Learn Better

The Most Important Question In Any Learning Designer’s Arsenal

Written by Paul Rosevear

A while back I came across this great quote from Kevin M. Yates, M.Ed summing up a common frustration among learning professionals:  

“There are times where the discussion between the L&D team and the business sounds like placing a fast-food order for training… ‘We’ll take a classroom training from the lite menu with a side order of video-conference,’ or ‘Can you give us a couple of WebEx programs to go and we’re in a hurry so can you put a rush on it?’”

You might think it’s your job to simply fulfill such orders, no questions asked—many learning professionals do. After all, you’re very likely in this field because you genuinely want to get people the help they need to perform their best as quickly as possible.

But in this case, speed can come at a hefty cost.

The problem with taking orders

In the first place, taking orders undermines your expertise. The organization hired you to solve problems using your knowledge and experience as a learning professional. To do that well, you need time to dig into things, ask questions, explore possibilities, and consider the pros and cons of a particular course of action before you proceedlike any other consultant. As Clive Shepherd put it:

“To be a professional means a lot more than simply doing whatever the client wants. You wouldn’t hire an interior designer only to inform them that you’ve already chosen all the colour schemes and furnishings.”

But beyond the missed opportunity to position yourself as a trusted advisor to the business, blindly fulfilling training often invites a far simpler conundrum: the training that’s been requested might not even be solving the right problem. With only 8% of executives believing their learning programs are effective, it’s clear that we need better alignment between the training programs we create and the business benefits they’re expected to deliver.

So how can we stop taking orders for training, and instead gently push back in a way that positions us as trusted business advisors—all the while increasing the likelihood that our initiatives will succeed?

One solution? Just ask why.

One simple, powerful way to do this is by using the The 5 Whys questioning technique. It was pioneered by Taiichi Ohno, who developed the famed Toyota Production System in the 1950s. Whenever a problem would arise, he advised his people to explore the problem by asking “why” five times—or as long as it took to get down to the root cause of the problem.

This is an effective way to respectfully push back on anyone who approaches you for a training request to ensure the business’s time and resources are being spent wisely. You can use it to either verify that the solution being requested is a good path forward, or, as is very often the case, uncover a hidden problem that ought to be the true focus of your learning efforts. Here’s how it works:

Obviously the process is a lot less robotic than that, but you get the point. By the end of the process, you and the requesting business owner will be on the same page about what problem you’re trying to solve and why—so you can move on to determining how to solve it best using your expertise.

Learn more in our new eBook, The Art & Science of Learning That Sticks

We hope you find The 5 Whys useful—our instructional designers use it all the time to ensure that the microlearning content we create addresses real business and learner needs.

If you’re interested, we’ve just released a new eBook that details our proprietary microlearning method, soup to nuts, including actionable tips you can use to start creating engaging, effective micro-lessons of your own.

You can download it here.

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