Worker Skilling: From Studying To Doing
A look under the hood of what we mean by employee qualification
In my previous article, I had outlined how an organization must ensure that the content offered by its learning partners underwent a low-effort test at the end of each course. I would like to build on this thought and add further nuances to this piece. Today, if you were to read a business magazine, magazine, or conference, or attend a conference, you would often hear a word, and that word is skill. Given today’s market forces, the emphasis on training and retraining is justified. So I don’t want to go into why you should brush up on your skills. I would rather focus on how to do this.
Let me turn to the workplace of the contemporary world. Most of us today are part of the knowledge economy. (Please see my previous article on the knowledge worker.) That means the kind of work we do requires complex skills. A complex skill can be thought of as a skill made up of many elements that interact with each other. Learning experts Paul Kirschner and Jeroen van Merrienboer say that a complex skill can be broken down into smaller sub-skills, which are sub-skills and their interrelations. It is these complex skills that need to be kept up to date by the learner.
Since most of us have not yet fully returned to the office, learning here is referring to eLearning, or learning through the web.
Knowledge Skill Setting (KSA)
We need to dig a little deeper into what we mean by learning so that we understand how we can help learners re-qualify and retrain. Learning consists of 3 domains:
This refers to mental faculties or the knowledge aspect.
This is the emotional component of a person or the attitude aspect.
These are manual or physical skills.
It is the cognitive area that usually gets the most attention from L&D organizations and training companies. This domain can be further divided into:
- Declarative knowledge made up of facts, principles, concepts, etc. This addresses the “knowing-what” or what is traditionally understood as knowing.
- Procedural knowledge, that’s the “know-how” part. One would speak of best practices etc. here. This is classified under what we commonly refer to as “Skills”. (This is a category flaw, however. Procedural knowledge is not synonymous with skill, but we’ll leave that to another discussion.)
The affective area or the attitude component also plays an important role in the acquisition of skills. Here, “the learner moves from being aware of what he is learning to a stage where he has internalized what he has learned so that it plays a role in directing his or her actions,” say O’Neill and Murphy. The learner’s attitude towards the newly acquired or improved learning area influences how this is carried over to the workplace.
Complex learning involves integrating all three domains – knowledge, skills and attitudes – and applying that learning to the workplace. We must remember that focusing on one area at the expense of excluding the other two will not help the knowledge worker. We must also remember that it is not enough for learners to acquire learning. This learning must also be transferred to the workplace. This transfer of newly learned or updated skills must be visible in the workplace in the form of a better, faster or different type of performance, which is the reason why the learners took over the learning intervention in the first place, leading to further qualification or retraining.
It must be understood that in many cases the improved performance may not be immediately apparent, especially when learning is pursued to meet a desirable need; for example a business analyst who wants to become a data scientist. In this case, the performance would not be immediately visible, but only visible at some point in the future, when the learner actually becomes a data scientist.
However, we must also take into account that the attitudes of the business analyst in his current role will now be influenced by his learning. The desire to become a data scientist would encourage them to perform better in their current role as they continue to train to become a data scientist.
How exactly do the learners qualify or re-qualify?
The first thing learners need is high quality content from an authorized source. This means that the content your learning partner has must be based on scientific research and conform to the principles of adult education. (This was mentioned in my previous article, so I won’t go into details here.) Learners can consume this content, which is focused on the cognitive area of learning. The learners now have a new or improved area of knowledge.
It is not enough to consider the cognitive realm of learning. Although factual and procedural knowledge is important and necessary, it must be taken into account that the learners have to apply this newly acquired knowledge in their current work situation. This should lead to an observable improvement in their skills over time.
To paraphrase it from the book Evidence-Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelan and Paul Kirschner, learners need to participate in the learning process for effective transfer. Without this there is no deep conceptual understanding of what has been learned. This is where the learner’s engagement with the learning content and the learning platform comes into play. Now you can see that having great content is not enough, the learner’s learning experience also matters.
The learning experience is a broad field and I will limit myself to mentioning that the learners must have a pleasant user experience with both the learning content and the learning platform. This is an important aspect to keep in mind because we need sufficient motivation from the learners in the learning process for effective learning to take place. Since we are referring to complex skills, we can be sure that this will require hard overtime. It also means that the entire learning experience has to be enjoyable for the learner. However, caution is advised here: having fun doesn’t mean learning is fun, even if that would be a nice by-product. By having fun learning, I mean that learning is not a tedious exercise that has to be completed before a box can be ticked. Learners who have had a good learning experience will be willing to come back to learn more.
For effective transfer to take place, learners need to have an environment that includes all or some of the following:
- Opportunity to reflect on learning. This includes pausing to reflect and relive the learning experience
- Conversation or discussion with others about what has been learned
- Self-explanatory, in writing or summarizing what you have learned
- Teach others or pass on what they have learned to others
Transfer of learning also requires a thriving performance support system that would include scaffolding and an electronic performance support system (EPSS). Here, learners receive the support they need to transfer the updated learning to the workplace. We all know that it is difficult for people to learn and maintain new habits. Since most of us work from home, we cannot afford the luxury of seeking help from the person sitting next to us. It is all the more important to support the learners appropriately so that the learning transfer can take place.
We all know that to be competitive today, a company must have access to sufficient financial capital, a good product, and a skilled, well-trained workforce. Of the three, a better trained and motivated workforce will give them a real competitive advantage. Competence is therefore essential, but careful consideration must also be given when choosing a learning partner, as many decisions depend on this decision.
It can therefore be seen that all three domains, knowledge, skills and attitudes, must be taken into account in the qualification. It is not enough for learners to expand their knowledge; this must also be translated into performance.
- Evidence-based learning design, Mirjam Neelan & Paul A. Kirschner, Kogan Page (2020)
- Guide to Taxonomies of Learning, Geraldine O’Neal & Feargal Murphy (2010)