Thursday, 29 March 2018 10:27

Re-imaging the Learning Ecosystem at Jet Propulsion Laboratory Featured

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Do you believe in the science of evolution? At Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), we do because we’re witnessing it.

Over the last two years JPL has embarked on an innovative journey of self-discovery with the aim of enhancing the quality and quantity of learning opportunities while significantly enhancing the user experience. The continually evolving approach is referenced in many ways but is often characterized as a shift in the “Learning Ecosystem.” As in nature, evolution constantly changes and relies on innovation; such is the case at JPL. Another similarity exists in that evolution in nature relies on the ability to effect change among the norm. JPL’s learning evolution is also shaped by the ability to influence cultural norms and must successfully navigate barriers to change all the same.

Change management involves difficult and complex processes, and precisely – it is inevitable. To effectively implement change on individual and organizational levels requires a new model for change, new thinking, and a new framework to ensure smooth implementation of the desired change.

WHAT IS A LEARNING ECOSYSTEM?

Rosenberg and Foreman comprehensively describe the learning ecosystems and the interrelation of people, processes, tools and outcomes in their paper titled, “Learning and Performance Ecosystems.As Rosenberg and Foreman point out, “learning ecosystems provide value by enhancing individual and organizational effectiveness by connecting people, and supporting them with a broad range of content, processes, and technologies to drive performance."

The key characteristic of today’s ecosystems remains in their ease of use; technology is transparent to the user and facilitates user interaction and communication. Moreover, an ecosystem provides access to a mentor and allows the learners to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-time.

JPL’S NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES

The continuing mission of JPL is to lead as the U.S. center for robotic expansion of the solar system, earth science, and space-based economy. The JPL human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) team serves as the primary JPL organization responsible for satisfying leadership, organization learning, and development as well as technical training needs of over 6000 JPL personnel and 7000 contract affiliates.

Like many technical organizations, JPL faces challenges in managing the transference of deep technical and institutional knowledge while experiencing an unprecedented growth in JPL mainline mission and a drastic shift in its multi-generational workforce. JPL must address the changing learning styles of new and existing individuals and the constant employee expectation of a commercial-like learning experience.

Prior to embarking on its learning renaissance, JPL provided training and employee development utilizing an experience-based apprenticeship model. The legacy model was extremely successful and enabled remarkable achievements in space exploration. While the mentor and experiential model historically served its purpose well, it wasn’t designed for today’s world of exponential information, and technology torrent. While the legacy model may not remain the primary mode of professional development, one cannot discount the result and would be ignorant to discount its role in future training. The reality remains that JPL had a pressing need to transform the training model to a technology-based model that uses technology to develop skills and knowledge that connects communities’ efficiency.

DESTINATION 2025 BEGINS

In 2015, JPL’s Chief Human Resource Officer Cozette Hart formed the “Destination 2025” working group dedicated to exploring and advancing the future of working and learning at JPL. Over the course of the following year, JPL’s business case for modernization of learning was contextualized. The primary areas of learning modernization were identified as:

>>  Modernization of the JPL learning environment; consistently improve on the availability and quality of training while enhancing the learning experience.

>>  How to significantly modernize talent acquisition and management in the most technically advanced place on Earth.

Change awareness was raised among stakeholders through early communication related to JPL’s needs for change in learning technology and its rapidly evolving capabilities. At JPL, the scope of change was full employee development and a new training ecosystem. The change team provided support and resources and set the direction for various efforts to increase value in specified business areas.

To bring resources together, integrate processes, and communicate effectively, goal-oriented change management was designed to guide individuals and organizations at JPL. The desire for change was reinforced through employee engagement and participation with the aim to overcome resistance through a cross- functional sponsorship program.

NEW LEARNING ECOSYSTEM

The proposed learning approach was designed to provide flexibility and support which compliments the capabilities of JPL’s unique workforce. The learners of today expect a digitally rich learning environment, and implementation of new technology enabled a personalized learning experience to JPL employees anytime and anyplace in real-time. The HR team and its laboratory partners prepared to shift and integrate resources by focusing on the new learning ecosystems in terms of the operational support, technology and curriculum. Each pivot area evolution was based on application of advanced technologies and approaches such as:

>>  Use of a learning portal that provides personalization and support of individualized learning styles.

>>  Migrating from formal to informal learning environment resulting in collateralized credit for learning and experiences.

>>  Embracing self-paced learning and personalized learning environment so that learners choose when and where they learn. The classroom of the future was developed virtually, supporting personal exploration and providing an interactive environment in support of continuous lifelong learning.

>>  Development and integration of a robust framework of learning systems, tools and capabilities which remain transparent to the user, thus ensuring a streamlined and positive user experience.

>>  Development of a knowledge capture and transfer system designed to support the transference of critical knowledge and expertise during normal Lab business.

>>  The ability to scale the learning envi- ronment and its offerings commensurate with the increase in project work and competing personal priorities.

>>  Development of digitally rich learning and implementation of in-house and contract augmented learning content production.

>>  Introduction of a wide array of live and virtual training methodologies.

NEW PROCESS, SYSTEM AND STRUCTURE

To support the new concept and change design, new process, system, and structure were deployed. To provide the right training to the right employees at the right time, our team worked on several key activities including the implementation of a new organizational structure, internal processes, pilots of learning technology and overall modernization of the learning framework. Through organizational analysis and input from stakeholder groups, we determined the best approach to enable success within a decentralized organization was with enhanced processes,offerings, and services such as:

>>  Restructuring technical learning, improved design, development and delivery of learning capabilities.

