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ATD Blog

Building Enhanced Performance Capability: Tools, Techniques, and Technologies

Wednesday, April 14, 2021
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Does your organization constantly need to transform and add new processes and technologies that require different skill sets? Does the L&D team find it difficult to create learning assets to reskill and upskill at the current pace of change?

Learning, like all work processes, is changing to meet the demands of the digital age. How might the learning professional use new or different tools, techniques, and technologies to accelerate the creation of a learning system to drive and sustain new performance capabilities. An integrative approach and a dynamic portfolio will result in the ability to meet changing business challenges more effectively and before they become urgent and critical.

Recently, members of the ATD Forum community gathered online to focus on a technique, a tool, and a technology to assist learning professionals to think differently about their overall strategy and portfolio. While these were not entirely new concepts, they used ideas in creative and innovative ways. Below are three unique approaches, as presented by the thought leaders, to help build performance capability.

Learning Clusters Using Personas: Technique for Enhancing Performance Capability at the System Level

It can be a struggle, and feel like a no-win game when organizations are trying to provide the right amount of learning in the right format, at the right time. If you can identify with that, then the learning cluster design (LCD) model might be just the ticket you need. Not only can it help you make sense of all of the current learning assets you have and use them more effectively, it also can serve as a guide for implementing a more systematic and personalized approach to learning design going forward.

A learning cluster is a series of learning assets that surround distinct learner personas, who are trying to close a performance gap on the job. These learning assets cross multiple times in a deliberate, thoughtful way, and at three distinct learning touchpoints: social, formal, and immediate. These various assets ensure learning content is available at key moments of learning need because they pinpoint deeper requirements of those personas that will have a proportionally larger impact on the desired business results.

CLUSTER is the acronym for the process used and includes:

  • Changing on-the-job behaviors, such as the goal
  • Defining the Learner-to-learner differences with personas for diverse contexts rather than designing for a single user
  • Upgrading existing assets to fit the new situation
  • Surrounding learners with assets that meet their specific needs and focus on the whole not the individual parts
  • Tracking transformation of Everyone’s Results

The concept is the brainchild of Lisa M.D. Owens and Crystal Kadakia and described in detail in their book, Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM. It is based on research, experience, and application.

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Hackathon: Tool for Breaking the Current Mold for Idea Generation

In Hackathons Unboxed: A Field Guide to Ideating, Leading and Winning (2018), Alvin Chia states: “Contrary to popular belief, hackathons don’t simply happen—they require careful orchestration. We don’t create magic by tacking the hackathon label onto conventional 'brainstorming’ sessions or 'change management' sessions.”

A hackathon is a short-term experience that brings together cross-functional teams to solve challenges by generating ideas for new products, services, and concepts. Many organizations use them to engage their employees, share new ideas with senior leaders, and create innovative solutions that people use every day. However, most organizations employ them to generate software and technology ideas—not for use in the L&D space. During this session, John Parsell shared the critical steps, guidance, and resources necessary to prepare and run a talent development hackathon, including how to build diverse teams equipped to create winning solutions and how to capture the spirit, energy, and creativity of a hackathon.

Hackathons help you break down the silos of your organization and capture your employees’ imaginations. Because of their competitive nature, they inspire employees to get involved and push the boundaries of risk-taking to create innovative solutions.

According to Parsell there are five critical components in the hackathon. These include the:

  • Goal, which must be clear
  • Challenge(s) for the teams to solve
  • Diverse team that represents a mix of the organization
  • Clear expectations for both the process used and the results from the teams
  • Engagement of all stakeholders associated with the challenge

An additional tip is to provide teams with an insight document, which is a list of documents containing any information that will help them with solving their assigned problem by developing an innovative solution. This may include more details of the challenge itself, related reports, and any available data on the topic or challenge.

A big lesson learned from the hackathon experience is the importance maintain a high level of energy during the entire length of the event. This requires being available to all participants, making sure the judges are informed and engaged, and providing information as it is needed.

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More details and examples are provided by Parsell in his recent issue of TD at Work, “Execute a Hackathon to Solve an L&D Problem.

AI-Enabled Chatbots: Technology for Coaching Learning

A chatbot is a computer-simulated conversation that occurs via text or text-to-speech. It is powered by a software application and can interact with users through automated conversations. The idea of supporting and reinforcing learning through use of an artificial intelligence coach, in the form of a chatbot, is appealing to organizations to help with scale, cost, and availability. But current chatbot technology is not yet able to carry on an emotionally intelligent conversation on par with a human. So, what can a chatbot do effectively?

For this session, Vince Han discussed the best chatbot practices for coaching use cases. According to Han, two modes of chatbots exist: passive and programmatic. With passive chatbots, the user must initiate the conversation, generally with a question. Programmatic chatbots, which can turn into coaches, assist employees with various roles associated with learning, including accountability, goal tracking, reminders, and conversation triggers. Chatbots sending reminders can be a huge boon to retrieval practice, which contributes to sticky learning.

In the discussion, Han shared many tips and lessons learned when it comes to using chatbots, including the importance of channel selection to ensure security, A/B testing, asking for frequent feedback, and keeping the script current. Some of the strengths of using AI-enabled chatbots as learning coaches include 24/7 access, the ability to personalize the interaction or coach, robust reporting, and the capability to scale the coaching. However, they are not without their limitations. The chatbot cannot handle in-depth, open-ended questions, nor can it exhibit genuine empathy with the user. For that, you still need human support. If you are interested in a test drive, Han offers several opportunities at his website. You also can learn more by checking out his January 2021 TD Magazine article, "You Had Me at Hello."

Over the course of these three sessions, the ATD Forum community was introduced to the learning cluster design model, hackathons as an idea-generation, problem-solving tool, and AI-enabled technology for coaching. These three solutions share a common characteristic: they support more personalized, learner-centric development experiences. In addition, they have the potential to help learning leaders expand their ability to provide meaningful ways for employees to build performance capability and solve current problems.

By leveraging these tools, L&D can impact what’s happening in the workplace, not just in the classroom. What’s more, by developing new skills, employees become more future-ready. How can you delve deeper into investigating these options for your organization?

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

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