Interview with Paul Terlemezian

Having a blog allows me the opportunity to periodically interview some learning professionals who can share some real and genuine insight from their years of experience.  It’s an opportunity for me to be able to engage on some of the biggest issues in L&D these days, and to learn from them as well.

With that said, here is a really great new interview that I think you’ll find interesting. I had the privilege of corresponding with Paul Terlemezian, an Atlanta, Georgia-based L&D professional and founder of iFive Alliances, a management consultancy firm which advises organizations on training and performance issues, with a focus on technology and collaboration.

Paul has more than 20 years of experience in the high technology and training industries, including work for IBM, Sterling Software, and more. In October 2011, Paul launched Georgia LEARNS in an effort to increase the implementation of innovative learning methods in the workplace by fostering collaboration amongst entities within the training industry.

MVI_0901In the interview below Paul talks about workplace performance, the gap between training and competency, BYOD, and more.  Please read the full interview, and leave comments in the comments section below.

Training Station: Why don’t we begin by just giving a bit about your background in the learning industry.

Paul Terlemezian: Here are some anecdotes of experiences that have influenced my choices and work in the learning industry.

– My earliest paid working experiences (in the 1960’s) were with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration.) I had the opportunity to work with visual recognition technologies and artificial intelligence very early in my career. These experiences helped me understand the potential for technology to accomplish complex tasks that were relatively simple for humans (but perhaps dangerous or time consuming.)

– While earning my Master’s Degree in Mathematics (early in the 1970’s) I had the opportunity to teach Differential Equations to Chemical Engineering Majors. One of my students asked me how he would use a differential equation while working as a chemical engineer. I had no idea – so I called a friend who had graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and had been working as a chemical engineer for two years. He had not knowingly used a differential equation – and could not provide an example. I still wonder today about theoretical vs. practical aspects of learning.

– Upon graduation from college – the first 12 years of my career was involved in customer training for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC.) I got exposed to eLearning, simulations and performance support in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I taught, developed, supervised and then managed the P&L of customer training – as a business. I learned that training needed to be relevant enough to compete with “work” and valuable enough to deserve having a fee.

– In 2003 I started iFive Alliances. Its purpose is to accelerate the impact of learning in the workplace by focusing on results, technology and collaboration. Clients of iFive benefit from my experiences with industries that are more effective than the learning industry with these three factors. I adapt and apply what these industries have learned to help accelerate learning impact in the workplace while growing the revenues of my clients.

TS: A lot of focus among learning officers these days is on performance improvement tools. Specifically, in the moment of actual work, how we can best aid the worker in performing the task in the most successful way possible. What do you feel is the proper balance between training and performance improvement tools? Is the focus in the right place?

PT: Focusing on performance improvement in the moment of actual work is definitely the direction of 21st century practitioners. It is Act III of a IV Act Play. Act I is content, Act II is simulation, Act III is performer support. Act IV is described in my answer to the next question.

I’ll use an example – when moving between levels in a large shopping – should I take the escalator (performance improvement) of should I be taught how to apply my walking skills? While one might be better for speed the other might be better for my health – and of course we could blend the two – relying upon human judgment. I believe that the focus needs to be on developing judgment (e.g. “to tweet or not” or when to send an email vs. make a phone call vs. how to send an email or make a phone call.)

TS: What are some new and developing technological tools that you are excited about these days?

PT: Act IV is task automation and this is where I get excited about a new technology. Think about the simple analogy of being able to know what time it is. We used to provide content about the big hand and the little hand (or perhaps how to gauge shadows from the sun) – this was Act 1. With Act II we adjusted the hands on a clock and asked the learner to tell us what time it was. In Act III – we provided digital watches (obsoleting much of the earlier content on the big hand and the little hand.) This also obsoleted simulations and lead to the development of automatic timing devices where we no longer need to tell what time it is in order to initiate an action. Of course we still “tell time” but think of all the tasks that occur automatically without needing our intervention related to time.

So, I am excited about ACT IV technologies. Recently I have spent some time learning about research and application of assistive technologies to help people who have incurred severe brain or spinal injury. My intent is to accelerate performance breakthroughs for everyone in the workplace and thereby bring more investment dollars to the research effort while reducing the cost of the products that result from the research.

