In this interview, Bill Wilder, M.Ed., director of the Life Cycle Institute, answers questions about adult education principles and how to maximize the return on your reliability training investment.
Question: Who are some of the thought leaders in the field of adult education that have shaped your approach to creating courses for the Life Cycle Institute?
Answer: Well, first and foremost, I’d have to say, is Malcolm Knowles, author of The Adult Learner, which was originally published in the early 1970s. Some people call Knowles the father of adult learning theory. He developed the concept of andragogy – the art and science of teaching adults vs. pedagogy – the art and science of teaching children. What Knowles pointed out are some of the differentiators that make teaching adults different from teaching children. For example, adults need to know why they need to learn. They’re more self-directed. Adults bring much more knowledge and experience to educational settings than children do. So, they require more experiential learning environments and more individualization. Another difference is that adults need to be ready to learn – learning needs to coincide with where they are in the maturity continuum or the development cycle. For example, you can’t teach OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) to someone who doesn’t understand what availability means. Adults want education to dovetail with tasks they’re facing – it needs to be relevant. Motivation for adults is different as well – it might be increased self-esteem, a pay raise or a new job opportunity.
Two other thought leaders that come to mind are Robert Gagne and Peter Senge. Gagne’s contribution was in developing a systematic approach to instructional design. His work focuses on developing instructional events that will produce specific outcomes and behaviors from training. For example, the first part of every effective educational event should be capturing a student’s attention and motivating a student to learn by stimulating his curiosity. We definitely use a systematic approach in developing our courses. And Senge’s been influential as well. In his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, Senge describes learning as “a process of enhancing learners’ capacity, individually and collectively, to produce results they truly want to produce.” Senge’s thoughts have influenced both how the Institute designs courses as well as how Life Cycle uses coaching methods and focus teams when we implement Reliability Excellence at a client’s site.
Q: How do you go about developing courses that are successful?
A: Well, we’re big believers in active training. You’ve probably heard this somewhere before: “If I hear something, I’ll forget. If I see something, I’ll remember. If I do something, I’ll understand it.” We don’t just want someone to learn something for the sake of learning. We always ask: “What do I want you to be able to do?” And then we figure out what kind of activity can teach you how to do that.
Our design methodology starts with assessing needs and developing learning objectives. We then create activities to achieve those objectives, prepare content, get it all into the right order, develop the course materials and evaluate the course so we can make any necessary modifications. This approach expands and enhances what’s commonly known as the ADDIE model of instructional systems design, which stands for the five phases: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation.
Q: The Life Cycle Institute offers instructor-led classroom training. Why have you chosen this method of instruction rather than, for example, computer-based training?
A: Computer-based training can be a great tool to accomplish certain training objectives. But classroom training remains the most effective way of engaging people actively in learning by doing and targeting the learning experience to participants’ learning styles and prior knowledge. In a typical Life Cycle Institute course, we start by introducing learning objectives, identifying the individual learning styles, and assessing prior knowledge for all participants. The remainder of the class is shaped by this. For the most part, online learning content is always delivered the same way, whereas well-designed classroom training allows the instructor/coach to adjust the methods, activities and content to the people in the class.
Q: You’ve mentioned learning objectives a few times. Why are they so important?
A: Well, to truly set the stage for effective learning, you’ve got to create learning objectives that will help people actually change their behavior. Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives forms a pyramid that illustrates the different levels of cognitive learning. So at the bottom of the pyramid is knowledge, meaning that the learner can recall data. The next level up is comprehension, then application. At the application level, the learner can use the information in new situations to solve problems or produce results. Next come analysis, synthesis and then evaluation. It’s one thing to learn the multiplication tables – it’s another thing to be able to solve a problem! So when we create learning objectives for our courses we try to move as far up the pyramid as possible, moving from pure knowledge through synthesizing and evaluating. How you create learning objectives also drives how you evaluate whether spending money on training was a wise investment.
Q: T ell me more about evaluation. How does one evaluate whether training is a good investment?
A: There’s a whole field of study related to evaluation and of course evaluating training is closely related to how objectives were defined. I always think in terms of Donald Kirkpatrick’s model for evaluating whether a learning intervention was effective. Kirkpatrick defines four levels – evaluating reaction, evaluating learning, evaluating behavior and evaluating organizational results. Most of what we do occurs at the first two levels. We use questionnaires after every class; it would be a mistake not to! The questionnaire reflects how the participant felt about training but it doesn’t really tell you whether the participant learned anything. Level 2 evaluation is more difficult and more expensive. It needs to be customized for every course vs. a generic questionnaire that can be used for any class. For some of our classes we do a pre- and post-test. It is a more complex evaluation instrument because although it’s pretty straightforward to test for knowledge, you can really only test for evaluation and synthesis with an essay question. We can’t test application or results in the classroom but we can work with our clients to design Level 3 and Level 4 evaluation strategies.
