3A Learning® – Align, Assimilate, Apply
By Bill Wilder, M. Ed., Life Cycle Institute
As appeared in the The Advisor, Plant Services' training e-newsletter, and Noria's Lean Manufacturing Journal
Many people are familiar with A3 analysis as a management process – a methodology for thinking, planning, problem-solving and then starting all over again. In this process you begin by defining the problem, describing the current conditions, and defining goals and targets (what’s the desired outcome?) Next you analyze what has caused the gap between current conditions and the desired outcome and you design a countermeasure to help you reach the future state. Then the A3 process calls for planning who will do what, plus a follow-up step to capture what has happened, what you’ve learned and what issues remain.
Many elements of this A3 analysis apply to planning for and implementing effective learning strategies. There’s a very big gap when it comes to workplace learning – the gap between what often constitutes training and the desired outcome of improved performance. If you invest in learning and nothing changes, has learning taken place?
Often we invest our time and money in a learning event only to find that when we return to our daily work we keep doing the same things. It all sounds so good, and you are so excited to put the new methods and tools you have learned into practice. But when you get back to the workplace the boss is still asking the same questions and expecting the same results. Or the processes in your workplace are different than those described in the class and you struggle with how to apply what you have learned in your environment.
Learning is not an event – it’s a process. The classroom is important but the fact is that most learning takes place when we apply the tools and techniques we discovered in the learning event. Learning is a process of alignment, assimilation, and application. We'll call this the 3A learning process. Only by completing all three steps of his process can we change behavior to produce desired results.
Before participating in a learning event participants should have a thorough understanding of what they are expected to learn, how their behavior is expected to change, the results they are expected to achieve, and how these results contribute to the overall goals of the organization.
When this step is skipped, participants attend the learning event and are left entirely on their own to determine what they are supposed to do with what they learn. This often leads to a disconnect between participants and their leaders when they return to the workplace.
For example, when you attend a Leading People class with a dozen learning objectives, you discover some new tools for gaining group consensus. You know this is something you can apply right away to make some decisions in your work team. Returning to work you share your ideas with your manager only to find that what your manager really wanted you to learn was how to facilitate the creation of a team vision. This was covered in the class but, not knowing this was why you had been selected to attend the class, you focused your attention on what you perceived to be an important skill.
Just as the A3 management process requires both an assessment of the current state and a description of the desired outcome, 3A learning requires managers and employees to clearly define the desired outcome before the learning event takes place.
During the learning event you focus on assimilating the learning that resonates with you. An effective learning event will engage you in applying what you already know in building relevant skills and knowledge that you decide to focus on and practice in the class. If these vital elements of an effective learning event are a part of the assimilation then you will return to work prepared to apply what you have learned. If not, then you may have an awareness of and even a desire to apply these tools, but no practical experience in how to do it.
Whether assimilation happens effectively largely depends on who is leading your learning event. An instructor is a content resource, and usually shares knowledge through writing or lectures, appearing as a “sage on the stage.” A facilitator is a process manager first, a content resource second. Facilitators use their knowledge of how people learn to create an active environment that embraces participants’ prior knowledge and unique learning styles. When they facilitate, they appear as a “guide by the side.”
Thinking back to the A3 management process, when you plan a countermeasure to an existing gap or problem, you want to plan the best countermeasure possible. When it comes to learning events, seek out events that take into account your learning style, your skills and your knowledge. This will ensure what you learn will stick with you when returning to work to apply what you have learned.
Applying what you have learned is where 80% of the learning takes place. This involves using the skills and knowledge within your work environment that makes the learning stick, causing a behavior change that produces desired results. In this step it is important that you experience early success. This early success depends on leadership support and coaching. Left on your own you are likely to discover unique factors in your work environment that make it difficult to apply what you have learned. The system, and often the people, resists change. Since learning is changing behavior, you will encounter resistance. You will need someone supporting you with encouragement, coaching, and running interference as you attempt to adapt your behavior.
Just as the A3 management process requires a follow-up step to review the outcome and a follow-up step to capture what has happened, what was learned and what issues remain, the 3A learning process requires the manager and employee to evaluate the learning that has taken place, the progress of changing behavior and how the environment is adapting to change.
When you consider your future investments in training, remember the 3A learning process – align, assimilate, apply – and the result will be learning that changes behavior to produce results.
Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at bwilder@LCE.com.
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