“It’s not the information, but our ability to use or apply the information, that truly counts,” writes Elliott Masie, internationally-recognized training and elearning futurist and analyst.
When I read this, it made me think of something an association education consultant recently told me about a misconception about the distinction between “information” and what I’ll call “informational content.”
It’s easy to see why it’s confusing.
Let’s say your organization represents owners and managers of campgrounds across the country — ACOM, we’ll call it (Association of Campground Owners and Managers) [Hopefully there isn't a group like this out there.... if so, note that the example here is completely fictional and separate from any true entity by this name.]
Over the years, ACOM has compiled what they consider to be the best practices for campground operations. In its bound format, members and staffers have come to call it a manual.
ACOM sells dozens of copies of the book each year and it’s become one of the jewels of membership.
The executive leadership considers this book an educational product because they believe members learn from reading it.
Well, maybe the get some ideas from reading it, but despite being called a “manual,” it doesn’t provide any specific, step-by-step instructions or procedures or guidelines for implementing any of the best practices.
Instead, the book is a compilation of “what” various ACOM members have implmented that led to success in one area or another.
Inside the Manual
Let’s take this a little deeper. Here’s a made-up example of one of the best practices:
“Make sure the largest RVs you want to attract can navigate your roads and sites. You won’t want your visitors to get into a site that they can’t get out of.”
Okay, that’s a great bit of advice, and there might be someone who might not have thought to do this without reading it. What it doesn’t say is how to do this. So someone might try to implement this but end up disappointed with the results.
What would “training” be instead?
If you said, “A Webinar that shows good and bad examples of campground roads for big RVs,” you’re only partly correct. Good and bad examples are a part of training, but on their own are *not* training. It’s just more information.
What if you re-wrote the manual so it said something like this?
“When designing the roads within the campground, make sure any corners are well-rounded and wide so the largest RVs you want to attract can easily navigate the turn.
1. Remove any overhanging tree branches, decorations that line the roads, and other obstacles that could impede the largest rigs along the roads, curves, and within each site.
2. Measure each campsite for length and width. Allow for slide-outs in the width and, if desired, towed vehicles in the length (or provide for a separate hitching/unhitching area — see separate guideline on this).
3. Measure the clearance width between the site and the electrical/cable pedestal, water hook-up, and sewer drain opening.
4. Measure the clearance width between the site and any other fixtures on the site: fire ring, picnic tables, fixed barbeque stands, etc.
5. Grade the sites so they will be as level as you can make them. If possible, pave the sites, especially those designated for Class A motorhomes, making sure the paved surface is level.
6. Test the roads and sites by driving them in the largest sized rig you want to host. If you’re reluctant to do this, you’re probably not ready to send a guest down the road or into the site!“
Is that more of an educational product? After all, it isn’t just information, right?
Well, this is where things get fuzzy. You are providing instructions. And you could say we’ve helped the learner “to use or apply the information” as Masie suggests in the opening quote.
But purists would say that still isn’t enough. We need to set up an environment where learners can see these skills (that’s what they’re learning after all — how to do certain things) demonstrated and then actually practice them.
Of course, that’s not always possible. So what do we do instead?
Lots of things! In no particular order:
- Create and offer an asynchronous, online simulation that starts learners with a graphic of a campsite where they can see some roads and sites have been widened and others have not. A demo shows them the steps described, then they’re provided embedded tools for measuring and adjusting the sites and roads on the graphic. This would cost some money, but would be available in perpetuity to all members, regardless of their location. (If you charge a small fee to access it, you could earn back your investment.)
- Because of your membership profile, you could offer an in-person workshop on this (and other aspects of the best practices) at a campground. The benefit to the host campground is a free review of their sites and roads, not to mention the free labor in making any needed corrections. The limitation, of course, is that only those who can actually attend the event would benefit from this training.
- Least expensive, and the option you’re least able to measure in terms of successful learning, is to offer a blended, online experience. YouTube videos capturing those good and bad examples, followed by an instructional video showing the steps mentioned earlier. These could be supplemented with a live chat with a designated “expert” who can answer questions, provide specifics not covered in the videos, and generally add context around the videos. If a Webinar is used for follow-up, learners who’ve run into weird issues not covered in the basic videos could e-mail photos or uplink their own videos so their situations can be discussed.
All of these should include checklists for each step. (Instructions, remember, are not checklists. Each of the items in the list above must be broken down into several separate items to be an effective checklist.)
And *now* the difference between “information” and “training”/”instruction”/education should be clear.
Information is information. It serves as a foundation for the content of effective education and training. But information without providing the ways and means for using or applying will not give learners what they need to incorporate that information into their frame of reference, much less be able to implement it.
If your association leadership keeps trying to make the case that your organization provides the necessary “education” to your members that its mission or strategy demands because of your manuals and best practices and white papers and research, show them this post.