A Simple Lens: Content and Concept Profile

A Perspective Out of Balance

Most folks in the digital performance solutions industry (e-learning and the like) probably agree that the biggest skewed perspective in solution design and implementation is the disproportionate priority placed on information in the solution equation.

Distribution of information almost always seems to take a higher priority than tangible outcomes. At the very least transmission of information (not receipt, mind you) is thought to be roughly equivalent to outcome. Box checked, game won. Game over. Next problem. Right?

Anyone that’s been in this industry for any amount of time has had this experience. A customer / stakeholder enlists your assistance. They, or a subject matter expert representing the stakeholder, hand you a stack of PowerPoint slides and documents in hopes that these physically implemented artifacts can be magically transformed into a digitally propelled vehicle. So what do you do? How, as a professional, do you mediate this circumstance?

  1. Is it your job as a service provider to help the stakeholder check the box or is it your job to solve the problem (if the solution cost is worth solving it)?
  2. Is it right to expect that everything the SME can insist that a stack of presentations, books, references, and personal experience perspective should be transmitted at another employee?

The answers, in my view:

  1. As a professional, it’s your job to help the stakeholder identify their problem and solve it. At the core, it’s that easy. But it’s not always that easy given the culture and alignment of most performance solutions (L&D) professionals and shops. Design professionals consult, bringing their experience and know-how to bear on problems. Order takers take orders without illuminating the real problems.
  2. Should we consider “not being able to do something” (the problem) a a fire that can only extinguished with a fire-hose of information (the solution)? Again, the easy answer is no. Design professionals should not simply repackage the SME’s or instructor’s toolbox without working to discover the real problem at hand. The challenge is in bringing evidence or, even better, proof to the party. How can one professional from the outside of a domain tell a professional inside a domain that their perspective is misaligned? It’s a tough thing to do as a service provider. Tough but necessary to improve effort to outcome ratios.  This is where I think tools can help to illuminate the evidence and co-create an aligned truth. It can’t hurt to try.

In the context of design, figuring out how to do something and figuring out what to do are fundamentally different challenges. The video below does a great job illustrating the difference between an insight and an idea.

What’s a Lens?

A lens is a tool that can be used to bring new perspective or insight to bear on illuminating or illustrating problems.

I’ve been fascinated with the prospect of lenses and pattern languages as a method for framing progressively generative (solutions that learn from other cases and get better each time a solution or variant is applied) problem solution pairing. So fascinated that I’ve started each new challenge in my own work looking for opportunities to repurpose a lens from another domain or develop a completely new lens to illuminate all facets of a problem. I’ll cover some of the inspirations and resources I’ve found for lens development in another post.

Practical and simple tools can be really valuable for co-creating clarity. One of the lenses I’m working on builds on human performance models that have been around for ages. This tool is intended to provide a clear illustration of performance factors in an easy to digest and easy to see analog map.

Performance Pie Plot

This is intended to provide a visual codification of before and after for case studies. On the front end, an assumed or perceived mapping of the gaps. Compared at the end of an analysis effort with data plots at a task level. I’ll detail this one in another post as soon as it’s ready.

A Lens for Profiling Content

Circling back to the context posed at the start of the article, how can we apply a lens to content profiling that can provide insight or illumination to the specific problems at hand? I wouldn’t recommend starting with the content lens before making the structure visible.

What’s the difference between a profile and a data set?

A data set is a representation of data, for example:

A=yes, B=no, C=high

The data set could meet different conditions / representations:

A=no, B=no, C=high

Similar factors, different data profile. If accurate, this specific profile can be matched statistically to one or more solution sets (including intervention types, delivery media, instructional methods, and communication modes). This match between the profile and the probable solution set comprises a pattern (a known viable match or pairing of problem and solution). For example:

If A=yes, B=no, and C=high then X and Y hold a strong probability of solving the problem while Z has a slightly lower probability of solving the problem. With this profile, O, P, and Q are not recommended.

In the example above, the solutions X, Y, and Z may offer their own profiles including resource / costing to provide decision assistance. The idea here is to offer a flexible, yet consistent, set of probable matches based on an evidence driven algorithm.

This lens provides a set of comparative factors for prioritizing content. This can be helpful in showing stakeholders where the bulk of energy should be applied and potentially what might be excluded from a solution. The lens is pretty self explanatory. You can download this lens and a simple example of application below.

If you have suggestions or feedback for improving this tool or you found it useful, please drop me a line. I’d love to progressively improve the lens.

UPDATE: Started using the tool this morning on a project as an experiment. Quickly found out that some stuff was missing and that I’ll need to tune my process. Starting with an inventory of concepts, principles and content isn’t a bad idea. There are several ways you could use the profile categories. For me, this’ll work great as a conversation driver and capture mechanism. Since it’s co-created and if the tool is properly mediated, prioritization should be more meaningful in the long run. Here are the updated profile categories:


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