Designing workplace learning activities - Podcast

Posted by Robin Petterd on 11 November 2016

An interview with Graeme Kirkwood, one of Sprout Labs' Instructional Designers, about designing guides to help managers with planning workplace learning and coaching conversations.

Subscribe using your favourite podcast player or RSS

Subscribe on Android Listen to Stitcher rss icon

Sign up to our email newsletter to get podcast updates

Links from the podcast

 

Transcript

Robin:
Today I'm talking with Graeme Kirkwood, one of Sprout Labs' Instructional Designers, about the work he's done on a couple of 70-20-10 based projects around Workplace Learning guides. Some of this work has been done in organisations that have strong competency-based assessment systems, which is why Graeme talks about trainees. The same ideas could be applied to other situations as well.

If you're interested in finding out more about some of the activities that Graeme talks about, some of them are summarised in Sprout Labs' Building Expertise ebook.

Graeme, thank you for joining me today on the Learning While Working Podcast.

Graeme:
A pleasure.

Robin:
A couple of projects you put together were what we call Workplace Learning guides that help managers and learners to choose workplace learning activities, and they also assist learners in driving learning conversations as well. What does one of these Workplace Learning guides look like?

Graeme:
Okay. I think they've got essentially three main features. I think the first one is answering the question for managers, "What are trainees learning in their formal training?" Generally, I've included a unit-by-unit summary for managers or supervisors of the formal learning that their trainees are undertaking. The point of that is to help managers make sure that their trainees’ work tasks and their coaching match up with the relevant stage of the trainees’ learning. That's the first bit, a summary of the trainees' formal learning.

The second part tends to be to address the question, "What sort of work experiences and tasks might reinforce a trainee’s learning and provide opportunities for practice?" In that second part, there are bite-sized suggestions about a variety of workplace activities that managers could organise to reinforce the trainee's learning.

The third aspect is looking at what kind of coaching interactions could assist the trainee's learning. In that third part, there are lots of suggestions about coaching strategies and questions that can be used for debriefing and reflection after workplace activities have been completed.

Robin:
It's interesting that you've divided into those three things. Quite often, people talk about managers actually doing the course, and in reality, that's actually just not quite practical. They often know the content and its skills really well, and it's just almost a waste of their time. That summary thing, I think is one of the things.

Graeme:
Yes. They just need an easy, accessible framework so that they know what's going on. The key part of that is so that they can match up the workplace stuff to reinforce that learning.

Robin:
In that middle one where you were talking about activities and possible workplace tasks that people could do, what's an example of one of those sorts of activities?

Graeme:
Yes. Can I give you five examples?

Robin:
Five examples would be awesome, Graeme.

Graeme:
I only say that because in the Workplace Learning guides I've done, I mainly think in terms of five different types of activity which are used at different stages of a trainee's progress. The first one are observational activities. A typical example there would be work-shadowing. The description of that activity would be arranging for the trainee to work-shadow an experienced operator for a set period of time; it might be half a day or a day or something like that. What you would do is brief that operator beforehand about the purpose of the exercise, so the trainee's task is to observe their approach and discuss it with them. Then the manager would follow up later and ask the trainee, "What did you learn from that observation?" That would be a first one, an observational strategy and using work-shadowing.

Then, I look at more instructional activities. An example here would be what I call a process walkthrough. That would be where you would ask an experienced worker to demonstrate and explain a particular process and to outline the circumstances say when it's applied. That's a little bit more directive than simply observation and discussion, it's asking a worker to be a teacher and to explain a process.

Then you get to the more standard work activities, which are more experiential. An example here would be what I call Mirroring. That would be where you might pick up on a task that's featured or a process or a skill that's featured in the trainee's current study. You'd identify someone experienced in the workplace who's undertaking a similar task and you would ask the trainee to do the same task that the experienced person is doing, and then, when completed, to compare and discuss the results with the experienced worker. That's where the mirroring idea comes: the trainee is doing a task, the same task that an experienced person is doing, and comparing and contrasting the results. To set that up as a manager, you need to let the worker know that this is what you've asked the trainee to do, and then follow up with the trainee when you meet with them later and ask what they learned. That's observational, instructional, experiential strategies.

The next type I guess that I use are probably more investigative strategies. An example here is one that I call Diagnosis, and this would be, say, where you give the trainee a number of cases, depending on the type of work, some of which include issues or problems and others which don't, and you'd ask them to identify which cases have issues and to prepare an explanation for you as the manager: what are the issues and what should be done about them? They're actually having to go and do some thinking and research, there. It goes a bit beyond just the experiential or observational strategies.

Finally, I have what I call reflective types of approaches. An example here would be one that I call job aid. This would be where you ask the trainee to develop as job aid on a particular process or technique which could be used as a ready reference for future trainees. Then, you follow up with the trainee when you meet with them later and discuss what they produced and what they learned from the exercise.

I hope that's not too many, but I thought it's useful to think in terms of those five broad types of activities.

Robin:
Yes, and it's really interesting as a framework as well, because essentially, some of the earlier things are better for when people are newbies, and then, on later things like the diagnostics or reflection are actually better when people have more expertise and are well on their way to becoming capable.

Graeme:
Yes, that's exactly right. More observational and instructional, more directive early on, and more experiential and investigative later. Yes, exactly.

Robin:
Cool. I'm just going to jump about from where we planned, a little bit, Graeme, because I think it actually goes really nicely into asking a question about what does that third thing look like around the coaching questions?

Graeme:
I guess in designing an activity, any activity, it's pointless unless there's follow-up and debriefing. That's where the coaching happens. So what we're trying to do in the guides is provide lots of suggestions or trigger questions. I tend to think of these in two groups.

