Closing the Gap Between Training and Performance by Marty Rosenheck, Ph.D.

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1 CBT Solutions Magazine and the CBT Report Performance-Centered Learning Motivation to Learn Learning Like the Experts Guidelines for PCL Closing the Gap Between Training and Performance by Marty Rosenheck, Ph.D. There is a problem with training. Everyone knows about it, but few people mention it. The problem is that most of the content of typical training programs never gets transferred to the job. Think of the investment in training development, delivery, and time that gets wasted. Yes, when compared to instructor-led training, computerbased training (CBT) generally improves retention, reduces training time. But using CBT does not guarantee that job performance will be significantly improved. For this to happen, people must be highly motivated to learn the content, they must be able to remember it, and they must know how and when to apply it to the job. The problem remains that much traditional CBT falls short in these critical areas. Some organizations attempt to overcome this problem by bypassing training altogether and replacing it with a performance support system (PSS) on the job. By providing on-the-spot reference and guidance, a PSS can help people, as Gloria Gery has said, "do more than they know how to do." This solution is excellent in many situations, especially when a computer is used on the job. However, there are many other situations when PSS solutions are neither logistically nor economically feasible. For example, a salesperson cannot continually interrupt a face-to-face conversation with a customer to refer to a computer screen or job aid. In this and many other jobs, people need to learn what to do before they can begin doing it. If we agree that there is a continuing need for training that prepares people for their jobs, the key question becomes: How can we design CBT that translates into performance on the job? Performance-Centered Learning The performance-centered learning (PCL) approach to training, based on cognitive science research and theory, goes beyond traditional CBT in closing the gap between the training event and performance on the job. The PCL approach immediately immerses learners in simulated job scenarios. Faced with meaningful problems to solve, they are motivated to seek the information they need. At this "teachable moment," the system provides the information in the form of on-line reference, minitutorials, or stories from experts. The learners then use this information to move ahead in the simulation toward the next teachable moment. For example, we recently implemented PCL for a large

2 department store chain that needed to train their sales associates how to sell furniture more effectively. The CBT was centered on a set of simulated customer scenarios. When a virtual customer asked about a particular product (the teachable moment), the associates retrieved the on-line information about that product, and immediately put their learning to use by answering their virtual customer s question. The PCL approach leads to improved job performance in three ways: It improves motivation to learn by placing people in authentic job simulations, providing a meaningful context and relevant goals for learning. It improves retention of essential knowledge and skills through a focus on active learning. It increases the transfer of learning to the job by fostering the construction of direct links in the learner s mind between the content and how it is used on the job. The table (below) summarizes the differences between Traditional CBT and PCL. Two Approaches Compared Traditional CBT Performance Centered Learning Behaviorist Roots Cognitive Roots Objectivist Constructivist Tutorial Based Scenario Based Bottom Up Top Down Learning Before Doing Learning While Doing Extrinsic Motivation Intrinsic Motivation Passive Learning Active Learning Inert Knowledge Linked Knowledge I will outline how PCL differs from traditional training in the areas of motivation, retention, and transfer. Then I will share some guidelines for creating effective PCL systems based on my experience over the past decade in applying this approach to product sales and customer service training, medical and science education, and software and technical training in the health care, financial services, and retail industries. Motivation to Learn I remember one day in my junior high algebra class, as we sat listening to Mr. H. deliver a particularly lengthy discourse on how to solve some equation or other, one weary classmate raised her hand and asked, "Why do we have to learn this stuff? I know I ll never use it." The flustered teacher responded, "Trust me, it s important. Besides it will be on the exam." That answer was not good enough for my friend or for the rest of us. Ironically, when I ran into her years later, I was surprised to

3 discover the she had become an engineer at GE. She used algebra in her job all the time. We know that people are naturally motivated to learn in order to achieve goals that are meaningful to them. Children want to learn how to walk so they can get where they want to go more efficiently. A salesperson wants to learn about a product if she knows exactly how that knowledge will help her sell more. But when the intrinsic motivation of a direct connection to the job context is missing, training becomes inherently uninteresting even boring. In that case, traditional training programs must rely on extrinsic motivators such as exams, rewards, and punishments. Traditional CBT, which is based on a behaviorist paradigm, often separates content from the context of its use on the job. It takes a bottom-up approach to instruction. Broken down into its smallest components, content is presented in small segments and interspersed with multiple choice questions. After all the component parts supposedly have been learned, the learner takes a quiz or exam. In some cases, the information presentation is followed by an application exercise or simulation, but it is up to the student to figure out how the previously presented information applies. The biggest problem with the learning before doing method of traditional CBT is that presenting information separate from the job context is boring. In an attempt to overcome the motivational limitations of traditional CBT, designers have used four approaches. One tells the learner up front how important the material is the WIIFM (What s In It For Me) approach. A second method is to use extrinsic motivators, such as verbal or graphic rewards (e.g., eye candy or congratulations) for completing a section or answering a question correctly. A third way is to wrap the content in a game. The forth approach uses the wizardry of multimedia to present information with splashy graphics, audio, and video. But the excitement and novelty quickly wear thin with these motivational techniques, and the inherent boredom of the decontextualized approach eventually seeps through. Performance-centered learning offers a top-down approach. With PCL, our furniture sales associates learn while doing, instead of before doing. Sitting through a presentation about the features and benefits of various mattresses is not very interesting. But that same information becomes very interesting at the teachable moment, when they need that information to answer their simulated customer s question. When learning through a series of teachable moments within meaningful customer situations, students are far from bored. Plus, they can see the value of learning the information right away (unlike my algebra classmate). Students get the knowledge they need only when they need it and are motivated to use it. They have the control to get no more and no less information than they need to do their job. Traditional CBT is grounded in an objectivist epistemology that says there is objective knowledge out there in the world, and the

