Mar 7, 2003

Learning is Social
An interesting story from Xerox
What Thomas heard from the trenches, in fact, did little to elevate her estimation of the training department's role in the learning process at Xerox. She was astonished to learn just how removed from the sphere of real work was the prolonged methodology for developing training classes, a process that unfolded along these lines: First came a flyover visit to determine training requirements. Those requirements were handed off to designers back in Leesburg, who designed a curriculum. Months later, training-delivery specialists parachuted onto the scene armed with a detailed script.
But these scripts were next to useless, according to the workers. They complained to Thomas that they heard way too much about tasks they never or seldom performed, and way too little about some of the most crucial aspects of the job. Moreover, there was never an opportunity to practice what they were taught until three or four weeks of classroom training ground to a blessed halt. By the time workers were actually back on the job, they'd forgotten most of what they'd been told. To learn billing and credit procedures, for instance, trainees endured 11 weeks of nonstop classroom lectures before taking their first customer call.
Worst of all, none of the talking heads had ever set foot in a customer service setting. "They tell us how work gets done based on what someone else has told them," the workers told Thomas. "When we finally get back to the job, co-workers have to explain to us how things really get done."

This common phenomenon has been discussed for years in training circles, but always with the problem attributed to "change resistance" by bullheaded workers and supervisors. As far as Thomas was concerned, the workers' complaints signaled a defect in the training, not in the trainees or their peers.

Over the initial objections of the training department (some trainers assigned to the ICS project later became staunch advocates of the new approach), IRLS recommendations were put into place. Not only did the ICS workers prove themselves adept at teaching their jobs to each other, by their own accounts they were exhilarated by the challenge of doing something new and different. "It was the best sort of team-building I'd ever seen," says Rick Hawkins, who came to the ICS project from account administration. "It forced us to rely on each other daily." In learning new skills for the ICS pilot, Hawkins estimates he spent no more than eight hours away from the job, listening to co-workers in an informal classroom setting; the rest he picked up while on the work floor.