L&D, Rhetoric and Perpetuating Myths

This post will be challenging to read. It will be a direct challenge to those in the profession who I respect and think are doing important work in advancing L&D. If you read this and think I’m referencing you and your mindset and attitude, then yes I probably am.

The L&D vanguard leading the light for the revolution of how people are learning at work at peddling dangerous myths that we need to carefully critically appraise. I’m part of that vanguard. I’m peddling those same myths and I’m guilty as charged.

Except I’ve not built my business model on whether or not people will buy what I have to offer on the fear of what is happening in the world of knowledge consumption, and I’m not invested in towing that particular party line.

I repeat, this is directly offensive to those who do make a business of this. They earn an honest living from doing so and are doing important work in this area to progress the understanding of workplace learning in a way we haven’t been privy to before.

Every single person who is claiming they are leading organisations where models such as 70:20:10, informal learning processes, social learning and the such like are telling you such a bag of lies I don’t even know where to begin.

Firstly, most of the people in this space are talking about nothing more than IT training. They’re most certainly not talking about coaching skills, leadership development, negotiation training, or any other high level skill set. There might be some organisations doing this and claiming they are. They might even be part of the big chip organisations many of us would be lead to believe have fully embraced these types of approaches.

But they haven’t. A population in their organisation have, and that’s not the same as everyone. It’s not having the kind of business impact many are claiming it does because most departments aren’t measuring that kind of activity. One group embracing the approach is not the same as everyone in the Finance function or Procurement team or A N Other being part of this type of organisational learning activity.

Indeed, most organisations where there isn’t an L&D or HR function couldn’t even explain how they do any of this activity, because they’re simply not doing it. They’re getting on with the day job. And before the vanguard start claiming that the ’70’ of the 70:20:10 is the day job – yes I understand that, and it’s all being done on the job – except the people doing the job aren’t setting themselves personal learning tasks and embarking on personal and professional learning journeys. They’re just getting on with the job they’re paid for and at best doing a good job of it because of the formal learning processes they’re taking advantage of.

There’s more, though. The rhetoric around a lot of what the vanguard write about is that if you’re not supporting these activities as an L&Der then you’re failing your organisation. Which is in part true, except there are plenty of organisations and L&Ders who haven’t got the first clue about what any of this is trying to promote or talk about. So, no, not all big badass companies are doing this. Some companies are – those who are enlightened enough to realise there are better ways to support workplace learning and support personal and professional development at work. One team or a number of teams in an organisation does not equal endemic practice.

Hold on, there’s more too. In all likelihood, it’s those people who have a propensity towards using social tools and sharing their learning openly who are receptive to this type of learning at work. That’s not everyone, and it’s definitely not every L&Der. L&D is representative of the population at large in that there are just as many against the use of technology to support learning as there are business leaders who are against the use of technology to modernise workplace practice. The teams or the people likely to adopt this type of approach are those who want to modernise their working practice anyway.

I haven’t finished yet, there’s even more. The vanguard are very clear on this too. EVERYONE IS AT IT. Except they are patently not. Some are, sure. But there are many more who need support and guidance on how to make this stuff work and how to make it happen.

Let me be clear, I believe that workplace learning is fundamentally changing. Technology as an enabler of learning has never been better, and we’re only just seeing how the technology can be used as such. The vanguard are trying to run their business off a culture of fear in some parts where they’re claiming that there is this enigma of learning is taking place that is hard to quantify and hard to qualify but it’s out there because their surveys say so.

Let’s be careful about what we choose to believe. And to the vanguard I challenge every one of you to be far more responsible about the rhetoric that is perpetuated and the impact on your fellow L&Ders.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

8 thoughts on “L&D, Rhetoric and Perpetuating Myths”

  1. Great post and thanks for calling it out. From what I’m seeing is that the people who are already doing some element of great L&D work are already on Twitter, blogging and social media – and they’re usually internal change agents getting on with the job at hand – and also plugging away at it slowly.

    There’s a whole wide world out there of other L&D people who are basically happy with what they’re providing as services to their internal clients because (1) their L&D, HR, OD managers don’t know any different way OR (2) it’s not in their job description to service their customers in any other way AND if they did change, what’s it achieve? If there’s a culture where towing the party line is rewarded; keeping your head down and doing your job without waves to get a wage what’s the value and benefit in changing your current approach?

    I know I come across as very cynical in this aspect but I don’t believe the problem only exists with L&D actually. Work is changing so much – so is society. I believe organisations are desperately trying to figure out how to work in this new environment without truly also using the talents and knowledge of their own people and putting trust in them or helping them develop in new skills. Good social leaders who are role models are also sadly lacking. Instead, we hear about automation, restructures, outsourcing, redundancies, basic income, cut backs, firewalls…list goes on. Would it be easier to just buy something “off the shelf” and implement it straight away (knowing that it’s a short term solution – ‘tick in the box’ thinking) or be a part of something that is longer term, inspires changes, is risky, possibly adversarial and may risk you losing your job? To many, the risk of doing anything different to what they’re doing today is too great.

    1. Glad I waited. Helen has pretty much said everything that I was mulling over last night. I’d only add that I’ve commented before – principally in the Friday morning #LDInsight tweetchat – that there’s a tendency for the ‘enlightened’ to just talk to the ‘enlightened’ in the SoMe space, with little attempt to bring the customer voice into the discussion. I have tried to invite non-L&D folks into the discussion, but ironically it appears that most of my #PLN and followers are already in the ‘enlightened’ camp. I’m taking away that I need to widen my horizons to embrace. learn about and listen to different disciplines. Thanks Sukh and Helen.

