Do you Need ISD (Instructional Systems Design) to Support Informal Learning?

A previous post, Coached Informal Learning discussed the 70:20:10 model of learning and development which suggests that 90% of learning is achieved through informal learning and only 10% is achieved through formal learning. Effective L&D organizations use an instructional system design (ISD) methodology to ensure the formal learning developed and delivered aligns with the performance needs of the organization. With informal learning, how is that alignment achieved? The working assumption seems to be that employees will do the right thing and learn what they need to do their jobs. This still begs the question, “Who is deciding what the right thing is?” In large organizations it seems likely that many different ‘right things’ will result in inconsistent performance.

Is there an opportunity for ISD to help improve the effectiveness of informal learning?

Let’s start with a brief introduction to ISD, in particular ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation), which is one of the traditional methodologies. FKA’s own methodology pre-dated ADDIE and included a Needs Identification phase at the start and a Validation process throughout. The Needs Identification phase is critical to ensuring an unbiased exploration of the business need and to determining if a formal learning solution can help.

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We will examine the SAM (Successive Approximation Model) in a later post.

During the Analysis phase you put some specifications to the ‘right thing’, that is, you identify in great detail what the target population must know and do to be successful on the job. One of the main deliverables of the Analysis phase in FKA’s ISD methodology is a Model of Performance (MoP).

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The MoP is a precise specification of the required performance, including the characteristics (criticality, difficulty and frequency) of the performance and the parameters (standards, circumstances, human support, tools, references and job aids) influencing the performance. FKA’s MoP is more than a traditional job description; its precision and specificity makes it more like a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

The Design phase starts by deciding what components of the MoP will be included in the formal learning solution and then organizes these remaining components into a Model of Learning (MoL) made up of courses, modules and lessons. But what happens to all the components of the MoP that aren’t included in formal learning? Some components are eliminated because they are deemed to be pre-requisite skills and knowledge employees must possess to be hired; some may be simple enough that a job aid will support the required performance. There are, however, components that are eliminated simply because there isn’t enough time and money in the learning budget to develop and deliver formal learning. These should be the non-critical components of the job, but that does not mean that they are unimportant and have no impact on the bottom line. These are the components employees must now pick up informally on the job and with ever increasing pressure on the learning budgets this could easily mean employees will be expected to pick up even more of their jobs informally.

Does ISD add value to informal learning?

The answer is, yes. You may not follow all of the steps in all the phases of an ISD methodology, but defining a Model of Performance will provide some definition and direction to informal learning. Most importantly it will ensure more consistent performance improvements that align with the business needs.

You could even consider introducing some level 3 evaluation—from the Evaluation phase—to assess job performance. The MoP gives what is needed to develop a simple performance checklist that Includes the required standards. Establishing a performance goal and a method of determining if that goal has been reached would validate the success of informal learning.



Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development


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