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Five Moments of Learning Need

Concepts such as Performance Support and 70-20-10 are challenging the traditional idea that courses are the most important form of workspace and industry learning. The “Five Moments of Learning Need” model presented by Mosher and Gottfredson expands upon the need for several areas of learning as well as positioning them.

For several years the approach to learning throughout most organizations has been to “send people on courses”. This idea has been developed and streamlined further through technical progress such as LMS (Learning Management Systems) and e-learning. For example, classroom education can be expanded to reach an unlimited amount of users, and these users can access the content where, when and on which platform they want.
In many situations, this has been and continues to be a suitable way to transfer knowledge and create understanding. However, a majority of the knowledge acquired through traditional courses or e-learning could with beneficial results be performed by other, more efficient means.

Learning when needed

Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher has systemized this in a model they call the “Five Moments of Learning Need”. In this model, they connect learning to five occasions based on the situations we are in when learning. They also describe how these situations demand different types of learning.

Five Moments of Learning Need

  • New - When you are learning something new
    This is the part of learning given the most attention, often in the form of courses. It is also the part of learning which has received the most criticism by those who want to change organizations. This does not make courses less important, however. They are especially useful when it comes to knowledge that needs to be documented or certified.
  • More - When you want to learn more
    Sometimes we want to further our knowledge about something we already know. This can be in response to worklife needs, or out of pure interest. This has also been given quite a bit of attention, for example in the form of advancement courses.
  • Apply - When putting your knowledge to use
    It is not unusual that existing conditions make it complicated to apply newly acquired knowledge. The course you attended may have been to general in its approach, not sufficiently customized to your organizations way of doing things. Or perhaps it was a long time since you attended the course, and you have started forgetting its contents. Lastly, the task may actually be performed differently than how you were taught.
  • Solve - When problems arise
    When performing our work tasks, we might run into unexpected problems or incidents and assistance is required for us to proceed.
  • Change - When changes force us to do things in a new way
    We are to a greater extent subject to changes and adaptations demanding that we acquire new knowledge through learning.

More forms of learning

The model highlights several important issues. Firstly, it states that learning is an activity that happens during different activities throughout a working day. It also points out that these different situations require different approaches, and thus different tools.

The main strength of the traditional form of learning through courses is the ability to explain things holistically and put things into a certain perspective. This may be especially true when teaching soft skills, or when having an oversight of who and how many have completed the course is important. This might be for certifications, and it is administered by an LMS.

When learning more about a certain subject, learning needs may go in several directions. Do I want to achieve a deeper understanding, or perhaps a wider and more general understanding of the area? In general, this means a willingness to independently search for information and choose material to study. In this case, blogs, online articles and similar sources can be useful. At the same time, it is important to be critical of your sources. Perhaps the quality and correctness of external material can be controlled and collected in portals and encyclopedias.

Mosher and Gottfredson put a heavy focus on Apply, learning in practice. This is a central and big phase in all organizations and is considered by experts to have great effectivizing and simplifying potential for the workdays of staff. It is also believed to come with a high ROI (Return on Investment). Several studies have shown that a lot of time each day is spent finding answers to questions related to performance of work tasks. This part of learning has its greatest effect if it is as specific as possible, in relation to the processes of the organization. Mosher and Gottfredson further include the term Performance Support, which describes why and how learning can be initiated and furthered through the use of effective support tools and an organizational culture of knowledge sharing. This is especially true during the Apply phase of learning. Superusers are a manual, time-consuming and costly version of Performance Support.

Contacts with support services, when faced with issues or problems, also provide good opportunities for learning. Such contacts can obviously be regarding technical issues requiring direct action by a knowledgeable person. However, support issues are more often both routine and recurring, and can be solved through self-service support methods in order to save the support organization both time and money. The border between Solve and Apply can be blurry and overlapping, and a common solution to these areas may be desirable. In most cases support staff produce the self-service material, but by using Performance Support tools both production and maintenance of the material can be divided throughout the organization.

The moment of learning that is possibly growing the most is that of Change. It is also the moment given the least attention relative to its importance. Routines and processes are constantly changing, while the systems we work in are continuously being updated. This can lead to new ways and methods of working. Changes and adaptations are demanding for us as individuals, since it requires both the de-learning of old ways and learning of new ways. Most of us have tasks, both professionally and privately, that are so automated that we hardly realize we’re performing them. Driving a car is a good example of this. What happens when such a process needs to be retaught and relearned in a new way? It often takes time to go from old routines to new ones, while the costs and consequences of failure to implement the desired changes can be great. Just as in the Apply-phase, the accessibility of teaching and possibilities to learn is crucial. Coworkers being able to find what they need to learn where they are likely to look is one way of achieving this, for example making it available in the application in which work is performed or connected to activities in a process chart.

Learning in the wider perspective

So, to summarize, it is of great importance for organizations to facilitate learning throughout all of the five moments of learning. Keys to this are finding the correct tools and deliver content able to support the different phases and processes these situations demand. As shown in the illustration daily support during work tasks is a central element. Finding a good PST (Performance Support Tool) is a great place to start!

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Morten Spaniland InfoCaption

Morten Spaniland