KCA For Learning And Development: The Essence Of Knowledge, Context, And Application
As a Learning and Development (L&D) leader, you may find yourself leading teams of Subject Matter Experts that were naturally promoted to trainers due to their great performance on the job. However, we know that not all Subject Matter Experts are capable of take on the trainer\learning facilitator role successfully. The thing about Subject Matter Experts delivering training is that they may tend to train others using the same formula that worked for them. In other words, the message would something like “I learned it this way, why can’t you?”. This preposition places learners that do not align with the Subject Matter Experts preferences at risk of underperforming. This happened to me and I came up with a model called Knowledge, Context, and Application (KCA). This article discusses how I came up with KCA and the rationale behind it.
The purpose of KCA (Knowledge, Context, and Application) is to draw an analogy to Bloom’s learning domains which are: Knowledge, Affective, and Psychomotor. However, the concept of KCA is simple in terms of instruction. Adult learners need knowledge of what they are learning, context about why they are learning it, and then the opportunity to apply it. For example, if we are training a group on customer service, we must explain to the learner what customer service means to the company. After that, we need to establish why customer service is important; this is where the context is explained. This practice allows the learner to evaluate his or her beliefs about the subject against the way it was presented. Finally, based on the knowledge and context attained, learners must be given the opportunity to apply that knowledge through activities that resemble real job situations:
Knowledge is the foundation of all learning. However, if we refer back to Bloom’s Taxonomy we are just recalling facts without any context. The key thing is that you can’t truly learn without having some kind of knowledge. Knowledge aligns with the cognitive learning domain. For instance, prior to learning to ride a bike, you had to know what a bike was and how it worked. The same happens with a job task. You have to know what’s to be done but, that alone is not enough for learning. That’s probably why the latest instance of Bloom’s Taxonomy changed from “knowledge” to “remembering”.
Context is everything in adult learning. Knowledge without context is just factual or trivial. Application without context amounts to the same. Context is paramount to adult learning because as adults we need to know the “why” of things. As an example, consider call center agents learning about customer service. Without context, customer service might just be seen as another task in the call flow. However, context can lead to the association of customer service to revenue and business prosperity.
Regardless of how many theories we could call upon, the adult learner learns by doing. The ability to apply recently obtained knowledge within the prescribed context is invaluable. Without application, we risk the phenomenon known as “cognitive overload” and that is what most people refer to “information overload”. It means the brain has stored a bunch of facts and its dumping them out faster than we can retain them. Therefore, activities are necessary to apply what’s being explained. The training environment should provide real-life situations specific to the job tasks at hand. It should allow for failure and discussion of those failures so learners can realign their knowledge and context to the business need.
In summary, many Learning and Development leaders would find themselves leading a team of Subject Matter Experts with little to no background in adult learning. Faced with this situation, I came up with the Knowledge, Context, and Application (KCA) model to align the way Subject Matter Experts train to Bloom’s learning domains. KCA establishes that for adults to learn, they must first know what they are learning, understand the context (why) in which that knowledge is to be applied, and apply it. Finally, KCA can be a quick and simple way for Subject Matter Experts to apply adult learning principles without having the necessary background in Learning and Development.