Why delivering training doesn’t enable learning

We’ve become quite sophisticated in our understanding of what it means when people learn. Psychologists have studied humans for decades through which we’ve continually evolved our understanding of how learning occurs. Through early models we understood at a basic level that humans respond to stimuli. If you present a stimulus to a person, they will respond in some form. We learned that you can incentivise people to behave in different ways. We learned that there are techniques to improve recall of information. We learned that there are ways to reinforce what we’ve learned and help us improve our skills / competence / performance.

And one of the key things we’ve learned about how learning occurs is that it is a process and it takes time. It sounds obvious, and it is. And at the same time, it’s a core concept which most corporate L&D teams willingly forget every time they deliver a course.

Delivering a training course is a fundamentally broken practise that is inefficient and ineffective. It patently doesn’t achieve it’s main aim of helping people improve the thing they need to. What it does is give the false impression that staff have undertaken an activity of value.

Well, they’ve undertaken an activity of value, that’s probably true – but it will likely only help a small percentage of the total population going through a standard training course.

Now hold on a second you lot. I know what you’re like. You’re all “Oh but Sukh, we know training adds value,” and “Well, other trainers may not deliver great training, but I do,” and “Here we go again, Sukh’s saying training is no good”.

Training is important. It does add value. And delivered well it can be really helpful / insightful / performance improving.

But that’s not what happens most of the time. Most of the time, people couldn’t tell you what they learned.

And it’s because we’ve forgotten some fundamentals of learning. People learn through a disciplined and rigorous process. When we learn to drive a car, we have to repeatedly sit behind the wheel and learn a new set of motor coordination skills we never knew could be done at the same time. When you learn to ski, you repeatedly get on the skis to ski down a slope in a controlled fashion which is highly unusual. When you learn to swim, you repeatedly get in the water and practise the movements needed to stay afloat and to move. When you create Excel sheets, you repeatedly access and go into the programme to make it do what you need it to. A singular training course for any of those would not suffice.

Learning can’t be accelerated in a classroom environment. People aren’t wired that way, and just because we can make the ship go faster, does not mean we have helped people learn. It certainly can’t be delivered in 90 min sessions through bite size approaches.

Action planning can’t be done in the last 20 mins of the training course. Mostly because people have just about understood the core content, let alone made some insightful gains into their behaviour and carefully thought out what it means for their person, for their thinking, for their daily practise, for their relationships, for their performance. It’s a flawed and artificial way of gaining commitment and action from people who have just been overloaded with information.

I’m not saying people aren’t capable of doing that, I’m saying that we’re completely negating the whole learning process we actually go through by trying to fill peoples brains with information and have an unreal expectation that they will improve in that new way almost immediately.

This is where technology and better and advanced techniques in facilitation and design of learning can be better utilised to work with the actual process of learning. Unfortunately what this means is pretty much throwing out every rule book we’ve held dear on L&D and how we design and deliver training, starting from a completely different premise, and cultivating learning through entirely different and modern means.


Intersectionality, Diversity, Inclusion

Intersectionality – Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities

As I continue my own journey in understanding how we cultivate and develop organisations where diversity and inclusion are important factors by design, so too does my understanding of the language used in this space.

I’m becoming more and more alert to language in particular. When we describe the world of work, how much of that language is perpetuating bias(es)? When we design new products / solutions, which groups does it continue to favour, and which does it marginalise? When we describe one group, do we do that at the expense of another group? Do the very systems and practices in organisations promote or inhibit the cultivation and the development of talented individuals across the piece, or do they seek to reinforce what many would term as ‘given wisdom’.

My timeline is filled with examples of people who want to express themselves, and then find themselves at odds with the system – however we define that system. And not only are they at odds with the system, once a number of groupings come together, the challenges are that much more compounded. So, for example, you may be a straight white female wanting to get a senior role and find that the candidate pool for your job has a majority of men also vying for the same. Your challenges will be significant enough, just by virtue of being female. Now, let’s say, you’re a Chinese female. Well, now your challenges have increased further. First, you’re female. Second, you’re Chinese. Life just got that much more unnecessarily harder for you. Let’s just be that much more challenging in life as suppose you’re a Chinese female who uses a wheelchair. Life just became so unfair to you, and all you did was just be. And if this person was also LGBTQ+? That, my dear friends, is what you call a cluster fuck of challenges.

