Ethics and Morals in L&D

How often do we as practitioners consider the ethics and morals of what we do? What kind of ethics and morals do we need to consider as practitioners? What part do ethics and morals play in the design of learning solutions?

I don’t know how openly we discuss and debate ethics and morality in L&D. They probably feel like subjects which many would respond in quite a pithy way – “Of course I’m ethical”, “everything I do is about the care of others”, “I have a strong set of morals and would never waiver on these”.

And I’m left wondering, but really, how do we know if we’re crossing ethical and moral boundaries that we may not be clear on?

Let’s take ‘Learning Styles’ as an example. It is very widely reported and researched that Learning Styles as a design methodology for learning solutions and interventions is just ineffective. That is, if you design a learning solution by using Learning Styles as your approach and methodology, you may as well not bother. That’s because the research tells us that people just don’t improve their learning by using these design approaches.

And so the question is raised – should you continue to use Learning Styles, because you believe the theory to be useful and effective even though there is mountains of research saying that it is ineffective to do so?

If you choose to carry on using it, is that the right ethical choice?

This week, I shared on Twitter that I wanted to start a day of facilitation by asking people to draw a shield.

I had some useful and helpful challenge from David Goddin and Simon Heath who helped me explore this some more.

What came out from this for me was that I hadn’t fully considered the connotations of using a shield, even though I’ve done it before and no-one has ever raised a concern about the activity. Now, this was to be the first exercise in a day of facilitation with a group I was working with. It was going to be given time for people to complete and to share what they’ve done. Because of that, I had to be comfortable in what I was going to be asking people to use. The idea of using a shield feels like it shouldn’t be controversial. David helped share an article about how arms are defined. On reading this I realised just how prejudiced against women a shield of arms (or similar) is. The description is heavily aimed at men and in enforcing stereotypes and messaging about men that I think is unhelpful in the modern age. There is a lot written these days about gender politics – how one gender has more power than another, and how the language we use influences these politics in different ways. I was not comfortable in using a shield as a facilitation tool knowing that there are such connotations involved.

So the moral question becomes – should I use it anyway, knowing that I would be reinforcing gendered stereotyping, but would probably go unnoticed by the group?

I chose to not go with the shield. Instead I chose to go with an image of a window.wp-image-964173065jpg.jpg

Stylistically, it’s not too different from a shield. From a meaning point of view, though, a window presents a different interpretation for people – both literally and figuratively.

I updated my blog post yesterday to state that I want to be an ethically and morally lead facilitator.

I’m curious to know your reactions to this decision making I went through, what it encourages you to think about, and how you might want to challenge me on anything I’ve raised.


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.

3 thoughts on “Ethics and Morals in L&D”

  1. Hi Sukh. As always, really enjoyed your post. Got a couple of points you might be interested in.

    In addition / opposed to using a window or any graphical representation of values, you could ask people to write down the three most important things to them. In my case it would be: “Who I love. Where I live. What I do.” If one of the three is threatened and not going well, I can manage. If two go awry, then things become difficult. Can be interesting in group discussions / getting to know each other.

    In terms of learning styles, I agree that the lack of evidence for Learning Styles’ effectiveness dampens its validity and credibility. If, as in most learning style models, the results are viewed and interpreted as a static identity and not acted upon, then the usefulness of the exercise is minimal. All this does it to reinforce non action and acceptance, rather than wanting to learn to take on new information in a different way.

    For teachers, the usage of the VARK model simply meant that they have to cater for that child’s perceived preference for taking in new information. Whilst this was helpful initially in terms of targeting activities towards particular groups, it did not promote problem solving or the continuous improvement of their pupils’ preferred way of learning.

    The Learning Style Questionnaire (LSQ), developed by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford in 1983 (and based upon David Kolbs Learning Cycle) however, does offer the opportunity to improve less preferred ways of taking in new information by offering a simple framework. I must stress that like the other learning style models out there, it has no empirical evidence to support its effectiveness. Much like the MBTI ( but not on the same financial scale!), the LSQ is simply a model that people choose to identify with, which explains its success and longevity in academic and corporate sectors.

    All in all, as long as they are declared to be a model and nothing more, learning styles tools are nice options to have and can be used if appropriate to the situation and people are receptive – much like the shield / window ice breaker you mentioned.

    All the best


  2. You didn’t really think about the sectarian divisions you’d be uncovering by taking about Windows, rather than Apples, now did you?

    But in seriousness, there are a stack of ethical challenges everywhere. But when it comes to models, I am increasingly of the view that they are useful if they help give some language for people to talk about something about which they don’t usually speak. Metaphors to get someone thinking around a problem. Just because something isn’t factually correct doesn’t mean it can’t reveal truths.

  3. Totally agree that there is a place for learning styles models in L&D today and really liked Ballantine70’s comment about them giving us ‘language’. If we want to facilitate a paradigm shift to help learners see something differently (can you tell I’m visual? 😉 ), language is the tool we need to explore/hone.

    Also, I think we need to think about how we ‘mansplain’… Your idea of using a shield is in wide-use and a great starter. (A lovely, last element of the day/ workshop, is to ask the group to review them all and to add comments to each others’) In this instance, you’re a man, with two men telling you not to use shield and three comments from men… there are no women in the dialogue so far; let’s not speak for them. We take their voice.

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