Workplace Learning and Performance: Optimism and Responsibility

May 5, 2011

Learning executives across the United States are more optimistic about the training industry than at any other time since ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) began issuing its quarterly Learning Executives Confidence Index highlights reports two years ago, the latest summary shows.

The news is not particularly astonishing; the project began around the same time the worst recession most of us have faced began. It does, however, reflect the improvements many of us have been noticing over the past year in workplace learning and performance opportunities.

Nine out of ten of the 354 respondents to the invitation-only survey “expect the same or better performance for their [workplace learning and performance] industry in the next 6 months,” and seven out of ten expect “moderate to substantial improvements” (p. 5).

More than four out of ten respondents anticipate “increased expenditures on outsourced or external services to aid in the learning function in the coming months of 2011. Outsourced or external services include such expenses as consultation services, content development, content and software licenses, and workshops and training programs delivered by external providers” (p. 8).

Two-thirds of the respondents think the use of e-learning will “moderately or substantially” increase during the next six months, and they see a similar increase in the use of Web 2.0 technology—again, not surprising given the number of social networking tools such as Twitter, Skype, blogs, and podcasting tools used as vehicles for delivery of learning opportunities.

This is far from insignificant; workplace learning and performance, according to ASTD’s “2010 State of the Industry Report,” is a $125.8 billion industry annually (p. 5 of the “State of the Industry Report”). It’s an important part of our overall commitment to lifelong learning. And, as ASTD representatives playfully note, it’s part of an effort designed to “create a world that works better.”

In spite of the encouraging news documented in the quarterly Confidence Index report, there is no time for complacency here. The way we learn and the way we offer learning opportunities is changing in response to the availability of online tools, and continuing economic pressures hinder learners’ opportunities to travel to attend face-to-face learning sessions (p. 9 of the Confidence Index report). There are also plenty of examples of stultifyingly ineffective face-to-face and online learning offerings that diminish rather than encourage learners’ enthusiasm, as any of us who regularly attend training sessions can confirm.

On the other hand, there are plenty of organizations like the more than 125 ASTD chapters across the United States and the national society itself that offer learning opportunities for trainer-teacher-learners interested in improving our knowledge, skills, and ability to meet workplace learning and performance needs.

The responsibility to engage in actions that would merit and nurture the optimism expressed by those 354 learning executives who contributed to the 2011 First Quarter Learning Executives Confidence Index report remains firmly in our hands.

(Work-Life) Balancing Act—If It Doesn’t Kill Us First

January 15, 2010

The most simple of innovations continue to open the world to us, as I was reminded again today while traveling across the country from my desk in San Francisco. Within a three-hour period, I participated in a wonderful online conversation with colleagues who are involved in and passionate about library workplace learning and performance programs; exchanged learning resources online with a Chicago-based colleague from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD); and unexpectedly found myself drawn in live through a virtual back door to the American Library Association (ALA) midwinter meeting in Boston—an event I had hoped to physically attend before other matters intervened.

The conversation with library colleagues (now archived online) was through the latest T is for Training episode hosted by Maurice Coleman, Technical Trainer at Harford County (MD) Public Library. On the agenda was a discussion about how those involved in workplace learning and performance programs achieve—or struggle to achieve—a balance between work and life away from work. We also talked about how we create our own space for learning opportunities. One of the threads that ran through both conversations was the idea that the more we could integrate our work with the rest of our lives, the better off we seemed to be—as long as we could, at the same time, disengage ourselves from work on a regular basis. Viewing everything we do as a learning opportunity, for example, means that even when engaged in personal learning endeavors, we are continuing to develop skills which are also useful in our workplace endeavors.

As the session came to an end, a colleague who is attending the ALA midwinter meeting in Boston contacted me via Google Chat. She was listening to two people whom I admire very much and rarely see outside the opportunities offered by ALA gatherings, so she decided to relay a little of what was happening—while it was happening. The immediacy of the exchanges certainly was no replacement for actually being there, but it did prove to be a much more satisfying substitute than I would have believed possible. As I’ve written elsewhere, attending conferences serves as an incredibly powerful tool in building and maintaining communities, and even this brief online virtual moment of attendance contributed to that process for me.

Shortly after we ended the online chat, I returned to responding to email messages. Among them was one from my Chicago-based ASTD colleague, who had written to provide an update on some online resources we were both exploring. Noting that there was some overlap between various online discussion groups we have joined or are in the process of joining, we found ourselves musing, through a quick exchange of follow-up email notes, about how difficult it is to achieve a balance between using the various online tools available to all of us and not being overwhelmed in the process.

“All this technology is supposed to help us, right?!” she asked.

“Yes,” I agreed, “if it doesn’t kill us first.”

It didn’t kill me yesterday. It hasn’t killed me today. And I certainly don’t intend to let it kill me tomorrow. Above all, I’m grateful for the way it keeps all of us interacting within our various learning communities, and I’m delighted for the lessons that I’m acquiring through those cherished interactions.

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