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.


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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.

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