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Making Sense of Abundance: Why Mapping Matters

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Mon Aug 05 2013

Making Sense of Abundance: Why Mapping Matters
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Courses, videos, summaries, blueprints, webinars, simulations, briefings, the universal wisdom of the crowd, and the World Wide Web—isn’t it wonderful? There is no shortage of sources of inspiration and knowledge in today’s digital learning environment. The blessing of abundance, however, brings a paradox: How do you choose, from among this wealth of digital learning assets, the few that are worth the precious little time I have to invest in professional development? 

If I use one of the common web search engines to find the answer to x, what am I likely to find? Given the mix of input from distinguished academic institutions and opinionated individuals, I’m likely to get all sides of any argument. This is perhaps healthy for development of my critical thinking skills, but may cost me precious minutes if my objective is to find reliable content. 

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I set out to prove a point to myself about “the value of context.” My theory was that a random web search would return both the wheat and the chaff of intellectual nourishment. I searched the term “blogs about management” and felt fairly vindicated by the diversity of search results:

  • Blog Management (journalism context)

  • Complexity Management (scientific context)

  • Listening to Your Inner Voice Makes You a Better Manager (philosophical context)

  • Project Management (industrial context)

  • Emergency Management (healthcare context)

  • Blog des Managers (unfortunately published in French, of which I only speak the tourist dialect).

Because I was seeking resources having the context of “business management,” only one search result of those six was meaningful to me. Naturally, there are thousands more results for every type of management. Although I can certainly get smarter and more targeted in my search criteria, you must agree that’s a burdensome amount of content to scan in order to find what fits my need.

Speed-to-solution for the employee-learner

As L&D professionals, our focus is supporting, developing, and improving the performance of some organization’s employee. Because it involves the employer’s time and money, speed-to-solution is important. In our private lives, aimlessly searching, evaluating, discarding, and consuming content from the web may be tolerable as a pastime; in business, time to learn—if wasted on unlimited search—is money spent and lost.

As in the brick-and-mortar libraries of our youth, vast collections of content are indeed necessary and valuable in order to present varied perspectives and subject matter for the diverse workforce. Imagine if thousands of book titles were arranged in alphabetical order on the library shelves—chaos! Our effort to map learning resources to topics or competencies, therefore, is the Dewey Decimal System of the modern digital learning age. Mapping—and then presenting—learning assets in context improves the user experience by removing the frustrating clutter of irrelevant, albeit related, content.

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More valuable than time—performance impact

In today’s fast-paced business environment, there’s no doubt that time is of the essence when it comes to learning. “Just-in-time” and “just enough” are the values that guide today’s strategies for learning development and delivery. Although mapping content streamlines the search process, there is another overriding reason to provide context. In a knowledge-centric workplace, employees need to assimilate, translate, and apply learned concepts to actual work situations—an ability achieved by developing complex “competencies” rather than specific “skills.”

One organization defined competencies as “a unique combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that leads to high performance.” The notion of competency as multi-dimensional requires learning that addresses an issue from a variety of perspectives. Take, for example, the competency of effective communication; it will be vastly different for a customer support call center agent than for a field sales representative. Mapping communication content for each role’s unique context produces different but highly relevant learning paths for each that might look something like this:

Before you open the doors to your organization’s virtual library of learning and performance support content, invest the time to curate content by mapping it to relevant themes, job roles, or competencies. Presenting learning in context will guarantee a more satisfying learning experience for each employee in the organization—one that will translate to on-the-job performance and business impact.

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