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Technical Leader at Cisco Systems Presents the Importance of Delivering Value (Interview)

Charlie Justus works as a Technical Leader at Cisco Systems in the Learning Development Solutions Group where he has been developing and delivering training for Cisco software engineers for the last fifteen years. He can be most easily reached at

Q. How have 21st century technologies helped you increase performance and boost productivity?

No doubt, new technologies are reshaping the way we train. Using video conferencing or webcasts scales our deliveries to a much larger global audience. We have development tools available today that can generate engaging and effective content much more cheaply and quickly. Training is no longer anchored to a specific time, instructor, or classroom location.

Q. Everyone talks about the positives of technology, but has it ever hindered you in any way?

The flip side of the coin is that we now have the ability to create really terrible content quickly and deploy it worldwide instantly.

Anyone can generate training content and post it to YouTube or as a Podcast. We have all seen examples of really bad training, especially training that is poorly presented or provides information that is just plain wrong.

It also is frustrating to have to install special plugins or software to view a spiffy animation complete with interactions and games to learn how to do something that could have been more effectively presented with a simple hand drawn diagram or picture.

The main challenge is to focus on the learner, the objectives, and the fundamentals of good instructional design and to not get carried away with all the new technology.

Q. What might organizational learning look like 5-10 years from now?

I don’t think anyone has the answer to that. Who could have foreseen all that we have evolved into over the last 5-10 years. Evolving trends would indicate employees would have immediate access to training when they need it. Virtual classrooms, asynchronous online training, mobile devices, simulations, just in time job aids, videos on demand are becoming more prominent in the workplace as companies try to increase ROI. Processes are being implemented with job aids, checklists, and built-in training.

More of the learning content will be produced by the subject matter experts and learning communities themselves to produce training that can be generated quickly and cheaply to accommodate accelerated development schedules and short life cycles.

Q. Can you explain the difference between social and collaborative learning?

Both social and collaborative learning gives us the opportunity to learn by watching or interacting with others. Pairing or grouping students together to complete a project is an effective way to accelerate learning, engage students, reduce the amount of lab equipment and increase learning in the classroom.

Most virtual classrooms can provide students access to breakout sessions and tools where they can work together. There are so many virtual collaboration tools available for free, it just doesn’t make sense not to use them.

Unfortunately, I sense that collaboration is not a skill being taught in the universities, at least with software engineers. It should be.

Ideally, companies should be including opportunities for social learning in their employee’s job. Mentoring and formal code reviews are ways that our software developers are benefiting from the examples of more experienced peers.

Pairing new employees with veteran mentors is a good way to expose the new employee to the best practices for their job roles. It also works well for the veteran. Every time you demonstrate or explain something to someone else you continue to pick up new things.

We also see the “reverse mentoring” effect where veterans are learning skills from new grads.

Q. What is the big deal with “informal learning”? Readers are asking, “Are trainers and designers responsible for the informal learning process?” What would you tell them?

I see trainers and instructional designers at conferences these days that view informal training as a threat to their jobs. Workgroups are tapping into their own talent to provide mentors, wikis, forums, videos of chalk talks and other training for their people.

I am not sure that I would say that trainers and designers are responsible for this process but they should be a part of it. This isn’t a threat but an opportunity.

There is value in being able to utilize sound instructional design principles to produce quality content. I deal with software engineers and it is both amazing and distressing to see what they can do on their own with a Powerpoint slide deck.

Increasingly I am working with engineering workgroups to provide them with the templates, the tools, training, and infrastructure that has elements of the ADDIE model built in. As with anything else, if you can demonstrate value, there will be work for you.

Q. What books, blogs, and/or magazines would you recommend for our readers if they’d like to learn more about your area of work?

Ruth Clark’s books on E-Learning and Virtual Classrooms are books I constantly refer to. There are several valuable groups on LinkedIn for the learning community (E-)learning network, The eLearning Guild, Instructional Design and eLearning Professionals.

The eLearning Guild and ASTD are important organizations to belong to. eLearning Magazine also provides a wealth of information.

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