough they could get that job done at our location.  
And then, it might be a week, it might be a month, it might be six months later, we would hear, “Oh, by the way, that person you trained...” and you could feel the finger pointing at you as it is said, “that person doesn’t know what they are doing.”
And you’d sit back and say, “Wait a second.” And you’d pull open the file cabinet and you pulled out the class they were in and sure enough, they passed the test. They did the tasks. They said it was “great”. But it turned out that nothing was really transferring from our learning events back to the workplace. And it definitely wasn’t’ being sustained over time.
So, where we really started to see, and I most especially started to see, if we can’t connect what we are doing to actual performance on the job, we’ve got an issue. And as the business climates became more and more intense, it became obvious to me that if we can’t fix this post-training performance thing, we’re not going to be around very long.
So “How do we start to get at that?” became my real concern, it led me to a point where I was really starting to look around and say, “There’s got to be something ‘else’ out there.” Not that what we had was wrong, it just wasn’t getting us to where we had to be.
SR: So, did you find that “other” thing you were looking for?
BH: Interestingly enough, I had the opportunity to attend Learning 2009 and I was paging through the event guide and I came across this thing called—I think we were calling it— “Performance Support 101.” And it was presented by a couple of guys you may have heard of, Con Gottfredson and Bob Mosher. And I said, “Hey!” As I read this write-up, it was pretty much saying, “Yeah, you ran a great event and people loved it. Then they went back on the job and they didn’t know what they were doing. Have you solved this?” And I said, “I gotta go see these guys.”
It was there that a light bulb went on. And the process began. The conversations began around, “How can we begin to transform what had been traditionally done, traditionally designed? How do we begin to move that into a new and different space? What are the technologies we need? What are the design principles we must have? And how quickly can we start to turn this around?” And that’s where a lot of challenges started to emerge.
SR: Could you share more about those challenges?
BH: One was personal. I attend this event. The lightbulb goes on for me with the sense of, “This is what we need. This is how we need to approach it.” And I, of course, want to flip everything right away. “Let’s go back. Let’s change everything we’re doing. Let’s modify everything about our design approach, our instructional delivery, let’s start to look at systems that will work.”
So, my own lack of patience was certainly one of the challenges. I wanted it all yesterday and that just wasn’t going to happen.
Organizational challenges. Certainly, we had a technical instructional staff who were very good at what they did. They were viewed as experts in what they did and now here comes this instructional design knucklehead coming in and telling them it’s got to be different. Because they are the ones reading the reaction forms. They are the ones looking at the tests. They are the ones who had watched the performance evaluations. They say, “Wait a minute. Everything is right!”
It was me trying to say, “No, we need to change the way we do things.” So internally, our instructional staff needed to think differently about this. And our organization as well. As we began to look at how would we do this, how we would get our entire organization to think differently about what a training function could really do—for that training function to not only have responsibility for sort of these one-off classroom experiences, but instead for that training organization to take responsibility for this full life-cycle of the learner from the first time they are introduced to our products. How do we take that and move it to transfer to the workplace and then sustain over time? Where our relationship with the learner is not measured in hours that they might be in a class but really over the lifetime of their experience with us.
So, getting the whole organization to begin to think about us differently—at a time, truthfully, when we were transitioning. Our division was being sold at that time. So a lot of those sorts of things that really tested our ability to persevere through many different challenges until ultimately we could find a spot where we could find a willing partner who could grasp what it was that we were thinking about doing and then be willing to walk down a path with us as we tried to do our first proof of concept.
SR: So, what did happen to make that shift? How did you find someone who was willing to take the journey with you on the business side?
BH: It was sort of a chance happenstance. We were working with one of our functional groups who had responsibility for getting color formulas out to customers. When you’re painting things, obviously, you’re painting them with a color formula. So how do we communicate that formula to the users of our products?
And the folks who were responsible for that were having sort of a similar struggle as to what we had. They had a lot of great tools that folks could use. They knew those tools worked well. But all they’d ever hear back from the customer was, “Your stuff doesn’t work. I can’t match the colors I need.”
“Well, wait a minute. We know you can because here it is! Why can’t you do it?”
So, sort of similarly, they could show folks something but when those folks then went out and tried to apply it, they couldn’t get it done. So here we were on the training side, here I was on the design side, saying, “Hey, I gotta get at that thing out there called performance.” And now I had someone, subject matter experts inside saying, “Hey! We gotta get at that performance. Maybe we could link this up.”
