This research study revealed 5 powerful classroom-based instructional strategies to accelerate speed to proficiency of employees in complex job skills. Segmentation of tasks, self-guided pre-work, scenario-based contextualization, emotional loading/involvement and time-spaced chunked sessions.
In a previous post, “Proficiency Curve Analysis Reveals 4 Potential Approaches to Accelerate Proficiency in Workplace Skills“, I described 4 major potential approaches as revealed by accelerated proficiency curve analysis. The 4th approach emphasized a model consisting of 4 phases of proficiency growth. Generically speaking, the phases included the pre-training phase, ILT phase, on-the-job experience phase and sustain/maintain phase. These 4 phases were elaborated more clearly in the first section of the post “5 E-learning Strategies To Accelerate Time to Proficiency in Complex Cognitive Skills At workplace“. One of the key things that stood out is that the ILT phase if managed well, could impact the initial head start of an individual if he is doing a job not familiar to him/her earlier. In fact role of training towards accelerating proficiency is well-accepted. “We also believe that reducing Time to Proficiency is the most significant contribution the training function can deliver to the organization” (Rosenbaum and Williams, 2004, p.14). Several researchers have voiced and argued about the value of classroom training, particularly in low-frequency tasks and rare events. The“empirical fact about expertise (i.e., that it takes a long time) sets the stage for an effort at demonstrating the acceleration of the achievement of proficiency” (Hoffman, Andrews & Feltovich,2012, p. 9). Though training and learning research has come up with several different techniques from various studies, a practical solution to accelerate the proficiency of employees in a shorter time has been lacking for applications in corporate settings. This post intends to describe instructional strategies discovered in a recent research study to practically accelerate the speed to proficiency of employees.
Research Study on Accelerating Proficiency
During my doctorate study, I conducted large-scale research that involved over 85 thought-leaders from 7 countries, 20 business sectors spanning over 42 industries. During the data collection process, about 66 success stories were collected from participants. They were asked to detail the practices and strategies in a successful project in which they attained a guaranteed reduction in time to proficiency of employees. Various modes of data collection were employed, mostly through in-depth interviews. The data were rigorously analyzed holistically using thematic analysis and multiple-case study comparison techniques. Then the data was filtered for initial themes in classroom settings only. The early-stage findings of our study revealed 5 classroom-based instructional strategies that were successfully applied by organizations to accelerate time to proficiency in complex job skills. These strategies were presented in a paper titled “Classroom-Based Instructional Strategies to Accelerate Proficiency of Employees in Complex Job Skills” at the American Asian Conference, 2016 in Singapore. This post summarizes 5 powerful classroom-based instructional strategies that hold the potential to accelerate speed to proficiency.
Traditional vs. accelerated classroom instructional strategies
As a note, complex job skills refer to higher-order skills such as problem-solving, troubleshooting, critical thinking, complex technical and personal interactions, and higher-order decision-making. Acquisition of proficiency in complex skills is a slow process. However, business still requires faster speed to proficiency in complex skills. That makes efforts to reduce the time to proficiency of employees even more critical.
It is imperative to set a ground here that jobs in today’s business world require employees to learn several tasks which are done in the context of the situations which vary widely. Day in and day out employees are expected to handle complex problems and drive solutions to achieve solutions to these complex problems. The employees are involved in “doing” the tasks. In the process of solving, they experience a high level of emotional loading due to pressures, timelines, stresses, speed, expectations, and other factors. However, ironically, organizations tend to copy “an academic educational” model in their work settings. A complex job of a site safety professional may end up getting delivered in a closed wall classroom with a project with a curriculum that is content-heavy, but context-light. Such training sessions tend to have too much content just because employees are being taught “just in case” some event happens without having a realistic understanding of how often someone will use the skill.
Further, such classroom training pulls the people out of their jobs (i.e. context) where there is a “safe” environment with unrealistically low loading on emotions and mind. Further, such classroom training sessions tend to be instructor-centric and follow a rigid institutionalized structure. While there are several new techniques like problem-based learning [See 5 Problem-Centered Design Methods For Training Real-World Problem-Solving Skills] and 6 Guidelines to Develop Training for Acquiring Complex Problem Solving Skills] and others like flipped classroom-type of concepts, the classroom training solutions stay largely one-size-fits-all. Due to inherent inertia in even developing such training sessions, the overall time to proficiency of employees is very long. Thus, conventional classroom instructional strategies do not work when the goal is to speed up the proficiency curve of employees. Thus, new and more efficient, more effective instructional strategies are required that can bring employees up to speed quickly.
Conceptual Model of Classroom Instructional Strategies to Accelerated Speed to Proficiency
During the preliminary phases of the research study, a conceptual model was developed to see how 5 instructional strategies interplay to accelerate speed to proficiency. The model is shown in the figure. The details of proficiency growth analysis that led to this conceptual proficiency vs. time graph are discussed in other posts [see ]. The horizontal axis is time and the vertical axis is the hypothetical proficiency levels from P0 to P5. P0 represents the proficiency of someone in a given role at the outset. P3 represents the desired or target proficiency defined for a role. Typically during time N01 to N1, a learner may be just waiting for classroom training if the job is technically intensive and required new knowledge/skills to perform the job. Several jobs do offer some block of time for classroom-based training – whether product or process or service focussed. Traditional training is typically classroom-based and instructor-centric, which are denoted as ‘traditional ILT’ curve’ in a simple piecewise representation. Once this training is over at time N2, bringing a learner to proficiency level P1, typically remaining tasks/assignments this learner would learn on-the-job through several assignments, projects, and tasks. Assuming piecemeal representation in simplistic terms, the ‘traditional on-the-job learning curve’ would lead the learner to attain desired proficiency eventually in time N5.
During our research, we found that by using 5 critical classroom instructional strategies, the proficiency growth curve can be altered and can be accelerated so that the learners attain desired proficiency in time N4.