I love getting into a good, old-fashioned debate about learning! I come from a long line of educators, so discussions around effective instruction have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I find that many of my colleagues like to do the same thing. When I attend or speak at a learning conference, I love to eavesdrop on the many conversations flying around regarding the latest trends and methodologies in our industry. Most conversations are calm, some are negative — others can even be quite emotional. But one thing is always constant: We take great pride in debating our craft, and for good reason. We are the stewards of this industry for the organizations we represent. Those we serve are counting on us having these conversations and adjusting our learning offerings accordingly.
In my September column, I challenged a few “sacred cows” and greatly appreciated many of your reactions, including those of you who disagreed with me. Just more reinforcement that we love to debate these things. In this month’s article, I wanted to raise the notion that maybe, just maybe, we can get a bit carried away with these debates, at least among ourselves.
In the real world of “selling up, selling down” our training services, how well do we know those we serve, and how often do we engage in open debates about learning with them? I know we do many types of assessments when it comes to our learning offerings, but I’m suggesting a different angle that many of us may not have tried yet.
I’m proposing doing some research, not around any specific class, e-learning course or leadership development program, but rather how our consumers feel about learning in general. I’m talking about the overall offerings they’ve been given and how they survive each day while on the job. These are actually three very different questions.
When I say “learning in general,” I mean the infamous learning organization question. We often hear our companies describe as “learning organizations.” But are they? I’m not debating the intent — I’m challenging the outcome. Who better to ask than those who are supposed to be living this label every day? If you asked your learners and their managers if they felt they worked for a learning organization, would they agree? How would they define it? How would they improve the overall approach? I think sometimes we define this label based on our terms, programs, budgets and outcomes. Would our organizations agree?
Another area to better understand is how well our overall learning portfolio is working. I once asked a group of trainers if they would attend their own class if they had to learn something. Not one of them raised their hand. We spend a great deal of time adding to our training offerings when in reality, we may need to pull it back a bit. We’ll never know until we ask.
Now, I’m not saying we should base our learning programs on this type of feedback, but I think we’ve gone a bit overboard when it comes to learning options. During much of the 1990s and the early part of this decade, the industry took a “more is better” approach when it came to building out our training models, and for many, it shows little sign of stopping. Wikis, blogs and mobile learning are powerful learning modalities, but simply adding them to what may be an already overwhelming array of choices may not be helpful.
Finally, we should ask them exactly how they’re learning when we’re not around. To them, it may not seem like learning at all. In today’s world, it might seem more like surviving. We’re all well aware of the pressures on the everyday learner. Productivity is king, and many feel overwhelmed by keeping up. What learning offerings do they use when they try to get through a typical day? Do they open our training manuals? Rush to our LMSs? Subscribe to a wiki? Sign up for a class? Or do they use a resource we, as a learning organization, had no idea existed, didn’t create and have little influence over?
We can never know enough about those we serve. The more we understand their needs, the better the solutions we can offer. Sometimes it just takes a few simple questions. The answers will certainly be educational.
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