Augmented reality, voice analysis, immersive simulation, interactive video and performer support technologies are examples of current projects that my clients are engaged with.

TS: From my experience speaking to people involved in employee training, there is a gap period between the end of training and the time when the worker is actually able to work independently and proficiently at a high level. What are some ways to best connect learning to performance? How do you think learning can and should continue after an initial training course?

PT: Closing the gap between learning and performance has been a “current” topic for as long as I can recall. Father Guido Sarducci has helped us understand this very well – http://ifivealliances.ning.com/video/the-five-minute-university. We are in this “rut” because we have focused on content retention. We need to change our thinking and our focus. Technology is mandating a change in our thinking – and while we are not likely to see everything being replaced by Act IV technologies – we can focus on learner readiness, learner ability to manage change and learner support – rather than content retention. So as organizations, managers and for ourselves as performers – we need to ask three questions and invest to help workers answer three questions:

  1. What will it take for me to be ready to change how I work?
  2. Am I confident that I can learn the new way to work and perform as well or better than now?
  3. What support will be there for me as I change the way I work?

TS: Social Learning – we all have heard that studies have shown that, by and large, people learn more effectively in a group setting, or with others. Do you think, that online technology and learning will advocate for online collaboration, or for individual research and individual study? 

PT: One of my favorite authors is Kevin Maney – he does not write about learning – he writes “about the science of how the brains of talented people work, and how that knowledge is being used to create predictive, “talented” computer systems.”

In “Tradeoff” he writes that with everything we do – we make a tradeoff between convenience and passion (and that the evolution of technology will make the convenient even more convenient and will also make us more passionate about our passions.). As I apply Kevin’s thinking to the learning industry – I think of social learning as very real, very important and motivated by convenience. It is more convenient than eLearning. It will be used for learning, research and collaboration. The classroom (i.e. face-to-face real-time interaction) is what we are passionate about. Because of cost (i.e. it is inconvenient to spend money) the “classroom” has lagged with technology adoption.

For several years I have asked the following “research question:” – If you could only use one tool to support the performance of you and your company’s employees for the rest of your career – what would it be? Google? YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, an LMS, other?

No one has ever selected LMS as the answer.

TS: Switching topics a bit, but to one that’s increasingly relevant to L&D professionals these days, how do you think the increasing adoption of BYOD policies are impacting learning programs? And more generally, what is the impact of mobile technology and mobile access on employee training?

PT: One of the industries that I study and then bring what I have learned back to the learning industry is the medical industry. The use of BYOD to learning is analogous to BYOB (bring your own body) to the medical industry. In the US – we complain that the doctor is treating the “population instead of the patient.” While politics, financial matters and lack of knowledge are challenges – the concept of meaningful use is an important outcome. Meaningful use has three phases – 1. Accurate relevant data 2. Improved processes 3. Focus on outcomes.

Our technologies of choice have become an extension of our body. This is true in all parts of the world – where even the poorest people frequently have access to a mobile phone (voice and text only.) As we as learning professionals adapt to BYOD and “meaningful use” we will become more relevant and accessible to the people we are trying to help perform better.

My guess is that our industry will take a while to get the right solutions in place for BYOD.  Our industry has a “blind spot” when it comes to learning – we tend to focus on the distribution of content as opposed to helping the worker perform. Initially this means that we will try to adapt our “one size fits all content” to the run on as many devices as possible. Even if we can get a video or slide presentation to fit on a tiny screen – will it be effective?

When we get it right we will respond to the learner with device appropriate learning. Text and voice (including voice analysis, voice recognition and location recognition) might be very effective for some mobile devices and not for some more functional stationary devices. When we apply meaningful use methods to the learning industry we will know which devices the user has access to and may recommend the best one for them to use. We will also adjust the process that we help them learn based on the devices they use. The end result is that the learner and the “trainer” will evolve to collaborate on outcomes.

TS: Finally, if you would be giving advice to someone just beginning their career in L&D, what would you tell them?

PT: Always be willing to ask “why” – make sure you understand the answer – and do not underestimate the importance of experience and unintended consequences. View your role as a performance guide leading and advising the way as opposed to a historian documenting what happened in the past. Learn from past experiences but do not become prisoner to them.

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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