And that’s what we did. So, having that opportunity and inviting Con Gottfredson in at that point to say, “Hey, could you help us do some Rapid Workflow Analysis? Can we begin to look at the critical impact skills things that we need here? Can we put together a plan that would say, ‘Here’s how we can clarify what it is you need to instruct on?’ and then here’s the support pieces we can make sure we have in place.” So not only do what they need to do but then, over time, know what they need to know and sustain that for the long run.
And that’s, Sue, when you and I got to work together.
To learn more out about Bill’s first project, what it took to build the solution, how it was different from their previous traditional training, and the impact this “new” form of training had on training—listen to the entire episode.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

Learning Theories + Approaches

This blog is excerpted from episode 24 of the Performance Matters Podcast where Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson discuss the learning theories that have shaped where we are today—empowering the workflow.  

Bob Mosher (BM): Con, welcome!
Conrad Gottfredson (CG): Thank you, Bob. Great to be with you!
BM: I’m so looking forward to this discussion. Today we’re going to go a bit deeper and peel the onion back. We are often asked, “Is workflow learning based on learning theory?” “How long has workflow learning been around?” “What about the great work of Gloria Gery, Jay Cross, and Allison Rossett?” Today we’re going to put a bit of a bow around those questions and talk theory. Then we’ll really run at, not so much the definition of workflow learning, but the approaches we’re seeing that people are calling workflow learning. And get a bit into pros, cons, and what might be the best way to get into this.
Con, you’re the PhD in the room—take us back a bit and give us a little bit of a history lesson, if you wouldn’t mind, about sort of the schools of thought around learning theory and where the beginnings of workflow learning started.
CG: Sure, would love to. Back a hundred years ago when I was working on my PhD, I was introduced to the thought of applied learning theory. Applied learning theory is learning theory that has been applied in such a way that it’s proven itself. And that’s important. So, as we talk about learning theory it needs to be applicable and have some track record of being proven in the real world of the application.
I was grounded, in my graduate work, in behavioral and cognitive learning theory. Those are two of the three fundamental schools of learning theory. The third is constructivism, constructive learning theory, or experiential learning theory. The first real school of learning theory was behavioral, really, that I was introduced to. And Gagne and Briggs and others were really coming out of that school. It was all about training, right? It was all about principles tied to the things we could do that would make a difference and facilitate people learning the skills they needed to develop. All very important. It focused on behavioral psychology. Behavioral learning theory focused on training. It was out of the workflow. It was embedded deeply in classroom models.
Then, starting to scratch the surface of asynchronous approaches, cognitive theorists came on board and said, “I’m sorry, behavioral approaches are great but there are some cognitive things that we’ve got to be worrying about. In other words, you’ve got to understand things. You’ve got to know things as well as being able to do things. There are cognitive constructs that make a difference in terms of our ability to transition to performance. So cognitive theory shifted our mindset from training to learning. We began to focus on the learner and cognitive pieces—both of which are very important--the behavioral of learning theory and cognitive learning theory.
But at the same time there was this movement going on that didn’t get a lot of attention until much later. This was constructivism—experiential learning theory. The philosophy there, Bob, was that we learn by doing things in the real world—that experience is important—that you can’t have learning without factoring in that experience.
The theorists in the early days or early stages of this couldn’t quite figure out how to push learning into the workflow. But everything they talked about was grounded in what works today in the world of workflow learning. The bottom line is you don’t have workflow learning without the fundamentals coming out of behavioral learning and cognitive learning and constructivism. You just don’t. All of it has to come to bear to help us put together the kind of solution that we need to have in the world of workflow learning.
BM: So, it’s almost, Con, as if one builds upon the other as these theories matured.
CG: Yeah, it does! Unfortunately, there are people who sit in each of those camps and think that’s the camp they are in when in reality, each of these schools have a lot to offer. We draw upon the research and the work out of each one of these schools of learning theory to put together the methodology we have for workflow learning.
BM: Brilliant. So, Con, we’re seeing a lot of confusion in how workflow learning is approached. How does it manifest itself through the theories into how people are approaching it? Not only is there confusion about the definition, which we talked about in a previous podcast—by all means, give a listen—but at the same time we’re seeing confusion about how it’s done.
eLearning, for years, has been “just-in-time.” I was on that bandwagon early on, but it was not quite workflow learning in the way we define it today, as in “you learn while doing.” We confused it with availability.
CG: Yep!
BM: And because we could not send you to a classroom, we could put you in an LMS, we could suggest a learning path, we could assess and test, pre- and post, see who took, who didn’t, who completed, who didn’t, etc.  So, let’s talk through a couple of workflow learning approaches we’re seeing, talk about the plusses and minuses so we know where we might direct people. We hear this a lot, we’ve had workflow learning since forever, right? We’ve always learned while living. What would be the most dramatic of approaches?