  2. As well as organizations who are trying to buy ‘off the shelf’ methods, they also seem to try finding the right employees ‘off the shelf’. I’m getting tired of all this buzz about how hard it is to get ‘the right people’. Why does every company think they need new people, while they just need get better at facilitating learning in their own organizations?
    I fully agree that facilitating learning is not some ‘package’ that can be bought. As Helen stated, it requires longterm thinking and the willingness to try new things that might partly fail. It also requires people with a growth mindset. People who are open to try and learn new things, to make mistakes and to give and get feedback.

    And yes, I agree that sharing is still difficult for many people. Actually, I’m also not a person who shares her thoughts and learnings very easily; I really wish I was much better at it. But I think that if we keep showing them how this works and if we help them to try and get more confidence in sharing their work and thoughts, they might learn it. And if not, the organization can probably help them just by pointing them to the information and experiences that were shared by others. I think organizations should not be so desperate about finding ‘the right people’. The right people are people with a growth mindset and with a passion for the organization’s business. Most of the rest can be learned.

  3. I am a fan of the grit in this post – the rhetoric around l&d is overwhelming. At a networking event I found out that a company which I considered progressive was still operating old school – the way they talked about learning and provide a service. Totally blown away – sometimes its needs to get a bit grim in an organisation (redundancy / restructure ) before a department will change its ways. Great post!

  4. I too liked the grit of this post. It built early tension, however there was no climax. There was no evidence to support your myth busting. At this point it’s ‘their’ word against yours.

    I don’t think learning can be solved by a one-size-fits-all approach. Personally I like social learning – I want to learn from others, teach what I do know and share and discuss with others. Encouraging a culture of learning with your colleagues and friends is a great way to challenge yourself to improve.

  5. Interesting. There is a lot of truth within these words. A fair amount of L&Ders are being subjected to the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when it comes to terms like social learning, informal learning, CoP’s etc. It is this fear the “vanguard” is selling. “If you do not do “this” then your L&D efforts will FAIL! You are failing as a learning professional if you aren’t taking “modernistic” learning approaches”. What makes L&D strategies fail is not taking a holistic view of your organizational culture. It does no good to stand at the top of the mountain and shout 70:20:10, when the hierarchy simply isn’t prepared to listen or act.

    The bill of goods being sold doesn’t tell you the truth about the many baby steps required, the head bashing and teeth gnashing that will be experienced. Organizational culture doesn’t change through the wave of a magic wand, and neither does building a learning culture. It takes drive, tenacity, a bit of subterfuge and reliance. Mostly, it takes everyone. L&D needs to wake up to the notion that they are not the ones driving the bus. We do not own learning. This is the part the “vanguard” leaves out. They will tell you to “go do it” and then you feel like you failed when things didn’t go to plan.

    Back to the main topic – is the “vanguard” selling a load of crap? No. Not entirely. In some cases, they are selling that FOMO as I stated earlier. In other cases, they are selling important information to an audience that recognizes change is afoot and would like to be better prepared, and generally do better for the workplace. This is where change starts, with education. Is the “vanguard” selling education or fear? A mix perhaps.

    My observation is that as an L&D function we are missing the curiosity to learn about how to approach workplace learning in current times. If L&D is going to “tick the training box” out of fear of rocking the boat, or fear of challenging the powers that be…then that’s the hamster wheel we have put ourselves on. Sure, sometimes we just need to get on with it. But do we need to get “on with it” in the same way we always have? I would challenge us all to be smarter, do your own research on concepts like CoP’s, 70:20:10, Social Learning. Most importantly, know your organization (and their pain points), and understand the different ways to support the learning process. The loudest voice isn’t always shouting the right solutions.

  6. You have hit the nail on the head. I have been heartily sick of, over the last few years talk up the next big thing, what ever it is be it 70:20:10, badges, mobile learning being someone on the inside of organisational learning and competency based training, most of this stuff just doesn’t happen and in a lot of cases is regarded as a bit of a waste of time to even talk about because one, you are too busy just trying to keep up rigorous schedules of delivery, development and assessment and making sure that everything that needs to be done is getting done and two, if you bring it up at an executive level everyone nods their head and agrees that it would be an awesome idea to do all of this stuff as long as we can do it with pretty much the same budget and oh make sure it doesn’t interfere with anything of the real learning and training. To be honest when I hear some consultants (or as Sukh puts it the vanguard) banging on about badges and gameification for example it take all of my will sometimes to say you do know you are talking rubbish don’t you and almost no one actually cares or even thinks about what you are talking about. The problem is that other L&D people do. They get worried that they are not cutting edge, they are not supplying badges and games and fully internalised 70:20:10 model across their organisation and they think they are failing. You know when you are failing as an L&D person within an organisation? When you organisation says you are! Not when someone from outside says that because you aren’t embracing w-learning (thats one Ryan) you are not doing the right thing by your organisation.

    I actually had a friend of mine ring me up the other day after an interview, to ask me what the hell badges were, because in his words he had almost laughed a person out of the interview when they started to talk about all of the badges they had. He thought they were (if you will excuse the language) taking the piss, and this from a very very senior HR person within a large company.

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