Is Technology Making Your Staff Obsolete?

Creating Learning 2.0 Hiring Profiles

Are you worried that your staff’s collective skillset is becoming obsolete as we move toward a deeper reliance on new learning technologies? Are you also worried that you won’t be able to avail your enterprise of some of the newest technologies because you simply can’t find people with the right skillsets to deploy these technologies effectively?

You’re not alone. Deploying learning over mobile devices, implementing social learning networks and collaboration tools with rich portfolios of functionality, and creating and delivering curricula in a virtual classroom environment has become the new playing field for most enterprises.

By building new hiring profiles for all of your job roles, you will also be able to create individualized learning paths to help your team move in both directions across the new technology barrier.

AN INNER CITY STORY

This true story will help to point out the subtle, but very important differences between teachers, as well as show you why one teacher can excel in one environment while becoming almost ineffective in another.

The story begins with my corporate teaching staff doing some pro bono work in the inner city of Los Angeles. We were fortunate to get a chance to work with some pretty smart kids, who also just happened to be at the cusp of becoming part of an inner-city gang or escaping to a new life outside of the inner city. We had targeted A- and B-level students for the project, and school guidance counselors provided us with eight initial candidates. Our objective was to teach them about our software technology, which in turn would open up a potential career for them in the business world.

The school system told us that we would have to do these training sessions at a location near the students’ homes in the inner city, and that there would be a
danger if students had to cross gang lines to get to the classes. Even with a lot of preliminary coaching, we still made plenty of mistakes.

When we gave out our corporate logo shirts as gifts to the students, it shined a spotlight on a couple more areas of our naïveté. It turned out that the color was a rival gang color for some of our students, and they were immediately confronted
on their way home from class. One parent even complained to school officials that we were trying to “buy” her child’s loyalty and undermine her role by giving her daughter a shirt as a gift.

We worked through all of these problems, and in the end, I think we did some good. But it was a very significant learning experience for all of us.

THE ‘AH-HA’ MOMENT

On a plane ride back from one of these sessions, I happened to watch an interview that caught my attention. It was with a University of Minnesota professor who was talking about the qualities that determined whether a teacher would be successful in the inner city.

The professor was saying that after extensive interviews with top-rated innercity
teachers, he and his team had built a reliable hiring profile that contained 14 hiring criteria. He said that this hiring profile would help schools pick the right candidates for an inner city teaching position. His pilot project showed that if an interviewee scored an 80 percent match with the 14 criteria, he or she would make a successful inner-city teacher.

One criteria example was the answer to the question, “If you had trouble with a student in the inner city, would you call a meeting with the student and his or her parents? Or would you talk with the student alone?” Most teachers would probably want to include the family in the discussion, to stress the importance of family support in the learning process.

In this case, it was just the opposite. If the teacher’s tendency was to deal with the
child alone, he or she was a good candidate for inner city teaching. Why? The professor explained that most of the troubled students in the inner city came from broken or very troubled homes.

That probably would not have been the intuitive answer in the suburbs, but it was how the best teachers in the inner cities dealt with problems. Although I was dying to know the other 13 criteria, the professor refused to reveal them in the interview, for fear of a candidate changing his or her answers to secure a job.

THE PROFILING METHODOLOGY

For me, this was real break-through thinking. Back at work, and still inspired by that professor’s insight and the profiling methodology, we took on the challenge of creating a hiring profile for our own instructors. After the instructor profile was completed, we extended the profiling methodology to the curriculum development, administration and technical support teams.

We were a software company, so that shaped a lot of our criteria. And I imagine that you would see similar “shaping of criteria” if your workplace was a military installation, or a retail organization, or a consulting organization.

To begin the process, we conducted indepth interviews and had our delivery managers observe our best classroom instructors performing in a real classroom environment. From that methodology, we were able to create a list of 16 hiring profile criteria.

