Learning Paths International Blog
How to Get Your Employees Up-to-Speed in Record Time
Comments Off on Reducing Time to Proficiency: Big vs. Small Company?
Category: Instructional Design, Learning Paths

"learn" written on blackboard with apple, books

Reducing time to proficiency is an important and highly effective way to improve results while driving down the cost of training. I’ve done this type of project in companies with more than 500,000 employees and less than 5. Both size companies can benefit greatly, but the projects are different. Large companies have a lot of stuff and a lot of infrastructure. There is often a lot of measurement and historical data to work with. Having enough training is not usually the problem.


These projects are more of a process of getting things in the right order, getting rid of what doesn’t add value and structuring the informal coaching and mentoring. Because there is so much stuff to work with the low hanging fruit is everywhere.


Small companies usually have little or nothing to work with. It’s more of a blank slate. The approach is usually not to start building a lot of training, but rather to look for what might exist in places like colleges, associations or online. This training is then arranged and structured with all the informal on-the-job training and coaching required.


The trick with large companies is to get them to accept a change in focus and approach from curriculums and competencies toward Learning Paths and proficiencies. The trick with small companies is to give them enough support when they lack internal expertise or resources. Keep in mind that these projects are about improvement and not problem solving. This means you can start with a baseline and drive to the next level and then when done drive to a higher level.

Tags: curriculum, design, instruction, learning, learning path, proficiency, training
Comments Off on Learning Path or Learning Highway?
Category: Learning Paths

Traffic through Los Angelesby Cees Nieboer, Learning Paths Europe

Sometimes I wonder if the name is still reflecting what we actually do. I’m not saying that I don’t like the name, on the contrary, I think it’s very recognizable and strong. But I feel that given the activities we do a name Learning Highway would reflect the results in a better way. A path can, sometimes, be quite unstructured, narrow, and often has obstacles preventing you from going, very fast. Learning Paths as we implement them are fast, allow you to overtake (competition) and are clearly marked. Being in the fast lane on a clearly marked route to known destinations gives a sense of power, accomplishment and satisfaction. Others, on the other lanes, often wonder why they are in a traffic jam and how come some ‘privileged people’ are allowed in the fast lane.

Well, it might seem unfair to some, but it isn’t. Nobody is prevented from joining the fast lane. Making the Learning Paths methodology accessible to everybody out there, gives people a free choice to be part of it, or to keep wondering why everybody else is succeeding faster and with better tangible results. We can only offer the opportunity we can’t force you to change. If companies and individuals would set their fear of change aside and decide actually doing something about it results will definitely improve. Don’t think you’re a guinea pig. There have been many companies and individuals going through the process successfully. You’re not alone, qualified Learning Paths  consultants are there to support you implementing the change. Join us in the fast lane but make sure to fasten your seatbelt!

Tags: learning, learning highway, learning path
Comments Off on Mastering On-the-Job Training
Category: Instructional Design

I’ve been working this week on building an exercise or demonstration of how to do on-the-job training.  What I came up with, is using the example of how to teach someone to make the perfect fried egg.  There are a number of reasons why I think this example works well. First, there actually is a standard for how to fry an egg.  If you went to any Michelin star restaurant, they all would describe the standard in the same way.  There is a certain way a perfect fried egg looks, tastes and feels.  There is also an absolute safety standard for a fried egg.  You can’t serve raw or partially cooked eggs.

Second, this is something that has a lot of technique and takes practice.  Learning how to properly crack and drop an egg, getting the temperature of the pan right, gas versus electric stoves, etc. are all things that take practice.  For example, if the temperature in the pan isn’t right the egg will burn or cook unevenly.

With this background, you have a lot of choices of how you are going to teach cooking the perfect fried egg.  I don’t think giving out a written description or an SOP is going to be enough.  Let’s test this assumption.  Here are the directions for 1 fried egg sunny side up.

  1. Use an 8″ Tephlon or cast iron pan.
  2. Heat the pan on a medium heat.
  3. Heat 1/3 tsp of butter or oil until it just starts to bubble.
  4. Crack one egg into the center of the pan.
  5. Reduce heat to low.
  6. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the white is fully cooked.
  7. Season to taste.
  8. Remove with a spatula and put on a plate.

Okay, now go try that and see how you’ve done.  I would bet on anyone’s first try, we are going to get a lot of broken yokes, burnt edges, and uncooked whites.  Some will have given up and made their eggs over easy. (flip them over to cook the whites).

What’s missing is being able to see what a perfect egg looks like, watching how it’s done and getting practice with coaching.  It’s even missing a demonstration of what a perfect egg should taste like a feel like.  I’m not sure how many times you need to practice frying an egg to get it right, but I’m sure it’s more than 1.

I’ve assessed a lot of classroom training over the years for things like sales training.  It’s rather common for someone to teach a sales skill and then practice it with one or two role plays.  Then they wonder why no one can use that skill on the job.

