A few weeks ago, GovLoop hosted an event we dubbed “The Future of Learning in Government.” At the outset of the event, we asked participants to jot down their training challenges on a a 3X5 card and turn them in. I happened to be flipping through those cards today and one question struck me as particularly poignant for public sector training professionals:
How do you design and develop practical training fast and efficiently?
I’m pretty sure event participants walked away with a solid answer to that question, but I also wanted to share some thoughts for folks who couldn’t attend using a recent Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) project as a case study and based on three words in that question — practical, fast and efficient.
1) PRACTICAL: At the end of the day, none of us like training that’s mostly theoretical. If you’re like me, you want a brief, 50,000 foot view of the topic, but zoom quickly to the point where it applies to my reality. Encourage me to do something immediately with what I’ve learned. That’s essentially the challenge that FHWA presented to the GovLoop team a few months ago, asking us to work with them under interagency agreement to transform a 2-day, classroom-based training into a multi-week online experience. As part of their Every Day Counts initiative, FHWA assembles several intergovernmental teams (federal, state and local) that are tasked with creating an implementation plan that replicates proven but underutilized innovations from state to state. Nearly 100 participants from 7 teams and 20 federal, state and local DOT agencies joined the MOOC-style course.
Now here’s where it gets practical. We structured the seven-week rhythm of the course to coincide directly with the component parts of an implementation plan. Each week, participants learned about one small segment of the plan through a 60-minute live webinar, then they broke out into teams to work on that portion of the plan using either a wiki embedded in a GovLoop digital classroom or document sharing on SharePoint. The final product was more than a hypothetical exercise; it would become the document that drives the teams’ activities for the next two years.
2) FAST: From the time we signed the interagency agreement to the time we needed to launch week 1 of the course was roughly 2 months. We had no time to waste (so we didn’t)! Knowing that it would be nearly impossible to produce all the content within that tight constraint, we decided to sketch out the 7-8 weeks of the course outline, but would launch with only the first 3 weeks of the course content (Instructor Guides, Participant Guides, slide decks, online discussions, reading and videos, etc.) complete. Rather than rushing to get it all done, we took advantage of the staggered deployment approach to listen and learn from participants in each of those first three weeks. We conducted real-time evaluations that allowed us to gain feedback and rapidly iterate on each subsequent week.
What was particularly fast about our design and development approach was revealed most acutely in weeks 4 through 7. We would host the live webinar on Tuesday and monitor digital classroom engagement on Wednesday-Thursday of each week, meet as a team on Thursday afternoon for agile analysis, then update and finalize the content for the next week by Monday mid-morning. It was a frenzied pace, but we’d do it all over again because we saw the value and impact on participants’ learning outcomes.
3) EFFICIENT: What makes this learning experience efficient, from my perspective, is that FHWA was able to cut costs for the training while also scaling it to include more participants. In the past, they would have flown those 100 participants to a location for 2 days. When you consider the savings we achieved on air fare, hotel plus 2-3 days of per diem, printed guides, supplies, etc., they probably were to engage more participants at half the cost of the in-person training.
In terms of results, you might also wonder how efficient it was in terms of knowledge transfer as compared to in-person training. Ultimately, 93% of course participants either agreed or strongly agreed that the instructors were effective in sharing course content across the seven weeks. Eight out of ten indicated that the level of interaction kept them engaged and that the content was valuable in helping their team complete its implementation plan. One participant even said, “It helped me feel like I was in a real classroom.”
Practical, fast and efficient training. It’s possible. And it’s definitely the “future of learning.”
By the way, if you want to read a couple write-ups of our event, check out these two posts:
If you ‘re interested in working with our learning development services team under interagency agreement as we did with FHWA, drop me a line at email@example.com.