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Training and the Need to Learn

Given the stream of changes in software, hardware, and the new technologies with which we do our jobs, continual learning will become a characteristic of our culture. We are not there yet, as the learning of both college procedures and software techniques are often perceived as an interruption rather than as a normal part of our daily work. We take 'time out' for training; we want it to be a one-shot experience. We like the immediate benefits of being able to use a new application program, but we are often irritated when that application is updated and we need to relearn. The attitude that learning is somehow only supplemental to what we do must change. In fact it will change. Learning, whether in the form of reading update information, or training workshops, or courses, or degree programs, or in any form, will become a regular part of the work we do.

We will more often ask the question of ourselves and of each other: What do I need to learn (to solve the problem)? We don't ask that question frequently enough. We do ask: How can I array all that I know to solve the problem? Both questions are healthy, but the question What do I need to learn? opens the door to the Information Age. It is the best question to deal with the climate of change we live in, because, more likely than not, we don't know enough to solve the current problems, even if we knew enough to solve the last ones.

In MCCCD we've done both an excellent job and a miserable job of training. When training has occurred, it's been excellent. Unfortunately, the training has only scratched the surface in terms of quantity and in its strategic focus.

Training Services at the District Office has offered one to three session workshops in a variety of microcomputer application programs, including Intro to the Mac, Intro to IBM, as well as workshops in A-1 and Bitnet. Training Services taught 679 different employees over a two year period of time, from July 1990 to June 1992. These offerings are supplemented at the colleges in a variety of ways. For example, SCC employs a technology trainer. PC and MCC are building out faculty resource centers in which training often takes place in the context of developing a project, with access to other support resources. GCC's center for courseware development serves as a similar learning resource. In other cases, employees are referred to courses that are offered through the existing college curriculum. Probably most training is 'on-the-job' training, by employees who learn the software applications as they use them. Training is currently available on a popular, but limited set of topics. The reasons for this are clear. In the first place, the development of training workshops is fairly expensive. For example, it may easily take 280 hours to develop a seven-hour workshop. Because the technology changes, the workshop materials need updating from time to time. This factor alone limits the number of new workshops that can be prepared each year. But in the second place, there are simply too many software applications for any one person to know well enough to teach. As a reasonable result, training is available only on those applications which are extremely popular, and at an introductory level. In fact, there needs to be a guarantee of a sizable audience for the training over an extended period of time, before the training workshop would be developed at all.

Training, over the past few years, has tended to be a backfill type of training, rather than a strategic training. Of course, that's where the largest audiences are. And the need for this type of training is demonstrable. However, introductory learning of current software applications has partially obscured some of the other technology training needs we have which would keep us in the mainstream. For example, the MCCCD community needs desperately to know more about the network we're on, including 130 AppleTalk zones. And we need to learn how that knowledge can improve access to information that is available on servers within the MCCCD District. And then we need to leverage that knowledge into using the Internet. We should be using training opportunities to also prepare ourselves for the next waves of technology changes, as well as making better use of current applications.

Our training paradigm nudges us into providing training for the greatest number of people on the most popular tools. It fails to deliver strategic training; that is, in training us for the present, it fails to prepare us for the future. Our training paradigm ignores the multitude of ways in which employees could (and do!) learn.

We need to develop a new learning paradigm for employees. This new paradigm would recognize many different learning form--taking workshops, reading manuals, developing projects using unfamiliar tools, enrolling in courses and degree programs, researching and gathering information, engaging in a listserve discussion, interacting in a MUSE, serving on an Ocotillo Group, or preparing a lecture/workshop on new material or procedures.

This new learning paradigm would recognize that, of course, learning is a part of each employees' production during each week. With this new learning paradigm, college departments and services would routinely prepare learning materials, which might take the form of job aids, booklets, workshops, or electronic help forums.

The hiring workshops given by the Employment Department or the public information on servers provided by the Legal Department and MCLI point the way to implementing a new learning paradigm. The new paradigm of employee development doesn't alter a lot of what we do now, but it would expand the scope of available resources for learning. And, most of all, it would recognize and reward continued learning.

The district office and the colleges may become brokers of training more than developers of workshops. Expertise at one college may be more readily called upon by employees at another college to provide training. For example, one college may have taken the lead in a particular area, using the Internet for instruction or collaborative learning, for example. A broker would be aware of these training resources and would provide the connection to those who wanted to learn. The CIS departments, for example, may see a greater role in providing short-term, workshop style training to MCCCD employees, such as GWCC's FOCUS training course.

Who should be the broker? Staff development coordinators have served this role to some extent, at each college. Or perhaps we can use E-mail for this purpose: a group of people who want to learn a certain topic issue a "call for training" to all employees, via A-1, hoping for a response from a trainer.

How would the trainers be paid? As instructors of non-credit courses? ETL workshops? Credit courses? All of the above? What incentives would encourage an expert at one college to share her expertise at several other colleges, knowing that she would have less time for her college's projects? The faculty mentor project currently sponsored by MCLI, where a faculty member is paid to be available, may be one model to expand for sharing expertise across college boundaries.

And how would employee learners be rewarded? Salary advancement, as in Faculty professional growth? Expected as part of the job, as in ITS? Especially, how would independent learning be rewarded or even acknowledged? We've examined several different aspects of employee development recently. Last year an extensive study of staff development was undertaken. And Ocotillo has studied issues of training and support for technology for several years. By considering the larger question of creating a new paradigm of employee development, we may find the more narrowly-defined issues of staff development and technology training easier to address.

It's a River, Not a Lake: Training and the Need to Learn
© January 1994 Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI)
Maricopa Community Colleges

The Internet Connection at MCLI is Alan Levine --}
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