This level of challenge we face, this intersectionality, is a largely unaddressed issue in the workplace. Mostly because we are just about comfortable with dealing with individual characteristics that are different, let alone an amalgamation. And as is the case for many many people in society today. Sure, just being a white, cis-gender, male is challenging enough in Western society and when people with difference are trying to exist in the same space and explore and find out who they are themselves, things just become unnecessarily challenging.

My learning on this has taken time and a lot of reflection on how I understand how diversity and inclusion isn’t just about protecting people from discrimination in the workplace. It’s about understanding and accepting difference in such a way that the default response we have isn’t about someone’s difference, and is about their performance at work. Many will claim that that’s what they focus on. They may well believe it. But when you look at the structures, the hierarchies, the decision makers in organisations, are they representative of people with difference or do they tend to fall within a certain type of grouping?

I’ve kept this piece short, because there’s more to be said, and at the same time, this is enough to be said.

Long live the LMS

No, really!

As with most things that have utility, people find issue with using them preferring other ways of going about life. Don’t want to carry cash? No problem seeing most people can use contactless to pretty much do everything they need. Doesn’t mean we’re going to get rid of cash anytime soon, though. It has utility and will continue to.

What we get hung up on in L&D is beating up on old systems as being archaic and not fit for purpose. You know why we get hung up on those things? Because we have the privilege of modern technology which enables a range of interactions, solutions and content to be created.

The LMS used to be a housing store for e-learning. It still is largely. It then grew to record, manage and administer learning sessions. Fine enough. You could finally produce metrics on learning solutions. Until we realised they are meaningless. X number of hours for learning solutions tells us nothing of value.

As it’s grown, though, the LMS can do more as a platform, but may not need to be as all dominating as some vendors would want it to be. An LMS that can manage, administer and record delivery of learning solutions is helpful, especially for regulated workforces. They need to have a good and useful way for people to know when they’re expected to complete/refresh their organisational compliance commitments. Let’s be clear, though. Fulfilling these commitments is not delivering learning solutions. Indeed as AI and automated functions become more and more the norm, arguably vendors should be looking to create systems that can automate every aspect of recording, managing and administering learning sessions. Why? So L&Ders can focus on cultivating learning cultures where they create and deliver a range of solutions that support intended outcomes.

Also, modern technologies like Yammer, Skype for Business, Slack, YouTube, all need to be better supported for integration purposes. The LMS doesn’t need to have all those as its own functionality, it needs to be able to talk to those technologies so that people aren’t confined to one place of accessing learning.

And as time and technology rapidly move forward and progress faster and further than we can keep pace with, we need to be better at not being restricted by lengthy terms of contract. Yesterday’s e-learning platform may become obsolete tomorrow and we need to have agility and responsiveness to pivot and move flexibly.

This kind of approach also means we can’t expect people at work to be fully agile to change from one system to the next. Which is also a key insight that people at work don’t care how they access learning solutions. They just need to know Portal Everything allows for them to get to where they need. That doesn’t mean training people on systems time and again. It means developing and providing systems that have easy UX and are accessible. From there the content and resources they access needs to be relevant and current. That’s what people at work need.

So let’s not beat up the LMS. For many vendors they’ve done well enough to make money from selling big enterprise systems for 5 year deals. But we’re now at a stage where we can trust other systems and platforms to deliver learning solutions that are too cumbersome in the LMS. The LMS has utility. Let’s just let it do what it does really well and not try to perennially fix square pegs into round holes when we no longer need to do that.

Straw man arguments in L&D

A short post today. One of the things that really rile me up is when L&Ders themselves present straw man arguments about L&D theories / models when they haven’t taken the time to understand the original piece properly.

It happens in political rhetoric aplenty. Governing party suggests policy x, opposition party tries to ridicule it by claiming some absurd extreme. It’s tiresome and frankly annoying. Which is kind of meant to be the point by the person presenting the straw man argument. It’s not meant to invite dialogue or better thinking, it’s designed to lull the presenter into a position of defence. How very tiresome.

