How to think about Training – three levels to Mastery

A few years ago, I led a team trying to organize a massive training challenge.  We were changing the way we employed some of our key project personnel around the globe.  It was a change that would impact nearly 1,100 professionals working on more than 300 projects.  There was a significant risk that people would leave during the transition, and certainly lots of project handovers to be anticipated.

We had to figure out how to organize ourselves for such a massive training challenge, particularly in the area of project-specific training.  In our context, each project was a clinical trial.  Each clinical trial had an overall protocol that explains the study in detail.  Because many of our trials are conducted in complex disease areas, most also require a certain amount of training on the specific disease area.  And many involve specific assessments using complex technical process or instruments (such as medical imaging, laboratory or tissue sampling). While the people affected knew their jobs and general company processes well, we still had to figure out the most efficient way to prepare to deliver all this training on demand.

We came up with a clear way of considering all the things that go into preparing someone to work on a new project.  I conceive of this as three levels of knowledge:

  1. Core Training includes the essential, “core” elements that are unique to the project.  This would include the project description and master protocol, as well as the key disease information (in our case) and the information about the key, unique assessments.  We created a list of core training modules that all project teams needed to provide and have uploaded to a central Learning Management System (LMS).
  2. Extended information includes the Core, plus all the other manuals and instructions about how to set up the project at a particular site, and the processes to ensure the people actually doing the project are set up.  This could be 100s of documents, and it would be impractical for us to try to manage all of these things centrally, but the project team should have an idea of what would be on their “long list” of process documents.
  3. Mastery involves understanding all the information in the core and extended materials, but it also involves knowing how all these things fit together and developing certain instincts about risks and challenges that may not be captured in those manuals or in the training modules.

While Core and Extended materials can be “trained” and tested using written, presentation or in-person courses, mastery requires a level of experience and practice that’s impossible to substitute.  Mastery is the main reason we still have apprenticeships and residency programs in many professions and trades.

Looking at it a slightly different way, think about a project person completing all those core training modules, and perhaps reviewing and studying the materials and manuals in the Extended information.  Even once they had completed that, they would still be unsure how to actually get started on the project, unless they also had some level of mastery around their broader role and context.

Projects in all industries are getting more and more complex and there’s more information to keep track of.  Our training challenge is to figure out how to move people along this full learning curve: training and assuring full competency on the project-specific basic Core Training, then making sure they have access to all Extended information they’ll need to understand the relevant technical instructions and finally, to ensure they can efficiently arrive a level of consolidation and confidence that constitute Mastery.

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