>>  Investment into user experience tooling (i.e. Degreed learning portal).

>>  Streamlined business processes to reduce redundancies (annual call for training).

>>  Virtual classrooms.

>>  Creation of hybrid online/ physical learning cohort utilizing virtual classrooms technology.

NEW TECHNOLOGY AND RESOURCES

The new learning environment was based on the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), and XAPI standards. These standards reflect the current and evolving best practices for developing, sequencing, and packaging learning contents. For learners, the easy access to learning content was made through a common repository and portal. The new portal became the one stop knowledge shop where learners can search, find, and utilize learning objects. Moreover, trainers were able to publish learning content using a multitude of delivery formats (e.g., micro-learning, curated, custom built, instructor-led, case studies, eBooks, wikis, podcasts, video snippets, case studies, etc.)

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IMPERATIVE

Knowledge management is a systematic creation, acquisition, integration, distribution, application, and transference of knowledge used to drive behaviors which support organizational objectives. Knowledge management captures and transfers both existing and newly created information and knowledge.

The JPL process of knowledge management was based on the aggregation of institutional knowledge which can be distributed, shared and accessed by all employees when and where needed to perform assigned tasks, solve problems and engage in innovation.

Embracing knowledge management and becoming a modern learning organization requires a culture change across JPL. To mitigate loss of critical institutional knowledge because of employee retirement, JPL focuses on every employee contributing to the body of knowledge at individual and organization levels. The explicit and implicit knowledge capabilities facilitated resources coordination and enable deployment of state-of-the-art institutions and technical learning. Better communication across the organization improves stakeholders’ understanding of training requirements. Therefore, increased coordination refines the development and execution of training requirements, ultimately creating better contents.

BENEFITS OF NEW SYSTEM

The introduction of a new learning model has shifted the learning environment from a directive inflexible model to one that empowers and provides individualized learning and development capability. In addition to greater flexibility, today’s best practices models reduce the cost to train while increasing the ability to scale resources to meet a larger workforce’s personalized learning needs.

Advanced learning content management approaches introduced new methods of curriculum development and deployment. JPL’s HR L&D piloted enterprise learning content development efforts within their own teams while harnessing the experience and resources of the greater decentralized JPL learning and development workforce. Studies have indicated that new approach can reduce the learning content development time between 25% and 60% while enabling self-paced and individualized learning approaches.

With a mix of live, virtual and constructive education and training, an optimum mix of virtual e-learning environment enables live training and optimizes content delivery. We leverage the use of new technologies to supplement and, where appropriate, replace hands-on training to maximize availability and scaling. However, certain aspects of JPL training cannot be performed virtually due to the high degree of complexity associated with lab-based scientific training.

In the context of growing demand for training resources and the speed at which knowledge is being created and evolving, the learning ecosystem enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of the training and provides flexibility to deal with the ever-increasing velocity of changing procedures, systems, scientific methods and equipment at JPL.

SAVINGS GENERATES INVESTMENT

The technical training organization’s formula to create an effective organization has changed over the years, but the fundamental ingredients include the right organizational structure and processes, technology and infrastructure, and people to develop the best workforce at the lowest cost possible. This approach enables JPL to invest cost savings derived from efficiencies in its training system into the future of scientific and engineering training. JPL experienced major cost savings by contracting many of the training developers and have reinvested back into the training program. The JPL L&D learning plan is comprised of multiple approaches designed to elicit outcomes which create positive results in the areas of individual growth and flexibility, opportunities for experiential learning, and a greater efficiency which allows expansion of learning offerings.

FUTURE CHALLENGES

The new learning ecosystem has and will change the context of how learning takes place. Learners experience real-time and pushed recommendations for learning. The information available is dynamic, technically applicable, visually engaging and easy to locate. In response to the growing training needs, the L&D shift has enabled and empowered self-directed learning.

JPL must sustain easily accessible systems for learners to access information from a myriad of sources. The additive value of the learning organization of tomorrow will be in the identification, validation, and creation of high quality technically accurate learning content. JPL L&D will still be responsible for the production of high quality, engaging learning material. As the need for information and the number of JPL employees expands, L&D must refine its ability to scale its training development and support services.

Training development and support services will take on many forms in the days ahead ranging from exclusively virtual learning environments to live constructive hybrid and instructor-led environments augmented with technology-based presentation and subject matter interactive channels.

CONCLUSIONS

HR and L&D enables and empowers learning. The aim was to develop resources, sustain people, processes using tools and technology to provide individualized training content to the right employees, at the right time using contents of the highest technical quality.

Resulting, JPL workforce maintains a world-class level of technical competencies and on-the-job performance.

>>  The new learning ecosystem ensures individual and organizational competencies for technical workforce while focusing on people.

>>  Greater availability and access to learning opportunities at the existing funding levels.

>>  Reduced cost of training and re-distribution and reinvestment of training dollars.

>>  Reduced time spent with curriculum development and delivery through repository.

>>  Enhanced opportunity for employees to experience advanced simulation and made training technology available both inside and outside the traditional classroom.

>>  Preservation and focused use of instructor-led and hands-on training and less time required to fully develop early career hire employees.

—Anthony Gagliardo is a Learning! Champion award-winner for thought-leadership. His program to re-imagine the learning ecosystem at JPL inspired this honor. Gagliardo is head of HR & Technical Training at NASA’s JPL and is committed to supporting the training needs of those at NASA and Caltech Institute.

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