CG: Well, it’s how I grew up on a dairy farm. I was just given assignments. It’s what we call total immersion. It’s where you’re on your own. It’s discovery learning, really. But I learned by doing without any help. I used to do this to our kids. I’d give them an assignment to go out and do something on our property. But my intent was for them to learn how to figure something out, not really to do something, but to develop the skill of figuring it out. But in many cases, we have what we call immersive learning, where you just jump in and you don’t have anybody to help you. You just learn on your own as you go and as you do. That kind of learning is inefficient in terms of skill development. It takes a long time to get to where you need to be and there’s always high risk of failure.
BM: But there are positives, to your point, around critical thinking skills, problem solving, maybe building confidence, how courageous I might be as a thinker or a learner. But, particularly in the professional environment, not really the best way to go. So, let’s talk about when others get involved. There are really two approaches that we’ve seen where we assign someone to guide, be present, or periodically be present.
CG: For centuries we’ve had the apprentice model, right? This is the model where you apprentice to someone and you’re right at their side. Great artists were apprenticed. It’s very costly to scale today and does take time for people to become proficient in that model. It’s why we moved to these other models that we have today, why we moved to classroom learning. The apprenticeship model—you just couldn’t afford to scale it.
So, we’ve modified it to this sporadic on-the-job coaching model. It is sort of like apprenticeship, we have coaches and send them in. The coaching model can be very effective in learning New, or learning things for the first time. It is, however, tough to have a coach there at the moment of Apply, Change or Solve. It’s very difficult to have them there at all the times they might need to be there to support people as they do their jobs.
BM: Also, how do you ensure that every coach is caught up in the world we live in today with its rate of change, with what’s the latest SOP, the latest regulations, all these kinds of things so that people are most efficient.
Frankly, Con, I think the thing I’ve taken as far as workflow learning is concerned, we want independent learners. We want people who can stand alone in their ability to perform and continue their growth. And the danger of apprentice and coaching programs is that unless the coach has coached really well the ability for a classroom or formal environment to intentionally remove the mentor, remove the coach, remove the master, remove the instructor, so the student stands alone, that’s a tough skill.
CG: Yeah. Coaching is the most misused tool that we have in our tool chest. If we designed it properly and we support coaches properly, it could be so powerful. Yet, we have them doing work that could be—and should be—done in other ways. They need to be targeting those skills where the critical impact of failure is significant to catastrophic. They need to be working on higher order skill sets, helping people to move and transition to higher order thinking and higher order performance, not down in the nitty-gritty workflow.
BM: You know, so often we pick those roles by ability. We pick those roles by seniority. We assign a senior salesperson to a junior salesperson. Then the problem is that in many cases, it’s not just the content. Or the journey to the content. It’s the dependency that they are left with or not left with. It’s their ability to do cognitive apprenticeship and scaffolding—all these words we use in education that are all about ultimately moving the performer to being self-reliant. And to your point, Con, the people who step up—God bless them—and volunteer, which is another problem—getting people to even want to do it—are often not the folks that are in the right place to instruct in a way that workflow learning would actually be maximized.
CG: I agree. Then, as you mentioned as we were beginning this discussion, there’s the whole eLearning, asynchronous learning, "just-in-time"—and we’re seeing tools out there that can give you immediate, instant access to asynchronous learning resources, but you still have to stop your work to learn with those asynchronous learning tools. So, while it might help, it’s very wasteful. If I must move through a 30-minute eLearning module to get to the nugget that I need, I’m stopping work for 30 minutes.  Maybe it’s helped with microlearning. I’m a proponent of microlearning to a degree. The problem is that I must get to the right microlearning piece at the moment of need and really, many times, I don’t even need to do that. I can just get the help I need when I need it with a true EPSS.
That’s where the real power of workflow learning is unleashed. Microlearning can carry the day just so far. But it’s not where workflow learning can and should be. It’s when you have a digital coach or EPSS in place where I can get down to 2-click/10-second access and follow that task. I am learning in the flow of work in an adaptive way. As we’ve talked about, once I’m doing that, there may be a call to drop down to a microlearning element because of the nature of things. But I don’t always have to go there. That should not be my first step in workflow learning. It should be a step I take when I can’t get there in other ways.
BM: All the great work, Con, you have done around workflow learning and the EnABLE methodology is based on sound research. But what I love about where you’ve brought us and where workflow learning is today is that it really is a defendable amalgamation of the best work in our industry. We can bring it all together in the workflow in a way we’ve never been to do before.
Brilliant, my friend. Well, as always, it’s terrific having you here.
For Con and Bob’s entire discussion listen to the entire episode and don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.