The first group is where you're simply discussing or debriefing experience or observations that the trainees had, so you might ask broad questions like—so ask the trainee, "How would you summarise what you've learnt so far about X, Y, or Z?" That sort of broad question would then be followed up with more specific directive questions. You might say something like, "Choose one of the examples that you've been involved with and talk me through, in detail, what you found.", or you might ask questions like, "What challenged you most in this unit or in these tasks you've done?", or, "What were the 'aha!' moments for you in those tasks?" Questions like that which put the trainee in the position of having to articulate and explain what they've experienced, what they've observed, and to put some sort of framework around it; in other words, get them to think and to debrief about it. There are sort of experiential, observational coaching questions.

The other group are more about feedback. This might be following assessment tasks or it might be where you really want to give some more evaluative comment on what they've done. Questions here can be like, "What do you believe you did particularly well in task X, Y, or Z and why do you think that was done so well?", "What did you find most challenging?", "What aspects are you least satisfied with? Why?", "What are some ways you could improve your approach?". Again, those questions put the onus on the trainee, not the manager to do the talking, to do the analysis, to do the evaluation, but those sorts of questions are more evaluative than just dissecting an experience.

I think in that group, also, the coach can ask questions which throw a light back on how they're doing their role. Things like, "Is there anything you need from me?", "Is there anything I could do better that would help your learning progress?". Some other questions would be ones which look ahead: "Here's what I observed in terms of what you could have done better.", "What did you learn that could be applied to other cases in the future?", "What do you see as the next steps to take?" There's a bit of a grab bag of broad questions that can be tweaked into more specific situations.

Robin:
Really rich set of questions, there, Graeme. This actually reminded—I'm not quite sure if it's your quote or not, but I think I first of all heard it from you, that you really do anything like a simulation or role-play to actually do the debrief. Because the debrief is where the learning happens.

Graeme:
Yes, I do remember saying that, but I stole it from Thiagi in the States, who said, "The only point of an activity is the debrief that happens afterwards." I think it's spot on.

Robin:
Cool. In some ways, I think what you're talking about is really getting people to articulate what they've learnt. It also, and it's the keyword, when you said, "build their own framework", so they're starting to reflect and build their own mental models of things.

Graeme:
Yes, that's right, which is exactly what you want them to be doing in the activities themselves. It's why in designing some of those experiential and observational activities, it's about observing or partnering an experienced worker, looking at what they do, and trying to make some sense of it. The conversation afterwards just puts some structure around that.

Robin:
The other thing about the questions that seemed to work really well is, it really helps those technical experts who've ended up in that people manager role, being able to move beyond that technical expertise and gives them a real structure. Even if they don't use all the questions, they sit there and go, "Actually, I might just use these two or three questions during this next conversation," and the feedback we've got is, it's really changed the way the conversations happen with the teams.

Graeme:
Exactly. Coming back to your first question, about what's in a workplace learning guide, what does it look like, one of the key things is that all of these suggestions and ideas are bite-sized. They're things that a busy technical manager can take on quickly and easily.

Robin:
Okay. Just to wrap it up a little bit, if someone else was developing one of these guides, what would your suggestions be?

Graeme:
I guess that the first thing, which is probably bleeding obvious, is to think carefully about what kinds of activities would match the work being done in the organisation that you're working with, and also what kinds of activities would match up with the various stages of the trainees’ learning. As we said before, if it's early in their learning, what kinds of observational or instructional strategies might be appropriate? If it's later in their learning, what kinds of experiential activities might be appropriate? But to just think carefully through what kind of work is done here, where are the trainees at in their learning, so therefore, what kinds of activities would be appropriate.

Then, for an L&D person, I think, the process that I followed was to then identify a set of likely activities, give them a name, and I sort of gave you examples before or some of the names I've used, like Mirroring or Shadowing, Diagnosis, etc. Give them a name, and then develop a sort of thumbnail, generic descriptor for that named activity. The point of that is to make the conversation that you have with an SME, the content experts, to make that conversation easier, because you can say, you can have a conversation like, "Do you reckon a mirroring-type approach would work in this situation?", and they've got a generic description of what that might be. Then the work becomes, "How can we customise this and make it a more detailed thing for a particular context?".

Then, I think, more broadly, in considering those possible activities, consider them across the range of types of observational, instructional, experiential, investigative, and reflective, so that you've got more chance of the activity both being appropriate or powerful, but also, you've got activities which are going to stretch trainees right across the taxonomy of thinking and analysis that they need to do. The work activity should not simply be just about practice and routine. You want to stretch them and get them to be thinking, as well. Hope that made sense.

Robin:
It makes sense. Great set of wisdom, there, Graeme, especially I think one of the things around that finding the right work task, I sort of think of it as finding the moments where a reflective conversation is possible or where you can do a little bit of a stretch. I think the Mirroring one is a really nice example of that, of getting people to do the same task and then comparing results. Especially works well for decision-making.

Graeme:
Yes. I guess probably one of the other messages in there, too, is to, from the manager’s point of view—who are often, most of the time under the pump and time-poor—design activities which don't always involve you. Design activities which engage other workers in a unit or in the organisation. That frees the manager or the supervisor more for the coaching that occurs afterwards, but also helps build the team and builds team involvement in the training of new people.

Robin:
Yes, and what we've seen happen with that is that it really makes it clear to everyone that learning and constant learning is important and everyone can be involved and helps to build a sense of there being a continuous learning culture, as well.

Graeme:
Yes. Exactly.

Robin:
Cool. Thank you, Graeme, for joining me today. That was really great, and there were some really great insights and some very dense things around questions and activities in that particular podcast, as well, so thank you very much.

Graeme:
Good, my pleasure.


comments powered by Disqus