CASE STUDY – Performance Management eWorkshop

(Australia Council for International Development)

In 2011, ACFID conducted a learning needs analysis to determine top L&D priorities of organisations in the international development sector. Performance management was identified as one of these priorities.

Two key challenges were also recognised: (1) the wide geographical distribution of agencies and their staff, which makes it costly and difficult for staff to attend face-to-face events, and (2) the limited impact of 1-2 day, face-to-face training events, without follow-up to assist participants with mastering the concepts and skills. The features of eWorkshops address both access issues and deep participant engagement to improve mastery and application of skills.

Performance management is one of those subjects which require higher level thinking skills and application in context. A stand-alone e-learning module with multiple scenarios may address some of the concept mastery outcomes, but can’t draw on people’s experiences and own contexts, and is therefore bound to remain shallow. That’s why often we hear that these types of subjects need a face-to-face workshop over and above e-learning – to tackle the “deeper” issues, and to discuss and even challenge each other’s approaches.

To be able to achieve higher order levels of learning, conversations are important. Not just the “sharing” kind (cooperation) but one step further – the problem-solving kind (collaboration).

That’s exactly what we did here. Just like in any other eWorkshop, we designed a series of complex “almost real” problems – very similar to what managers encounter in the workplace. These problems don’t have right/wrong answers. They have a whole range of possible strategies depending on how people approach the problem, which in turn is informed by their own experiences in the workplace. That’s where learning together becomes interesting, and we don’t want to miss that.

This is a course without bells and whistles. One welcome video, no additional multimedia. We don’t need these to engage people (the added benefit is that eWorkshop development is really affordable). Participants are inspired by stories – those that form the backbone of the eWorkshop as well as the many other stories that are offered by participants as they make their point in multiple problem-solving discussions. The engagement is triggered by presenting problems that are at the core of what managers in this sector face every day. It is further enhanced by giving plenty opportunity to the participants to make valuable “almost real” decisions in a safe environment.

The scenarios and content were developed by specialist management coach Joan Johnson, who also expertly facilitates this 4-week eWorkshop. The quality of both task design and e-facilitation are key to making this type of training a success.

Unlike the very brief action-planning and feedback activities in the equivalent 2-day face-to-face workshop, the 4-week learning journals submitted by participants in this eWorkshop demonstrate truly exceptional shifts in perspective and understanding of the topics.

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