How to Conduct Your Own Learning Diagnostic

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Imagine walking into a Doctor’s office and the Doctor immediately says,

“Here’s your medicine, take it tomorrow and you’ll be cured.”

“Huh…” you’d think, “She didn’t ask me how I am doing or what the problem was.”

“How does she know it’s the right medicine? Will a single dose really help?”

When you are planning a training, you are the doctor.

In order to provide the right remedy, you need to know what’s causing the problem.

Good doctors know this requires patient listening and observation (see what I did there?).

Just as some health issues can’t be solved with a magic pill, some leadership challenges can’t be solved through a single training.

If you aren’t seeing folks take action in the ways you would hope, consider if it’s one of the following “gaps.”

Skills Gaps

This might be the case if people are regularly performing the necessary action, but aren’t moving towards your collective goals.

One group I worked with was doing regular tabling but having trouble consistently turning out new members to their events.

I attended one of their tabling sessions and noticed that most of the staff and volunteers were sitting behind the table waiting for people to come by.

One solution was to create a training where people practice the skill of approaching strangers for their signature using role plays.

Knowledge Gaps

Oftentimes we assume that if people know better they do better.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. (I know I should floss every day, but do I? Er…)

When you identify a gap in knowledge, ask yourself how you want people to use it.

I remember designing a training for a policy campaign where one of the policy experts wanted to include finer details of the bill, “because it’s important.”

Our action priority for the training, however, was to prepare learners to answer questions when door-knocking. In this case, people needed to know some –but not all– information contained in this very long piece of legislation.

Environmental Gaps

Even when learners know how to do something, if their environment isn’t supportive, they likely won’t.

These gaps might include processes, tools, technology or other forms of support that learners need to take action.

I once worked with a group whose team was behind on the requirements of one of their grants.

Those whose job it was to report to funders were understandably concerned.

After interviewing some members of the team, we found that they were unsure where to find the information they needed.

Instead of conducting a training, we first had to resolve the process issue by creating a system for communicating grant requirements and assigning responsibility.

Ideological Gaps

Most of my career has been dedicated to addressing ideological gaps in the movement through political education.

A common problem is that these efforts are divorced from the “real” strategy surrounding, for example, electoral work, membership or campaigns.

In order to determine what ideological content to include, listen for how learners’ attitude might be getting in the way of action.

Are members pessimistic about your ability to win? Maybe you could share a similar historical example and ask for reflection about what it took to accomplish that.

Bridging ideological gaps helps learners answer a very important question –why?– which is essential if learners are going to act on what they’ve learned.

Putting it all together

Using interviews and observation to identify gaps comes during Step 4 of your Training for Action Template.

Approach with curiosity and humility, knowing that you too play a role in creating these gaps.

By the end of this step you want to be able to answer the following question:

“If I were take a photo (or video) of the challenge taking place, what would it look like?”

Use what you find to determine what content to prioritize in your training (or whether to do one at all).

What if I can’t find the gap?

If you can’t find out what the challenge is prior to the training, you can meet as a group to identify challenges–but proceed with caution.

As a facilitator, your job is to help learners identify patterns in experience before beginning to diagnose gaps and develop solutions.

Make sure to end with clear next steps; come back with resources that will help learners bridge the gap.

How do we create a solution for the group when everyone is different?

If the challenge seems unique to a single person, then training is not the solution.

It is better to address the issue one-on-one.

But the same gap will usually show up differently based on people’s role, identity and life experience.

That’s one reason group dialogue is critical.

It’s also why individualized support following the training can be a very powerful tool to convert learning into action.

But let’s talk about that in a future post.

What do you think, is this a helpful framework?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Riahl O’Malley and Indira Garmendia, co-founders