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Black pants: a parable for self-directed learning.

Last week I was in NYC for a great conference. One evening, I decided to go to Macy’s, near my hotel. The famous department store is huge – a complete city block and at least 9 floors of goodies everywhere. I was in search of a pair of black pants. Sounds simple, right? Nope

First of all, I am unsure of my size, having lost a lot of weight this summer (yea, by the way). And I am not a real label person, so I was not particular about brand, just fit. However, I found that Macy’s approach to fashion is to just show clothes in little or big alcoves of brands. A helpful person right by the door directed me to the third floor. At least they recognized they needed guides at the door, good.

Nothing there. I looked at the directory by the elevator and headed to a different floor. That one had more designer sections – parts of the floor divided by Calvin Klein, Polo, Ralph Lauren, Levi, all sorts of labels. No human working there in sight. As basic as black pants are, there were few and far between that met my criteria: professional looking, simple, pockets and fit. Oh, and I did not want to try on a lot as I am still in a walking boot.

After considerable searching, I finally tried on a couple and selected a compromise pair and took them to get in line to pay. By now I was exhausted. Finally, a human.

“Did I find what I was looking for?” Now, that is the question. Not really, but by then I was too tired to do much else.

How does that tie to self-directed learning?

Nice story about shopping, but really, what is the tie? Our learners today have a Macy’s department store of content. Separated into niches (LMS, 3rd party portal, courses, vendor created content, etc.) that make it hard to find a simple black pair of pants or a course for a new manager on difficult conversations.

A learning platform helps. It provides personalized learning and integrated content and an easy find what they need. Cool. But let’s take that one step further: give them just what they need, when and where they need it. Have that guide at the front door of the store know where to send them for exactly what they need. Give them curated content that is tagged, leveled and just enough. For that level of guidance, companies need a new way of design and learning strategy.

An example of taking self-directed learning to a solution

Josie, a new manager in a large enterprise, is about to have her first difficult conversation with an employee. She wants to know how to approach the subject, ideas and tactics. What should she do?

  1. Read Crucial Conversations or the Get Abstract version

  2. Find and watch a few random videos she finds on the internet

  3. Go to her learning platform and search for difficult conversations

OK, you know the answer is C. But what will she find there? This is the key. She should find pathways that will be personalized to the fact that she is a manager, that she needs quick information and that she can trust.

The real answer is to create content that provides answers in a moment of need and can point to more if she wants it. The right answer means creating digital learning content that is in pathways, short, curated and tagged.

Curation of content today

Curation helps provide the answer. Looking at another example, many research studies point to the importance of what is often called soft or social skills. Leaders look for people skilled in these power skills. In today’s world of change, employees need tools to help them become agile and adaptable.

These core skills can be curated with a blend of informal, formal, internal and external content to upskill workers. You can curate external content on agility and resilience and blend it with internal SME or leaders who talk about the idea or a course from a vendor. Then layer them into beginner, intermediate and advanced pathways and journeys. Pull in leaders and SMEs to provide content and context to add in the company point of view. That is today’s blended learning.

There is a plethora of “rapid development tools” that enable quick response to needs of the audience. Tools that mean content can be created in minutes, not days or months. Tools that let champions at all levels provide curation and relevance to pathways.

Digital learning opens doors for us in learning to help our learners get answers quickly. No more shopping around endlessly and compromise. We can get people right to the resource they need. We have AI, consumer grade tools, and front door guides that make finding our version of a pair of black pants easy. The answer is developing a digital learning strategy that matches the tool capabilities along with designing and thinking differently.

Happy shopping!

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