You’ve heard the kinds of arguments people make:

  • “You don’t see children being taught how to learn to walk, they try, fall down and get up again” – complete misunderstanding of the huge influence of observation and mirroring actions.
  • “You wouldn’t want someone to start coaching when you’re evacuating a burning building!” – complete misunderstanding of when coaching is of benefit and when it is not.
  • “You can’t learn MS Excel through social learning!” – complete misunderstanding that social learning isn’t about delivery of a learning solution.
  • “You can’t teach leadership through e-learning!” – complete misunderstanding for when e-learning is the right tool.
  • “Who uses an LMS?!” – well actually most organisations, but most don’t have it or use it for the right reasons (there are good reasons, honest!)

Amusingly, you see presenters sometimes use straw man arguments in defence of their own content. If the best form of persuasion you can find in presenting your model / theory / topic is to present a false rhetoric, it’s either a weak piece of content or you don’t understand it well enough yourself.

It’s easy to throw poo at things that challenge us and force us to think differently. It happens in daily life a lot with topics around sexism, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental health and disabilities being the most common that people struggle with. In L&D we’re dealing mostly* with topics that are helpful to people when presented in the right way. (*some topics should never see the light of day because they’re not worth anything). If we want people to be better, we have to know how to respond to challenge well. Straw man arguments aren’t the answer.


Does the L&D world really need another programme?

For those of you who’ve been following my recent activity, you’ll know that I’ve launched a programme called Modern Learning Leader. I wrote a recent post on how I got to making the event happen. The webinars start on Monday, and the Slack channel is being used. So far, it’s progressing as I thought it might.

I’ve been sharing the links, and the Eventbrite page quite openly on Twitter and on LinkedIn. As I’ve been doing that, one thing I’ve been really aware of is that this is another product / course / programme in the packed world of L&D. It’s not intended to be, but it is there.

And what I’m trying to be careful of is how I’m helping people know it’s available. It’s a modern way of looking at learning design. It’s a template for designing learning solutions using a complete range of tools at our disposal. What do I mean when I say this? I mean:

  • Ahead of the first webinar on the Human Condition, Phil Willcox has recorded a video to set people up, so that the webinar can be used to explore the topic further. He’s also getting people to do some reflective practise.
  • Martin Couzins is involved in presenting the webinar on Social Learning Technologies. He’s asking questions through Slack to help gain an understanding of people’s current knowledge base so he knows how to make his webinar more relevant for their needs.
  • The Slack channel is starting to cultivate discussion amongst the people on the programme so that they can start to do their own sense making at their pace.
  • I’m using Slack to provide updates of the programme.
  • I bought people books from a menu of options and they’re starting to share their insights with each other from their current reading, as well as other reading they’re doing.

I’ve designed the programme to be a meta-learning programme. As people experience the programme, they experience what it means to be a modern learning leader. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and have designed it so that the structure is present, and in and around the structure we create the space we need for it to be an effective programme.

I’m not intending for it to be the only way this kind of programme to be designed or delivered. Most certainly this is just one big experiment. What I’m banking on, though, is that in the doing and making it happen, I’m demonstrating how possible it is to do the many things we advocate for in this space. And, I’m using blogging to openly share that practise and my insights as I have them – because if I can do it as I’m describing, then anyone can.

I’m not entirely sure I’ll do another one. It takes a lot of personal time and energy to make these things happen. I’m really pleased with how this is taking shape and how it’s unfolding as time goes on. But once the two day workshop is done, and we’ve all learned valuable lessons together, I may not choose to do it again. Learning in progress.

If you’re an L&D vendor / supplier / consultant / practitioner in this space and want to discuss more, I’m more than happy to do that. As I’ve said time and again, this is just one way to approach designing learning solutions that are modern.

The Big Questions

Sometimes on a weekday morning I watch The Big Questions on BBC One (when I’m at home you understand). It can be good viewing. If you’re not familiar, they talk about topical subjects, bringing in people of very different opinions into the audience and basically let them have it. It’s daytime TV so it’s mostly civil too.

