13 years of L&D later…

I remember when I started out in this game 13 years ago being a trainer and delivering content in a workshop. The content was well designed and thought through. There were workbooks, handouts, acetates for the OHP, and a video to use at different points in the training. The content was good. I was a novice, and really appreciated the trainer notes that helped the discussion move along. It was all about getting through the content. That’s what defined good training.

Or at least, that’s how I defined it.

And I’m confronted with the fact that 13 years later, there are still many L&D practitioners who think modern learning should still look like this. There are still many L&D practitioners who are working in businesses and organisations up and down and across the globe who think this form of training delivery is efficient and right.

And to an extent they’re right.

But just because people expect training to be delivered to them in this way, doesn’t mean this is what’s best for them.


13 years ago, I didn’t know that I could be a better trainer by understanding emotional intelligence. Or that I could improve my facilitation skills by gaining regular feedback on the very same. Or that if I understood the business need I could develop a really relevant training course. I didn’t know that my own development – as a practitioner – needed to move with the times. For about 6 years, I was happy just delivering content, slowly improving my ability as a trainer, but not really doing much more.

Until I started to understand that moving into senior roles in learning and development wasn’t just about delivering training, but it was about providing solutions to the business that helped the business be better at what it does. I started attending all manners of workshops, seminars, conferences, webinars, and all sorts. I got onto social media and started consuming everything I could that informed me better as a practitioner – but more so, helped me be a better human being at work.

As time went on and I started to become better at understanding business leaders, what they needed from L&D and delivering solutions that made a difference that I started to then rethink my whole approach to L&D itself. It was fine that I was working on being as good as I could be, but then I started to grow and develop my understanding of how learning itself works. After 9 years of doing this stuff, you’d think I’d know, but I didn’t – all I knew, really, was how to do training – how people learn, though, was a whole other thing.

And all the while this was happening, technology was moving at pace, as were world events. Terrorism defined the media, disruption was happening in all high street businesses, banks were getting caught out for ridiculously bad behaviour, racist, mysoginist and abusive behaviour was becoming rife. At the same time, human understanding started to explode like never before. Where models like NLP and MBTI had strong holds, these were becoming unpicked. Learning Styles, which was once the darling model all trainers used, was becoming debunked at pace. Emotional intelligence, which was once a very theoretical model, became far more entrenched in evidence and provided a whole new way to articulate human understanding. An unknown area called neuroscience started uncovering the mechanisms of the brain – not just that it worked in certain ways, but what that meant for people. A whole new field of behavioural economics became fresh and exciting helping people to understand that you can encourage good behaviours for the common good.

L&D itself almost transformed over the last decade. People began posting their own how to videos online. People began writing their own thoughts and experiences through platforms and getting them read and shared widely. Online content fast became the go to source for knowing anything. Brands moved away from broadcasting content, to be content providers, helping people know how to do better things with their products, not just that the products exist. We started to learn that there were experts everywhere, and we didn’t need to hold all the information ourselves. Online experiences became more and more about user experience, forcing us to re-examine how e-learning itself works. We learned that in providing online spaces for discussion and debate you can collaborate, meet other people and achieve pretty cool things.

I’m a bit exhausted just writing about how much has changed in the last 13 years that I’ve been doing this L&D and OD stuff.

And yet, there are trainers, HR types, recruitment types, and L&D/OD types who refuse to understand this explosion of new information and new ways of working. The world has literally moved on, and the very people who are meant to understand human insight and provide this knowledge to the organisation are worried about the transactional activities they’re doing and not looking at the stuff which makes a difference.

Which leaves me a bit deflated I’m honest. I’ve been at this blogging lark for a number of years now. I don’t get as many readers as some of you might think – I’m a modest writer with modest readership. But I’ve been writing about this stuff consistently for all that time. And not just me – many other better writers are out there. They’re trying to do the same. Get people to think differently. To work differently. To behave differently. To be amazing all on their own. And for all the people who will share and like and retweet this blog, there are many more who are blissfully unaware the world has fundamentally changed around them. They’re there, getting on and delivering the same old thing in the same old way.


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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.

4 thoughts on “13 years of L&D later…”

  1. I wonder if, perhaps, the world actually hasn’t changed. If the vast majority are still doing what they’ve always done then we’re just the cocoa dusting the top of the froth on the top of the coffee. Outliers.

    1. Dear Sukh

      I am in a cabin in the woods. I am surrounded by 9.5 acres of bird sanctuary and I came here to write a bit about The Revolving Door aka The Reverse Superman Effect. I didn’t know I was going to write this to you but here it is.

      Simon’s comment resonates with me when I logged in to send you my words and Sukh, you have encouraged me to share with you (thank you) so here are my noticings and my wonderings in no particular order.

      I notice smart L&Ders I work with, and for, who are apologetic when we need to run classroom stuff. And we seem to be even more apologetic if it has MBTI or Belbin or a “psychometric” in the content. They apologise that it isn’t “cool / different / something else” instead of applauding the increasing courage to do what is right for that business at that point in time to get it / them from A to B.

      I notice that the stuffing goes out of people when they talk like this. Like they know they “should” be doing something award winning but that just isn’t where the business is at right now. It just isn’t where the Leader’s head is at right now. It just isn’t where their boss’s head is at right now. “We just don’t have the budget this year”.

      I know we get what award winning looks like. I know we move in outlier circles (HT Simon Heath) where we enjoy debating, writing and sometimes, when the stars align (it feels) designing and delivering things that move other things forwards with such significance that there might be a ceremony and awards are exchanged. Yet measuring the value of L&Ders as practitioners by the “vehicle” or “format” of their delivery is a red herring for me. For me that is the stuff of ego. Of “look what I can do”. For me, our value is in how we meet people where they are. I’ll explain it a bit more.

