Sunday, May 8, 2011

Use the Six Disciplines to Create Breakthrough Learning

The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning is a terrific book for anyone who is interested in fostering effective workplace learning. Now in its second edition, it is about time I got around to writing about it. The 6D concepts and the approach outlined in the book have helped me and my team create successful learning experiences that have led to real behavior change and improved business performance.

There are few surprises in the book for a well-trained or well-read learning professional. The magic is in how it has all been put together. Cal Wick, Roy Pollock, and Andy Jefferson have done a great job synthesizing quite a lot of theory and research which they have distilled into a practical, no-nonsense framework for learning design. They create a clear, easy-to-follow road map for learning professionals and business leaders alike. Their company (Fort Hill) has also developed some great tools, such as the Results Engine® (an updated version of the Friday5s® tool that I wrote about in this 2009 blog post), to support the later stages of the 6D model, where the activities required for genuine learning are usually tougher to sustain.

What are the Six Disciplines? Just that: disciplines. What a great word for us in the workplace learning field. Even when we know the right thing to do, workplace issues such as competitive pressure, speed-to-market needs, and budget constraints sometimes tempt us to abandon good intentions or compromise our standards. We need to maintain the discipline needed to create a complete learning experience, one that will lead to desired business results.

So here are the 6Ds:

D1 – Define Business Outcomes – D1 reminds us that we need to start with the end in mind. We need to look upstream to what the business is trying to accomplish, not just look at learner needs in a vacuum.

D2 – Design the Complete Learning Experience – This is my favorite concept in the book. We need to attend to all phases of learning, (Prepare, Learn, Transfer, Achieve) not just create a course or a learning event.

D3 – Deliver for Application – If we truly want learners to do something different as a result of what they have learned, we need to make sure they understand the context of what they are learning, make learning relevant to their needs, and ensure they have the opportunity for practice and feedback.

D4 – Drive Learning Transfer – This is where the rubber meets the road. Can learners repeat what they have learned in the work environment? Will they have opportunity to use the skills? Will they be motivated to do so? Will they have the support of their managers and peers? All of this must be considered in the Prepare phase, so that when learners get to the Transfer phase, the mechanisms to support learning transfer will be in place and working properly.

D5 – Deploy Performance Support – Closely aligned with learning transfer is having the performance support to sustain motivation. At the very least, this means learners have the support of their manager. At best, they have job aids, performance support tools, and receive coaching to help them during the Achieve phase.

D6 – Document Results – Of course, it is important to measure performance. It is important for learners, their managers, the learning department, and business leaders to know what is working, what is not, and what the impact is to the business.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and begin practicing the 6Ds. Also, check out the Fort Hill Company website for more information on the 6Ds and the Results Engine® transfer tool.


  1. You're delightful to know that learning breakthrough program is scientifically tested by intelligent experts. Therefore, you are able to stay free from any side-effects due to this technique.

  2. What is missing and ought to be a 7th D is Distinguishing rewards for Distinguishing performance as most macro- change efforts seem to fail in, not only leaving out many of the 6 D's, but failing to alter the reward system to recognize newly achieved results due to the use of new skills. An amplified D1 would be that Defining Business Outcomes should include all of those supporting interdepending activity, since few, if any, accomplishments at the business/corporate level are singular efforts. All of this is emphasized in my book:

  3. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you so much. Instructional Design