And a while back, David D’Souza posted his questions. So here’s mine.

1. It’s a grey and miserable day, so how do I feel better about myself? 

2. Recruitment practises still don’t feel as modern as they need to be. Will we ever get it right?

3. L&D can get lost inside their solutions forgetting the business outcomes. How do we correct that?

4. Wellbeing isn’t talked about well enough. How are we going to improve physical, mental and financial health?

5. I’m still reeling from the terror attacks in the UK. How are you?

6. Do we still need Unions in this day and age? Surely modern work practices, employment law and social technologies have made them all but redundant?

7. If you’re a Tory how do you square morally ambiguous votes in favour of party politics?

8. If you’re a Labour voter, how do you explain Corbyn?

9. Gender expression has become a really complicated issue. How well do you understand it?

10. Gender politics is now more rife than we’ve ever known it to be. How are you doing with treading those lines?

11. Take a look around you. Are we as cowed and scared as Hopkins tells us we are?

12. Do you watch Paul Joseph Watson’s videos? What do you make of them?

13. Who do you turn to for emotional support if you don’t have a loved one by your side?

14. If you have children, what’s the most recent good memory you have with each other?

15. When was the last time you looked at your family history?

16. What does religion mean to you?

17. What does death mean to you? (HT Michelle Parry-Slater for that question)

18. There’s this whole alt-right thing going on. Do you agree with some of what they share?

19. Which journalist writes and shares good news?

20. What will you do today to uplift yourself?

Disruption of Thinking

It’s just relentless at the minute isn’t it? One thing after the other. I think it all started in 2016 when we heard David Bowie died. It just didn’t stop from that point on.

It wasn’t just the sad news which kept coming. It was also the shockwaves we didn’t know how to deal with and were reluctant to believe could be reality.

Then reality bit. And bit again. And like a zombie gnawing away at your live flesh, it kept on biting.

My thinking has been disrupted so many times. Just when I think I’ve caught my breath and ready to steady the ship, another thing bites.

And I think back to times previous. When things were calmer. There was hope. The Olympics in London. Obama becoming President. Life was seemingly on our side and heading towards the progressive and positive future.

And I’m thinking on Julie’s writing from yesterday about resilience. My resilience has been tested for sure. Many of us feel that. But maybe we got too comfortable?

I’ve learned not to offer or think about silver bullets. Life doesn’t allow for that. Instead I find it more helpful to consider what I want the future to be. Build. Resolve. Progress. Advance. These are the things that make us proud to be humans.

I’ve also learned that when shocking things happen, I can rely on certain characters, whose names rhyme with Garage, Shopkins and Matson, to show me people actively perceive things very differently in life. I don’t share their stuff. They write and create videos and talk on TV to shock to create division and to foster hate. I don’t need to amplify that to others in my life. But I do read and listen to their stuff. It shakes me to my core. Not because I’m a snowflake liberal, but because I can see how their rhetoric impacts on others. 

I’m aware and I’m alert. Life in 2017 in the UK has fundamentally changed, I believe. We’re still reeling from recent terror attacks and tragedy of Grenfell Tower. These things affect us more than we realise because they become focal points of discussion, policy and decision making at the highest levels. We hardly ever see actions immediately after such events because people need to reflect, think, and determine a course of action to (hopefully) prevent these things from being reality further.

There’s no right and wrongs about being disrupted. We’re wisened enough in modern society to know that there are things you can do to be resilient. Eating well. Sleeping well. Healthy relationships. Financial stability. Physical and mental health. Philanthropy and charitable activity. Structurally we’re also far more ready for such things than we ever have been. Emergency teams doing drills. Response units controlling an event 8 minutes after being alerted. Departments investigating threats and acting in our interests. 

Be disrupted, friends. Recognise that things are in such a state of flux, we’re unlikely to know what stability looks like when it arrives. Our future generation may well look back at this time and examine and analyse the happenings of today. They’re likely to see examples of immense violence and horrors that (hu)man(s) can do. And they’re likely to see the best in people with such kindness and heart that you can only hope we all live a better tomorrow.