Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Standards Build Workforce Capability

You may have noticed the dramatic news articles about insufficient workforce capacity.  Business wants to have the right people with the right skills working on the right tasks in the right location.  The drama occurs when locally available workforce does not have the right skills and cannot tackle the tasks.   Enter ‘capability building’.  

Capability:  A measure of the ability of an entity (department, organization, person, system) to achieve its objectives, especially in relation to its overall mission. (Businessdictionary.com).

For many, this definition jumpstarts our thinking and moves us directly to ‘provide training’, but training is only one of the tools in the capability market.  Notice the phrases ‘a measure’ and ‘achieve its objectives’.  In order for capability to develop, there must be a way to measure the workforce in relationship to the work (achieving objectives).  Sounds simple.  In some cases it is.  If all you need to measure is the number of widgets produced per shift, both the measurement and the objectives are relatively straightforward.   However, for many businesses, today’s work is very complex.

Instructional Design and Development

Consider the field of instructional design and development.  The work and market are fragmented, diverse, and undifferentiated (see blog, The State of Instructional Design).  In this field, any one assignment may be simple to produce, where the next one may be extremely complex.  Individuals may be required to use specific tools, specific methodologies, specific techniques, and even specific theories.  Others may have a range of such tools, methods, techniques, and theory from which they are expected to select the appropriate ones.  Comparison of work production is nearly impossible.
Only a fraction of the instructional design and development (ID) workforce comes with degrees in the field.  Everyone else layers ID experience on top of their own (non-ID) specialty where that specialty is could be represented by any other workforce field in existence.  Some simple have talent that they hone through experience.  Others have knowledge and practice supplemented with insight and wisdom. 

Many business leaders would prefer to hire the cheapest available talent, which often exists in distant markets and comes with little or no experience or expertise.   Many of the most experienced and talented seek better assignments, living venues, and pay.  Some choose to move out of full-employment into self-employment in order to fulfill their own dreams, while others start there, and still others are forced into self-employment by a market that refuses to hire experienced employees over age 50.  In the meantime, individuals with newly minted degrees in the field find it difficult to prove sufficient experience to be hired.  Once hired, their career path is fuzzy, at best.  

The field of instructional design and development, in particular, is experiencing the pains of a workforce with capability issues. The right workers are not in the right locations with the right skills and where expert practitioners exist they often find it difficult to distinguish their work from that of charlatans with low prices and expert sales techniques.  For more detail on the state of the ID field see the Whitepaper: ID Practice Analysis and Survey Results published by The Institute for Performance Improvement, L3C (TIfPI).

Standards Measure Competence

Standards provide that measure toward which capability development can build.  Standards are the mark of a successful practitioner in any field.   That is, the competent practitioners already practicing in a field use standards that distinguish their work.  These standards transcend practice venues making them customizable for local needs.  In turn, this means that standards can transcend geographic borders, ideological boundaries, language differences, and even variations in tool sets.  Individuals in different practice venues, geographies, cultures, regulatory environments, with different levels of access to materials or equipment can still successfully demonstrate the ability to meet a standard. 

Think of the world of medicine, the techniques, tools, and resources for suturing wounds vary around the world.  However, every healthcare worker around the world is expected to meet common standards in suturing, but meet them using the tools and resources at hand in their part of the world.  Standards like these define the competent members of the field.

Likewise, instructional designers and developers (IDs) need to have a common set of standards to help them build professional competence.  As of 2014, the most common language for IDs is around the use of development models such as ADDIE, SAM, Lean, Six-Sigma, or around theories posited by learning theorists. There are secondary and tertiary languages around tools (Captivate, Articulate, Lectora, etc.) and production processes such as project management and content management. The complexity of variables abound when application of models, theories, tools, content, and projects create unique results with unique parameters.  Under these conditions, it is difficult to compare work.  In fact, the field does not have standards upon which it can compare ID work.

Defining common standards that cross boundaries is not difficult, even though it does require access to the people who know well the work of competent practitioners and can identify competence and cull out the incompetent. With standards defined, it is time to measure.  Those who meet or exceed standards receive a mark of distinction.  Those who do not need to have the opportunity to improve their level of competence through training, effective supervision, and key work tasks that grow their skills.  This is the real power of standards.  When an individual is not meeting standards, skill building begins. The knowledge of which areas need improvement allows one to focus skill-building efforts, demonstrate success, and grow.  

The Public Promise

Where a workforce needs to build public standing, the individuals who succeed at meeting or exceeding standards need to be publicly recognized.  This is partially a personal reward for their expertise.  However, it is more important as an industry marker showing that the industry has tools for recognizing experts and marketing their expertise. 