4 job of instruction is to present that knowledge in such a way that learners absorb or replicate it in their minds. In contrast, PCL is grounded in a constructivist epistemology that believes people actively construct knowledge by interacting with the environment, therefore, the job of instruction is to provide contexts within which learners can build their own knowledge structures. People are not tape recorders; they are active knowledge constructors. In traditional CBT learners are presented with content in a well organized sequence which they receive in a passive mode. If it is well designed traditional CBT, it sprinkles the information presentation with questions or exercises. However, these are usually low level recognition or short-term memory questions. In the PCL approach, learners get the information they need at a teachable moment in the context of a problem solving situation. Then they immediately put it to use to solve the problem at hand. Active, intentional use of information increases the likelihood that it will be retained. By using information in a meaningful context, learners construct their own idea about the content that closely connects to the context of its use. PCL provides people the means and support they need to construct their knowledge base. Learning Like the Experts Even if people are motivated to learn, and they remember what they have learned, they still need to know how and when to apply it on the job. Much of what is remembered through decontextualized traditional training is inert knowledge. Like an inert gas, it is isolated knowledge that is not connected to how it can be used on the job. Performance-centered learning makes use of the cognitive science research on the development of expertise that to enables learners to construct linked knowledge that is tied to its actual use on the job. Classic research in cognitive science has examined the differences between experts and novices. Studies were done in physics, comparing novices (straight A physics students) with expert physicists. The physics students did very well on physics exams. But when they were given authentic physics problems to solve, they were not able to apply their knowledge to solve these real world problems. The expert physicists were able to solve the novel problems quickly. What did the experts have that the novices lacked? Researchers found that the major difference between novices and experts was not the amount of knowledge they had, but in how that knowledge was organized in their minds. Not surprisingly, the novices organized their knowledge in a way that matched the organization of a physics text book. The experts had reorganized their knowledge according to the way it is used to solve real problems. It took years of experience, and reflection on that experience, for the experts to reorganize their knowledge. Unfortunately, in today s organizations, we don t

5 have years to wait. How can we shorten the path to expertise? The PCL approach uses a systematically selected set of case simulations. By providing essential information at the teachable moment, we help the learner construct direct links between the information and how it is used to solve real problems. This linked knowledge is readily available for use when a learner later encounters a similar situation on the job. So, when our furniture sales associates are asked by real customers about the differences between two mattresses, they can easily access the knowledge they constructed during their PCL training to make the sale. Guidelines for PCL Design Designing PCL programs takes a bit more time and effort than designing traditional CBT programs. But the resulting improved job performance makes that investment well worth it. Here are some guidelines for the design of PCL programs. Gathering Content. Use existing written material (including training material and manuals) only as background and reference material. Instead, use real subject matter experts or master practitioners people with expertise in actually doing the job. These people are critical to the construction of authentic scenarios. Use knowledge engineering methods to uncover and model the experts thought processes and their knowledge organization. Content gathering is iterative. The content determines the scenarios and the scenarios focus the content. Link all content to its use in the simulations. This assures that only need-to-know content is retained and nothing important is left out. Constructing Scenarios. To determine the number of scenarios necessary to learn the specified content: Create a matrix with the key content points laid out in the left column and scenarios across the top. Key Content Points Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3 Content A x x Content B x Content C Content D x x

6 Fill in the matrix to determine the minimum number of scenarios needed to incorporate all the content while keeping the scenarios plausible and coherent. Vary the scenarios by other important factors, such as task type, product group, ethnic mix, etc. Creating Teachable Moments. Construct the simulations so that they set up a series of teachable moments that lead the student to seek the key content. Create teachable moments by having the learner perform a task, make a choice, or answer a question in order to move forward. Provide Information Sources. Make sure that the appropriate content information is easily available to the student when it is needed at the teachable moment. Use multiple types of information sources to accommodate people with different learning styles. Types of information source include: On-line Reference Mini-Tutorials Expert Stories Performance-centered learning programs in which people learn while working through meaningful job simulations, can increase motivation, retention, and transfer to make sure that training really results in improved job performance. By the way, my junior high classmate recently quit her engineering job to become a teacher. There is hope.

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