You are told you need to go to another office, but you don’t know where it is. Do you take a train? A plane? Drive a car? Ride a bike? How impossible is it to choose a mode of transportation if you don’t know the destination?
Learning is no different in this comparison. It’s simply a broad term that reflects many different modes of changing the brain … and just like transportation, the mode strongly depends on what you need in the end.
We need to understand the goal or results before requesting or creating a workshop. Otherwise, it is like choosing to drive before you know where you’re going. Hopefully, it’s not to go to another continent!
So instead of asking whether workshops, mentorship, or on-the-job training is best, let’s look at the journey and results each of these learning modes will give us.
Learning Vehicle Option: Mentorship
HOW: a coach or mentor sits with an individual or team for a period of time on a consistent basis.
PRO: tacit knowledge gets shared naturally for teams and very specific needs get addressed for individuals.
CON: doesn’t scale, moves slowly, and only covers things when a coach or mentor is present.
DELIVERY: highly dependent on what is being mentored – some require in-person while others can be virtual or even asynchronous.
RESULTS: reliable but unpredictable improvement.
Learning Vehicle Option: Workshop
HOW: teams go to a workshop and try to apply it afterward.
PRO: builds awareness and scales well. People start speaking a new shared language.
CON: teams struggle to apply it and often results in little change unless followed by mentorship, which then breaks the scalability. While there is often a new shared language, there is rarely a change in action. Shared belief that the change has happened combined with no real change can become an obstacle for real change.
DELIVERY: often in-person, but can also be done virtually in certain circumstances.
RESULTS: the best individuals improve but most people do not. Everyone gains enough awareness to take the next step if there is support.
Learning Vehicle Option: Micro-Learning
HOW: teams choose small shifts to practice and learn based on their goals and needs, then learn them one at a time as a part of normal work.
PRO: focuses on specific needs, change behaviors to meet those needs, and is scalable for any delivery style.
CON: requires the content expert to not only deeply understand the domain, but also be able to break it down into specific behaviors with predictable outcomes.
DELIVERY: can be accomplished as self-directed, coached, or a train-the-trainer program, and is easily supported virtually.
RESULTS: reliable and predictable improvement towards the need.
What works best?
None of these options are a bad way of learning or a good way of learning. Each is simply a mode of learning that gives very different outcomes. Each is useful in certain contexts. If we just jump into one then we may deliver the wrong outcomes for our context.
It’s a human tendency to jump to design and delivery because it’s so actionable. It gives us clear metrics and goals. The reality, however, is that if we back out of the trees and look at the woods, we can ensure that all of those actionable tasks, metrics, and results will actually matter.
Don’t run the risk that you have a beautiful learning experience and it not deliver the results you need. After all, you can’t drive across the ocean and it’s crazy to fly across town. Know the results you need. Know your audience’s constraints. Know the journey that will get them to those results.
And THEN design away 🙂