by Darrin Wikoff and Shon Isenhour

Are you buying new equipment? Are you implementing reliability improvement? Are you transitioning to a new enterprise asset management (EAM) system?

No matter what change is being made, if a site wants a truly sustainable performance increase, then it must have an education program that includes six key elements. Those elements include:

  • A business case for education
  • Learning process
  • Leadership support and involvement
  • Content that is retainable and relatable
  • Trainee ownership and control of their experience
  • Reinforcement through direct application

If the organization takes the time to execute each of these elements together, then return on education (ROE) becomes a reality.

Learning Should Have A Return On Investment

Training must be scrutinized just like any other capital investment. A company would not purchase a new piece of equipment without taking the time to understand both the cost of that equipment and the benefits that the new equipment will bring to the company. Unfortunately, many companies budget for training and either lose it in the first round of budget cuts or spend it haphazardly on whatever request the employees submit for the year. Both of these outcomes provide limited results and almost no return on investment.

The request for training should follow a process that identifies the problems the organization is having, the skills the organization lacks and the individuals who should be trained to provide those skills. The last step is a plan to use those skills within the facility after they are obtained. Once we have the problem statement, we can then identify the skills required and begin to quantify what those skills are worth in the form of documentable improvements. For example, if I know I need more volume on a line that has reliability issues, then I may need reliability engineering skills to meet that goal. The unreliability has a cost and if I can reduce it by some percentage, then I have created a return on my efforts. Now I can look for or create training that provides the skills required and the application needed for ensuring retention of the material and the returns expected. This means that the training should have a solid curriculum that meets your learning objectives and an application project in the target area to generate a payback. Later in this article, we will show you an example charter that meets all of these needs.

Learning Is A Process

Training is an event, but learning is a process. The learning process begins with a clear understanding of expectations between both the training participant and his or her immediate supervisor. The learning process does not stop once new information has been presented, but instead provides a means for frequent reinforcement and encouragement to apply new concepts. The learning process ends when new skills are demonstrated and evaluated and new behaviors are institutionalized.

Within a learning process, expectations of how the participant will apply new skills gained through the program and the performance improvement goals necessary for reinforced learning are facilitated by way of a "project charter" (Figure 1). The project charter serves as a learning contract between the participant and his or her supervisor and communicates why the training is necessary, how new concepts will be applied to the business, and what outcomes are expected to justify the expense and time invested in training the individual. The project charter helps the participant understand what is expected and what they need to learn before the training event, so they are able to engage more effectively and identify specific takeaways.

Figure 1: Learning Process Project Chart

Participants Want More Than One Medium For Learning

Each learning module within the learning solution should be designed to appeal to five types of learners. Verbal learners will key in to the narrative that supports the curriculum and become intrigued through reading assignments used to provide varying levels of detail behind each conceptual discussion. Visual learners enjoy an imaginative, animated learning environment, their senses heightened by puzzles, mazes and illustrative models on screen. Kinesthetic learners are drawn in when prompted to interact with images and animations on screen, moving objects, clicking buttons and simulating concepts using mockups or physical exercises. Social learners thrive on group discussions and will become engaged when given an opportunity to share their personal examples of each concept with others. Individual learners come alive when they have a task to complete. The project charter itself creates engagement for this type of learner and they become focused on making sure they can achieve the agreed upon expectations.

Table 1: Types of Learners

Participants Want Control Over The Place Of Learning

Recognizing that participants have different learning needs based on their backgrounds and experience level, the learning solution should enable each participant to take control of the learning pace. Online learning modules in which participants are permitted to skip conceptual discussions if their current level of understanding is sufficient increase engagement and relevancy of the learning curriculum. If the conceptual portion of the learning module is skipped, activities should be designed within these online modules to test comprehension and understanding of core concepts before the participant can proceed. Quizzes, matching exercises, or fill-in-the-blank exercises are examples of ways to reinforce learning while providing a self-paced flow through the instructional material. This effectively maintains the integrity of the learning process while promoting a learner-centered approach. Instructor-led portions of the learning solution, in turn, should be reserved for opportunities to demonstrate and practice new skills that reinforce the core concepts. This format of instructional design ensures understanding of new concepts, regardless of each participant's prior knowledge or experience, and creates application-based learning at a pace that is consistent with each participant's learning needs.

Table 2: Learning Impact Map

Training Without Reinforcement Is Not Learning, It Is Only Instruction

The learning solution must provide constant reinforcement of application-based learning objectives. During the instructional design, define project solution task assignments that are relevant to the core concepts presented and the participant's project charter. For example, if the learning solution teaches asset criticality analysis, then the participant should be expected to perform criticality analysis on a small subset of assets within their facility to demonstrate they understand the core concepts associated with criticality analysis and their ability to apply the skill effectively. It is also important to develop a means for sponsors to track participant progress on both learning module completion and task assignment completion to assess participant engagement and provide frequent encouragement. Tests or exams used to verify understanding of conceptual material are okay, but higher levels of retention and competency improvement require participants to apply what they have learned. A learning coach, therefore, should be identified to help participants apply each new skill relative to their project charter, and provide immediate evaluation of the skill application in order to advance the learning and ensure repeatability of the skill.

Learning Is Different From Training

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." ~Aristotle

As a final thought, remember that long-term results of education are realized in the application of new skills, not as a single act, but as habits that form over time. Leadership's commitment to executing new skills is paramount for learning to take place. To train someone means to provide instruction or coaching in a mode of performance or behavior and refers to the acts of the "trainer." To learn, on the other hand, means that someone comprehends what is being taught, gains knowledge from it and applies that knowledge towards a skill or behavior. Both training and learning must be present in education for new habits to form and for the individual and the company to realize results now and into the future. Developing your learning solution with the ideals presented in this article will increase participation and execution of new skills, and ensure an immediate return on your investment.

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