Q: Are there benchmarks when it comes to training?
A: Well, you can look at organizations that have distinguished themselves as “best in class” when it comes to training. Each year, the American Society for Training and Development recognizes organizations that demonstrate enterprise-wide success as a result of employee learning and development. Here are a few facts about the 2006 award winners: they spent 3 percent of payroll on training, they spent an average of $1,531 per employee on learning, and of the investment they made, 66 percent was in instructor-led training, the majority of which occurred in the classroom.
Q: Is there a difference between education and training?
A: I think of education as a life process characterized by tenure, experiences and formal degrees. An Institute example of education would be the Reliability Excellence for Managers class that provides the knowledge of how to apply and achieve reliability. Training is more focused on being able to do something specific. The Institute’s Planning and Scheduling class would be an example of this because you really learn how to apply specific tools.
Q: Are training and education always the solution to performance problems?
A: No, not at all. Training and education are only part of the picture. You really need to look at what’s driving the performance issue. Does the person have the skills and knowledge? Do they want to do the job? If they want to do the job, but don’t have the knowledge or skill then it’s a training issue. But if someone already knows how to do something and isn’t motivated to perform well, then no amount of training will change that. Trying to send someone to training without carefully considering performance is like prescribing a medication without diagnosing the condition that underlies the symptoms.
Q: If a manager has a limited budget, how should he choose who should attend training?
A: First I think you need to consider whether training is the right intervention for the individual under consideration. With many of the classes we offer, the need to send people for additional training is part of a wider effort to create changes in the organization and how work is performed. If this is the case, then you want to get the early adopters or innovators into learning first because they’ll become evangelists for new ideas. Usually these folks are about 15 percent of your talent pool. The influencers and late adopters will be slower to adapt.
Q: So how do you identify the early adopters or innovators?
A: They will usually be respected role models. They’re typically looked up to – formally or informally. They’re usually the glass is half full, optimistic people that are ready to try different things. Some other things that might characterize them … their friends are often innovators and they might be somewhat different from the rest of the crowd. They’ll often demonstrate or motivate from their personal experience.
Q: What do you think would be the best approach for someone who really wants to get more training, but has to justify the cost to his boss?
A: Well I like to think of training as more of an investment than a cost, but nevertheless you often do need to make a case for why the company should spend money to send you to a course. I’d suggest starting by looking at the course outline and the learning objectives. Check out the testimonials from others who have taken the course and create a vision of what you would be able to do if you could say the same kinds of things. Anticipate what results might follow and find a way to have a “wouldn’t it be great if I could…?” conversation with your boss.
Q: Could an organization save money by investing in training?
A: Yes, in the long run. In order to be worth the investment, though, you really need to have active, measurable learning objectives up front. It would be difficult to prove that training saved money because there are so many other factors involved when performance and culture changes in an organization. But you can look at anecdotal evidence and look at the results of highly successful organizations that have invested in training and encourage a culture of learning.
Q: In your experience, what is more effective, training done on-site at a company or away at a non-company site?
A: I don’t think there’s one right answer for every situation. What we have observed with the Life Cycle Institute is that when people attend public training the Level
1 evaluations from the class – how students feel about the learning experience – are stronger than for on-site training, indicating that the training has been effective at this level. This could be due to a number of factors – they’re away from the distractions of their work environment and their personal life, plus they’re engaged with people from other companies and industries that contribute more ideas and examples to the class. We find that participants in public classes often learn about new solutions from other companies or maybe discover that they’re not quite as unique in their struggles as they thought they were. In on-site training, there are often people included who don’t really want to be there, which changes the dynamic of the class. But in public classes the people tend to be the early adopters and innovators who will really change the organization and that helps build a great environment for learning.
Q: How can reliability training help address critical business issues faced by asset-intensive industries?
A: Well, one of the most critical business issues facing asset-intensive companies is the Baby Boomer retirement issue. Many organizations are facing the prospect of having half their reliability workforce retire in the near future. Many of the Institute’s classes (Materials Management, Root Cause Analysis and Planning and Scheduling) can help participants put processes in place that can make maintenance more efficient, reducing the staffing problems caused by retiring workers. There’s another benefit to these classes – there’s a lot of knowledge transfer that takes place between participants so people who have been in positions a short time can learn from more senior people. We’re trying to be responsive to those business issues. One of our two new courses for 2008, Leading People, was designed to help supervisors develop the awareness, knowledge and hands-on experience to help lead their organizations to improved results.