This is where credentials come into play.  A credential defines the competence of the individual as one who meets standards.  A competent individual is the implied public promise of all credentials.  Most credentials also indicate whether that credential (and associated competence) is a one-time, lifetime award or one that must be maintained and regularly renewed through professional development or reassessment.

In addition, the purveyors of credentials must provide public information describing the methods that they use to define the standards, measure them, track individual’s maintenance of the credential, and ensure that the credential’s standards remain current as work in the field changes over time.  The rigor involved in setting up and managing credentials provides those purveyors with “authority” for backing the credential.  When in doubt, check the source of the credential to be sure that they are actually measuring competence against standards. Authentic purveyors of credentials will be willing to explain the standards used and the measurement and evaluation used.   

A credential is any mark of distinction; a way to identify competent practitioners within a field of shared knowledge, skills, and behaviors.  On the sidebar that describes types of credentials and some of their unique characteristics you may notice that certifications, some degrees, and some accreditations come with “marks”.  A mark is that set of letters used to promote the credentialed individual or organization as one that meets standards.  You may see these marks as initials – CPA, MD, and Ph.D. are common one – or as icons – ISO or UL marks are common.   

About Badges

Badging like gamification has become a buzzword in the learning industry. Many organizations wish to ‘badge’ their employees and students for work related behaviors. Badges have become difficult to assess.  Badges are used across a wide range of credentials and do not match specific types of credentials.  Therefore, two credentials with very different requirements may have very similar looking badges.   
A badge is merely an icon representing the completion of something (e.g., scouting badges, sports patches) or the acquisition of responsibilities and attendant rights (e.g., law enforcement badges, employee badges). 

In the world of credentials, a badge signifies both the completion of something and the acquisition of attendant rights and responsibilities.  However, it becomes the public’s responsibility to determine what was completed and what the badge holder’s rights and responsibilities are.   Then, they must match their own needs with those of the underlying credential. 

Enter badge verification software.  This software allows badge earners to share their iconic badge through social and electronic media (e.g., email, websites).  Clicking on the badge connect the interested public with a website that houses critical information about:
  •  The credential,
  • The credential holder,
  • The organization providing authority to that credential,
  • What the credential holder did to acquire the credential,
  • What the maintenance requirements are, and
  • The credential holder’s status.  

Badges are a symbol (icon) for the credential.  Employers and clients will want to look deeply into the performance evidence required by each credential.  At this time. there are badges available for degrees, certificates, awards, endorsements, and certifications.  The digital badge itself is a marker.  Any two credentials may have similar badges while being very different in the performance requirements needed to achieve the badge.  The value of the badge is in the authority of the credential.  Seek out the authority backing your badges.

Emerging Standards and Microcredentials for IDs

TIfPI has completed a practice analysis that defines nine new standards for instructional designer and developers.  They have defined the standards and the performances expected for each as they relate to learning solution development, a subset of the overall field of instructional design.  Therefore, they are making a series of learning solution development microcredentials with digital badges available to IDs.

The objective is to strengthen the field by providing evidence-based credentials validating that individual IDs have demonstrated their ability to apply international, theory-free, model-free standards in the development of one or more types of learning solutions.  Individuals providing evidence of their ability to meet all nine standards will be awarded a microcredential (with digital badge) for the development of one of 19 learning solution types.  Individuals may acquire as many microcredentials as they wish.  

Individuals receiving microcredentials will be able to assert that two expert instructional designers evaluated their work against standards and that they have met standards.  The ability to show competence increases individuals’ standing within the field, makes it easier for employers to choose competent candidates, and builds professional credibility for the field.  Standards are the key to measuring and evaluating performance, which in turn creates a language of competence and opportunities for continued growth as well as opportunities to build key skills in order to meet standards. 

Watch this blog for more on each of the nine standards for Instructional Design and Development (ID), which state that the competent ID:
  •  Addresses sustainability
  • Aligns the solution
  • Assesses performance (in learning)
  • Collaborates and partners
  • Elicits performance practice
  • Engages learner
  • Enhances retention and transfer
  • Ensures context sensitivity
  • Ensures relevance

To learn more about the 19 learning solution types, standards, available whitepapers, and application process for learning solution development ID Badge, or to join me for one of the free webinars, Overview of ID Badges, provided by TIfPI, go to www.tifpi.wildapricot.org/idbadges.

As always, comments and discussion are appreciated.  Please share your thoughts and insights.

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