How about a nice video.  Now that you’re hungry.  Let’s cook a steak.  After watching Gordon Ramsay show you how, do you think you can duplicate what he’s showing you?

Easy right?

Well I think this can make an interesting demo and get the point across about on-the-job training.



Tags: demo, fried eggs, learning, learning path, on-the-job, training

All too often training and especially training objectives focus on what you need to know, understand or be aware of.  For example,  you have to know all our of products and serivces.  You have to be aware of the safety hazards.  And, you have to understand our industry.  It’s very natural and it’s the first thing that happens when determining what needs to be included in training.  This all words fine if you’re working toward getting students or employees to pass the true false and mutliple choice tests.

But how many times have you seen someone do well on a test and fail on the job or even do poorly on a test and great on the job.  This is because there is a tremendous difference between knowing and doing.  Being able to put knowledge into action with a high level of speed and confidence is much more complex and interrelated with other skills and knowledge.  In reality, what we really care about in a business environment is what you can do and not what you know. 

So when we do Learning Path proficiency workshops, the first thing we do is ban the words, know, understand and aware.  I then replace them with a long list of action words that focus on results and actual behaviors.  This includes words like: demonstrates, plans, organizes, sells, presents and analyzes.  As a result, you get statements such as:  presents the features and benefits of our product line with speed and accuracy.  When some one makes a statement like “understands the industry” I push back by asking how and result in what.  This might end up in a statement like, “builds a prospect plan that focuses on the top 100 health care providers.  It’s a lot hard to do than it might seem, but well work the effort.

Tags: instruction, learning path, onboarding, Quality, training
Comments Off on What I Learned from Mike Tyson about Training!
Category: Learning Paths, Learning Principles

Mike Tyson said, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get hit.” This is a very important concept for training and explains why a lot of training doesn’t stick or transfer to the job. Consider what happens to customer service training when an employee fresh out of training picks up the phone and gets an irate customer. Everything they learn tends to go out the window. They will tend to question their training and say it doesn’t work and go back to the old ways. Usually training isn’t intensive enough to really master a skill in all the critical situations. One or two role plays in a sales class isn’t enough to do more than just get a feel for how to use a new sales process. It may take 50 to 100 real calls with real customers. So I’d look at any training program and ask the question, “Is there enough real practice (getting hit in the face), to make training stick.

Tags: learning path, Learning Principles, proficiency, training
Comments Off on When Good Isn’t Good Enough
Category: Instructional Design, Proficiency, Quality
“Welcome aboard ladies and gentleman, this is your captain Bill Johnson. We have clear skies all the way to Miami. Just to let you know, this is my first time flying the Boeing 757. Not to worry, I’ve been fully checkout including passing the landing test with a near perfect 95%.”

95% is a great score. You can get a 4.0 at Harvard and graduate with honors scoring 95% on all your test. However, anything less than 100% on landing a plane is considered failure. I’ve built a small mountain of training over the years and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “What should be setting as a passing score for this class?” Most of the time everyone is so concerned about what happens if someone fails the test, that they want to set the bar as low as possible.
While you might think that the pilot example is a little extreme, let me build the case for 100% and then show you how raising the passing score begins to change everything. Teaching to 100% is very different than teaching to 75%.

Let’s take something as simple as learning to add, subtract, multiple and divide. On a 50 question test if you only got five wrong, that’s 90% right. The teacher might give you a gold star or write GOOD WORK across the top. Later on your first job, you’re running a cash register. Using you’re A+ math skills, you give out correct change 90% of the time, not bad. Well maybe not, you eventually get fired because the register never balances at the end of the day.

Consider other common jobs and situations. A large part of the work in call centers involves giving out product information, taking orders and answering questions. If every agent, scored 75% or better on all their training this means that as much as 25% of the time they are giving out wrong information or making errors on your order. If you were president of the company, would this be okay with you? Before you answer, consider how much these errors cost you in terms of lost customers and lost sales.
Safety is a big deal in every manufacturing plant. If you get 75% right on all the safety tests, it’s a little like only losing a couple of fingers, if you’re lucky. Safety is something that requires 100%. Good simply isn’t good enough.

Remember 10th grade history? History is filled with dates, names, places and events. How much history is it okay to get wrong or mixed up? Does it matter that the treaty of Versailles ended World War I and not World War II? Anyway, over the years, most people forget most of what they learned in 10th grade so it may not be that serious.
In business most jobs require getting things right. Often this doesn’t happen right out of training but as a result of a lot of practice on the job. From doctors to engineers to carpenters to pharmacists, there are severe consequences for getting things wrong, even little things. When a pharmacist makes one mistake in a 1000 when filling prescriptions, it’s a disaster.

Setting the bar high is only part of the equation. There is also a cumulative effect that happens over time. It’s easiest to see in a school setting. If from first to twelfth grade you get 90% right on all your tests, that means that the remaining 10% is a growing body of knowledge that’s wrong. It doesn’t seem like a lot on one test, but on several hundred is massive. That’s for a top student. For a C student getting 70%, that’s the same as getting everything for 3 ½ years wrong.

