L&D Podcast recap - Nick Shackleton-Jones
Training & Learning

Beyond Education: An Exploration of Learning Design Maturity With Nick Shackleton-Jones

Learning & Development functions need to move beyond education if they are to fulfill their potential–but what does that actually mean?

In this podcast recap, Nick Shackleton-Jones shares his Learning Maturity model and we discuss what this means practically for L&D leaders, organizations, and each stakeholder within it. Check out the full episode here.

Nick is a genuine thought-leader in L&D, responsible for initiating a shift from ‘courses to resources’ and for the effective context model of learning. Beginning his career as a psychology lecturer, Nick has led learning functions at Siemens, BBC, and BP.

Now CEO and founder of Shackleton Consulting, Nick is also the author of ‘How People Learn’, and has won several awards including the Learning & Performance Institute’s Award for Services to the Learning Industry.

Nick’s Learning Design Maturity model can help L&D leaders shake off the education mindset that prevents us from doing enough that demonstrably works in ways that are meaningful for our organizations. Read on to hear more about Nick’s model and how you can implement it in your own organization.

The 3 levels of Nick’s Learning Design Maturity model

Nick’s Learning Design Maturity model has three levels: education with a focus on content, task-focused performance consulting, and a human-centered design that focuses on people.

Level one starts by defining education and its inability to meaningfully impact performance.

1. Education: a missed opportunity for impacting performance

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, people were learning through experiences or hearing stories about what other people had seen or done–that was learning.

“Then around the time of the industrial revolution,” explains Nick, “something awful happened. We developed factories.” Before, children were learning with their families, but with the adults working in the factories, the children needed somewhere to go.

The result was classrooms filled with children supervised by an adult and the convention of reading a book and getting the kids to recite extractions of the book. “And that was the basis of education,” says Nick. 

Through an L&D lens, Nick’s point is that organizations started mini-education departments to do something similar: put people in a room and read or show them some text. “Then technology came along and they started taking chunks of the textbook, putting it out, and people would recite it and maybe do a quiz at the end,” he says.

The problem? In Nick’s experience, this approach doesn’t have any impact on performance. Traditionally, this is the way L&D departments have always operated. But now, this way of doing things wastes money and resources because the end result is a lack of impact on people’s ability to improve in their role. 

Nick’s rule of thumb: “If I'm looking through a program design and I can’t see anything that's challenging, then it's just education.”

So, where to from here?

2. Performance consulting: building resources and changing systems

The next step is performance consulting, the trust of which is figuring out how we can help people with their tasks and their jobs.

Nick changes the learning context, not pushing content on people, but instead thinking about building resources, changing systems, and making it easier for people to do their work.

“The challenge with that though,” he says, “is it's essentially learning elimination. What you're doing is reducing the need for somebody who develops capability. That's why, if you read some of the classic performance consulting texts like Swane or Nigel Harrison there isn't anything in there about instructional design.”

Nick explains that instructional design belongs in the education ‘bucket’. “Whereas in performance consulting you focus on the task and you can be a good performance consultant if you don't know anything about learning at all because you're eliminating that”.

In performance consulting you focus on the task and you can be a good performance consultant if you don't know anything about learning at all because you're eliminating that.

Performance consulting is a big step up from education because all of a sudden you’re helping people do their job. “You're removing the need for them to learn because they've got useful resources or you've changed the system,” Nick says.

The next step? Demonstrably impact performance by focusing on people.

3. Human-centered design: build transforming experiences

The final step of Nick’s Learning Maturity model is adopting a human-centered design and building experiences that transform people to help solve the two problems arising from performance consulting.

“One problem is it only works when people care,” Nick explains. “That's the odd thing. People will only use guidance and checklists and so on if they actually care.”

The second problem is that there are situations where you need to transform people and develop capability. “You wouldn't become a pilot without going through a simulator,” says Nick. “You need to take the next step which is human-centered design. Build experiences which transform people as well as design stuff that helps them.”

So, that's a whistle-stop tour of the three steps of Nick’s Learning Maturity model, but what does it mean for L&D teams, organizations, and stakeholders?

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How does human-centered design and experience look from an L&D perspective?

When it comes to how we perceive experiences, Nick went onto use an example of when he speaks at conferences, he tries to engage the audience with a specific hook or by revealing a secret. However, when people approach him afterward he notices that everyone remembers something different. 

“What I began to realize is that we don't actually remember anything that we experience,” Nick says. “We remember our reactions to what we experience. If you do not react, you don't remember anything, but if I suddenly took my shirt off and danced around like a maniac, everybody would remember.”

Nick found audience interest is critical and is what’s missing in education. “Nobody says in education, ‘Let's construct a curriculum around the things that matter to you’,” says Nick. “If you actually want to do learning, you've got to take the time to understand what matters to your audience because that's going to determine what they remember.”

“That's going to be your key lever if you want capability development and behavioral change,” he says. “So, you carry out an audience analysis because without that you cannot build experiences that transform people.”

The thrust of person-centered design is that it's a systematic data-driven way of finding out what tasks people are doing, what they care about, and then building the performance support that will help them and address what they care about in a way which is going to transform them. 

“So, that's why those two things go hand in hand,” says Nick. “In real life, a lot of our learning is driven by the challenges that we face day to day. These are things we care about and in a training context, we have to create simulations and artificial challenges which drive that similar process.”

Top tip: People’s jobs are their learning path, driven by day-to-day challenges, and learning and development should be a part of that equation.

Is it possible that the reason for the L&D function being stuck in education comes down to the expectations of organizations? Nick believes the answer runs a little deeper.

Related: How to Put Your Performance Improvement Plan to Work: An Expert Interview With Steve Villachica

In real life, a lot of our learning is driven by the challenges that we face day to day. These are things we care about and in a training context, we have to create simulations and artificial challenges which drive that similar process

Why distinguishing between education and learning is important

First, Nick explains that a big part of the problem arises from conflating education and learning. “We actually think education has something to do with learning,” he says. “Whereas generally, it's a really good way to stop people from learning—they're very different techniques.”

However, many of Nick’s clients will have been through education and so they have the expectation that will be his approach–putting people in a classroom and putting the content into their heads.

“That's really difficult to come away from because we exist to be in service to the organization,” he says. “It's not enough to start a conversation like we're having here about the philosophy of learning. You might have to build their trust and say, ‘Look, I'm going to do something a little different here. You're just going to have to trust me’.”

The education approach to L&D is difficult to come away from because we exist to be in service to the organization.

Nick uses the 5Di model, a human-centered design approach, to take a step back from education and guide stakeholders toward the business outcomes they’re after.

The 5Di model for impacting results and outcomes through performance

Simple and practical, the 5Di model is: define, discover, design, develop, deploy, and iterate.

As Nick explains, you start by taking a step back to define the outcome in terms of results. “It's about defining what the business problem is,” he says, “talking to your audience, and understanding what they care about and what tasks they're having to do.”

Next, you discover the concerns and tasks that underpin performance and move on to design a solution that has resource and experience components. “The experiences will push their capability,” Nick says. “But I think the flip side is that people generally like to develop. They like to be stretched and challenged.”

“So, I think there is a reason why organizations should actually be building learning experiences and be thinking about developing capability rather than just performing support guidance,” says Nick.

Thank you Nick for sharing your learning design maturity model with us! Feeling inspired and keen to hear more insightful L&D experiences? Check out my discussion with Flexport’s Alexis Burbul on leveraging internal expertise.

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