      I notice that my experience of the people I meet on the other side of The Revolving Door is different to my experience of talking with my OD, Coach and L&D peers. Rarely does anyone say “yes, I’ve had a really good think today” when I ask them how their day is so far. Some of these guys run P&Ls and hit numbers. They get half yearly reviews done on them at no notice over the phone. They navigate political territory every waking minute. They get sent to Harvard to learn that sometimes they can simply ask their teams for feedback too. This week I heard one side of a phone conversation that went “yes I am out after work, I did mention it, yes just save me some, I’ll be back by 8”. They hit their “away day” or they want to change / invest in development / fix something or someone (gasp), they turn to us.

      And in that moment we have the opportunity to meet them where they are. Really meet them. As an OD-er, one of my golden rules is “understand your starting point”. You need to know where you are. Take time to find out. This means understanding where the client / managers / organisation is currently at. Really at. Not what you are told by one person or where you would like them to be. Look for what isn’t said. Pay attention to the whispers and the sighs. Use data that is available and listen to opinions too, they are data. Ask them how they are and then listen. It isn’t alway a “change program” or an award winning program design that is needed in that moment.

      L&D for me needs to continue to be as smart, passionate and generous as it has always been and to know that we are enablers more than experts. It is up to us not just to deliver what our egos shout at us about, and what we know we have the potential to do, but to design and deliver what is needed by those we work in service of.

      If we confine ourselves to the outer outlier edges, and without respect for that which has gone before, then we could fall in to the trap of spending our time at one end of a spectrum which is a narrow field of vision. An echo chamber of information that we agree with and nod along with and go “yes yes yes the future is this, these 12 people say that”.

      Well. Fills lungs with air. It just isn’t like that really. For me.

      Try this.

      What is your day like?
      What do you choose to do today?
      How do you feel?
      What are you thinking?
      Then that is your reality. That is your day. A sequence of those added up for long enough is your life.
      And the future? Well that, as far as I know, is in the too difficult box. No-one knows. Perhaps that is why we spend so much money on trying to figure it out.

      I notice each generation comes up with a newer version of the work of the previous generation. There is always something new. Always. And there are always things that stand the test of time too. If we hang out only at that outlier edge, dealing with what’s new and what’s next, then we miss the whole spectrum. We miss the experience of others. We miss the reality of others. Then how can we really help them? From the classroom to the online health and safety induction to gamification to the coaching app to the annual treasure hunt. I think it all has its place in some form or another in one moment or another along the spectrum of where people are. Of where we might meet them.

      Our work needs to be informed by others. By the experience of everyone. We can be agile, artful, diverse, present, in service, open, non-judgemental. We need to know there cannot be any wrong (unless it is illegal of course). My wise Dad always says there is no such thing as wrong. Only “right, or unexpected or different”. That is the stuff of spectrums. Let’s be that. Let’s keep our stuffing!

      So with all of that in mind, I have some wonderings.

      I wonder how bizarre it is that I feel I might risk my professional gravitas for saying I ran an MBTI session classroom style when this was a great fit for that team at that time. Something they knew about. Something they could get hold of, to give enough comfort that they could then explore it and then destabilise it enough to move beyond it. Something that brought them some laughs when they needed some and that underneath all the things, and I mean all of them; the objectives, the history, the leaders, the employees mood, the culture, the weather, underneath all of those things, that was my job that day. To bring relief.

      I wonder how bizarre it is that I feel I am admitting to you that I sometimes prefer classroom learning and reading actual books to online learning. Shouldn’t I? I have tried online learning but I have a mind that can remember conversations easily. Conversations bring stuff to life. Stuff sticks. I also have a curious mind. I like to ask a lot of questions. A lot of questions. And I like to read faces. As a sensitive empath type I need to connect to my environment, and the people in it, to be at my best. The way I can write this now, in to an otherwise overwhelming abyss, is to write it to you, Dear Sukh. Online communities are usually spaces for me that I find I retreat to only in times of crisis and when anonymity is required. It isn’t how I show up at my best. It is where I have found solace in the moments where I have been at my worst. If you ever log in to the Endometriosis Health Unlocked page you will see a picture of my mum and I in the top left corner. It was taken when we raised over £1k for Endometriosis UK by walking a marathon through London in pink pants. That is one of my hang outs. No-one knows, when I type there, that it is me in the top left corner. I learn there, I share there, I teach there, I fuel my resilience there. That is my experience so far. Is it wrong that I can’t transfer that mode of learning with the same impact to my professional life so far? Or just different / unexpected?

      I wonder what my own development journey would have been like if I hadn’t ever experienced that joyous realisation of having an introvert preference. Wow. In that moment I understood why I feel tired after a day working in open plan. In my earlier career it was ok that I didn’t want to party on Friday night and I could understand why others did, and even how they could! I took the pressure off myself and I started making sure I got energy the way I needed to. I even realised I could be good at my job, and get promoted, AND prefer introverted type stuff. Thank you MBTI.

      So Sukh. That is what I notice and that is what I wonder in the peace of this cabin. Thanks for encouraging me to share it with you.

      See you soon,


  2. Perhaps the initial trainer qualifications have not moved sufficiently with the times. Or, and this is more likely, are sometimes delivered by people who are just trying to get through the content and are not encouraging exploration and links to reality. Or then again maybe are trying to offer qualifications in too short a time.

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