Tags: learning, learning path, proficiency, training
Comments Off on Variety vs. Variability
Category: Quality

There seems to be a built in resistance to looking at taking the variability out of training, learning or education because people are different and have different learning styles.  Some people are looking a variability as a good or necessary thing.  I think what people are confusing is the difference between variety and variability.

Here’s an example of the difference.  Let’s go to Baskin Robbins and see the 31 flavors of ice cream.  There’s something for everyone.  That’s variety.  However, if every time you order Chocolate it looks different and tastes different that’s variability which isn’t very desirable.

To accommodate different learning styles we can teach a sales process in different ways.  However, we need to teach the same sales process.  Variability often comes in when trainers decide to substitute content, processes or models with there own preferences.  As a result, people are trained differently.  This difference leads to work being done differently which makes it harder to manage and leads to more mistakes and lower performance.  It also happens when trainers aren’t up-t0-date on what’s actually happening in the work place.  It’s not uncommon for a process or procedure to change on the job but not in the training.

It also happens when people assigned to coach and mentor do things differently.  They pass along these differences and one shift does things one way and another shift does them another.  This means that best practices aren’t shared.  So I’d say, variety…good, variability…bad.

Tags: lean, learning, learning path, Learning Principles, Quality, waste

The real starting point for providing the best training and managing costs is your set of learning principles. Learning principles are your core beliefs about how people really learn. For most learning leaders, learning principles are things they know well but are never written down for everyone to see and follow.  Let’s start with a learning principles and see how it carries through designing and delivering training. Here’s a principle that I like, “People learn best by doing.” In other words, learning happens and sticks when students practice and use new knowledge and skills in real situations. This of course, is a principle of action learning.

Now if you are going to design or buy a new training program, you or your staff would make sure it fit this principle. There would always be a lot of practice and follow-up on the job. There would probably be less classroom time and more on-the-job training. I recommend that learning leaders post and write a description with examples of 5 to 10 learning principles. If down the road you decide to add, change or modify these principles, you need to make these changes in your list and republish them. I always find that it’s hard for people to work from a blank piece of paper so here are a few suggested learning principles to help you get started. Cross out the one’s you don’t like and rewrite and expand the one’s you do. Then add your own.

Suggested Learning Principles:

1. Mastery only comes from practice
2. Change in performance is the best measure of training effectiveness
3. Classroom time is best used for practice, application, and discussion
4. Training needs to account for the different learning styles of participants
5. Training should be sequenced in the way it’s done on the job
6. Completing training should require mastery and not just participation
7. Training is only effective if it’s supported by management
8. The design of training should always start with a clear set of learning objectives

There are a lot of good models, theories and paradigms about learning that serve as idea starters for developing a set of learning principles. Just a word of caution, a lot of those models are focused on knowledge acquisition. Knowing and doing are two different things. In a work setting, principles should focus on improve the way people do their jobs. It’s not enough just to pass the test performance needs to improve. Once you’ve published these principles, the next step is to establish them as the way training is done for the organization. Not everyone will quickly understand these principles, agree with them or know how to apply them. However, you were hired as the learning expert and you need to have others in the organization look to you as the expert.

Start by getting your team on board. You can engage your team to help you build these principles including a strategy for implementing and advocating these principles. Your staff should be trained on how to talk about these principles as they go from project to project. When you review design documents and other work product of your staff, ask the question, “How does this fit with our learning principles?”

Good vendors are an extension of your staff. While they bring in expertise to enhance your capabilities, they need to fit in as well. Good vendors should have their own set of learning principles and hopefully they will be in alignment with yours. However, they need to know your set of learning principles and that they are the final word.
Finally, it’s worth spending time with line managers and executives sharing these learning principles. Don’t wait until they come to you with a request for a team building, communications or sales course. That’s often too late. Explain that for you to manage costs and really get the best training, it’s critical to follow these principles.

Ultimately you cut costs when everyone moves in the same direction without having to start from ground zero on every project. For example, when a company starts on quality improvement they might pick something like six sigma as an approach. When a department begins to work on quality, they don’t revisit this decision but work with the methodology in place. In many cases, it’s more important to have an agreed upon way of work than exactly what the method is

Tags: lean, learning, learning path, Learning Principles, proficiency
Comments Off on Do You Know Proficiency When You See It?
Category: Proficiency

While there are a lot of hard measures of proficiency such as error rate or sales productivity, you can also see proficiency in action. What you see is someone working with confidence, speed and fluidity. They really look different. Take a look at this video and see if you can’t tell if these person is proficient.

Tags: learning path, training, video

Being able to clearly present an idea is difficult.  Here is an interesting video that can be used to set up an interesting discussion on how to be clear, crystal clear.

Tags: learning, learning path, proficiency, training, video

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