And how did we select the “best of the best” for creating the profiles? That was easy, as we had recently deployed a new bonus program for our instructors to help boost our customer satisfaction ratings. We called it our “Perfect Class” scenario. If an instructor taught a Perfect Class as determined by getting all “excellents” or “very-goods” in his student feedback surveys, he became eligible for a bonus payment. It was very difficult to achieve — even using these “smiley sheets” — because if one student gave the instructor a “good” in just one of seven instructor criteria, it would negate the Perfect Class. Initially, only 20 percent of our teachers were able to achieve this level of scoring for at least one of their classes. Those instructors became our pool to help us build the hiring profile.

EARLY BENEFITS

As we looked back on this profiling project, we thought it was very successful from multiple viewpoints. And as they found in the inner city profile, if one of our  candidates received checkmarks in 80 percent of the hiring criteria, he or she taught a Perfect Class right out of the gate. It also helped us troubleshoot the “up and down” performance of some of the instructors. As an example, one instructor always taught Perfect Classes when she had eight students or fewer in a classroom. Add more students and her performance went downhill. The problem? Her manager observed that she never moved from her position in the “front center” of the classroom. She was teaching to the “T” — the front and middle rows of seats where motivated students usually sat. So as additional students showed up, the ones in the rear and corners simply disengaged.

THE DIFFERENCE OF ADDING TECHNOLOGY TO THE MIX

Another very significant revelation was that the criteria didn’t work for both our classroom instructors and for our virtual instructors. That gave us pause, but then of course, it made complete sense. When technology was added to the mix, new environmental factors appeared, such as “distance” and the absence of “face-toface
feedback.”

Many of our best classroom instructors literally “tanked” in front of a camera and PC. As we discovered, great instructors in the classroom relied heavily on real-time feedback from a live audience to give a peak performance. Take away the audience nods and puzzled looks, and great classroom instructors failed when they had to use the virtual classroom technologies. And just as interesting, some of our so-so classroom instructors really excelled in the virtual environment.

By now, this should sound a lot like my inner city story, except that here we are talking about the presence or absence of technology instead of unique inner city problems. It still changes the outcome.

THE HIRING CRITERIA

Just as I was craving a list of these “magic” hiring criteria, I’m sure you now want to know what some of those hiring attributes, skills, and knowledge were that made a great instructor. In order to show you how technology changed the criteria, I’ve broken the lists into two profiles. But for the same reasons that the professor stated, I’m only providing partial lists to avoid tampering with interviewing results.

Classroom Instructor Profile (Partial List)

>> Resourceful;
>> Creative;
>> Strong subject-matter expertise;
>> Strong classroom teaching skills;
>> Entertaining;
>> Good with classroom technologies;
>> Good interpersonal skills; and
>> Good classroom management skills.

Live e-Learning Instructors (Partial List)

>> Strong multi-tasking skills;
>> Resourceful;
>> Great graphics aptitude;
>> Able to work without live audience feedback;
>> Strong subject matter expertise;

>> Strong virtual classroom technology skills;
>> Entertaining;
>> Ability to engage an audience using virtual classroom technology tools; and
>> Good virtual classroom management skills.

From these criteria, plus those you might want to add or delete from the list, you should be able to create a pretty sound hiring profile for a great instructor — whether that be classroom or virtual. The real inventiveness comes on your end when you test for criteria like “resourcefulness” in an interview. We had lots of funny stories and situations arise, because our managers liked to create challenging situations for the candidates. It was the interview equivalent of a real-life situation in the live or virtual classroom when equipment was down or when class materials didn’t arrive.

IN SUMMARY

My hope is that you will view this as a way to begin the process of hiring the right people for the right job. As you build your own criteria, you’ll see where each person on your current staff falls short when it comes to using technology, or conversely, when trying to move into the classroom. It will also yield a training path for each person trying to cross over — as well as point out to your staff where they are best suited given their current level of skills, knowledge, and traits.

Although your mind is probably working overtime with hiring profile characteristics, you’ll also have to make some other decisions, like: Do you interview a virtual instructor using the virtual technology? Should a virtual instructor bring a 20- minute clip of him or her in action? Extend that across the rest of your job roles, and you’ll have lots to think about.

Hopefully this methodology will become a solid starting point for hiring, as well as a way to help your current staff make the job role transitions.

—The author is editor-at-large for Elearning! magazine. To convey your comments, results and stories, e-mail jdidonato@2elearning.com.

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