“Learners” know more than you about learning

How do you like to learn? Me, I enjoy reading business books, watching TED Talks and then chatting with my pals about the key insights over a pint.

If it’s a more technical demand, I usually like to watch a YouTube video while holding a very clear step by step guide, and ideally will have an experienced buddy at my side to make sure I don’t cock it up.
Occasionally I’ll attend a conference for inspiration and to meet new people, but they’re seldom learning conferences as I find the learning industry is roughly 10 to 15 years behind the times (The bulk of this post was written while sat in a foyer in Folkestone waiting for the start of #nudgestock run by the team at Ogilvy & Mather).
The basic litmus test I apply to all my learning experiences is this: is it fun (or interesting)? For this reason I tend to avoid most of the learning offers at work, they’re just not as good as what I can find on my own. Would you say the same yourself?
Learning, like gaming, is a naturally rewarding process which causes the release of deliciously motivating chemicals when progress is made and feedback is given. There are good, fun experiences to be found in traditional learning, but these are few and far between. Learning is viewed as a serious business and “serious fun” isn’t a thing – neither are “serious games” by the way.
Serious games are a paradox
Seriously? Kill me now!
“How can we stop people dropping out at module 2?”
I’ve heard variations of this since I’ve started working in the industry, and my response is thus: “if you’re having to make people do it, it’s probably not worth their time”.
If you can’t show people something is worth learning, you’re either not understanding the audience need or it’s not worth learning. Traditional Learning is a control mechanism, unbending, unchanging and propping up the old organisational model. Big business is stuck in the industrial revolution and the thinking about people as rational machines is still being applied. Dan Pink’s Ted Talk about motivation is a great ‘call to action’ to reexamine our basic assumptions around how to improve performance.
Most Learning and Development professionals are happy with the old ways because it makes life more comfortable. Here’s the tried and tested formula: (teacher + content) + (learner + attention) = learning = performance improvement.
I contend that Learning and Development has no real seat at the executive table because the majority of what L&D does is rubbish in comparison to the competition – Google, YouTube and conferences attended by world-class thought-leaders to name a few.
The only reason CEOs and their minions don’t recognise this, is because unlike marketing which can work with ROI, Learning and Development has become a master at spinning a story of success. In fact, we’re still at the, “did you have a nice time” level of measurement, which does not have any correlation to improved performance. Learning and Development measurement is all about storytelling and reputation. If enough people say they like it, and you can spin together some pretty graphs showing a trend upwards, you’re onto a winner.
But… Rant over, there is a role for L&D in business. Julian Stodd talks about Social Leadership and the importance of storytelling, sense-making and community.
Yes, it's those bubbles again :)
Yes, it’s those bubbles again 🙂
The new age L&D department should function as a guide, a sign-poster of useful, personalised content and a trainer on new systems and technologies. This role may take many forms and yes the beloved traditional modes of learning will be important – sometimes face to face is best. But we don’t need to duplicate all the excellent work being done already. Google, Youtube, Pinterest, Twitter, Feedly, external conferences and networking events are a very good use of a learners time, we just need to be pointing people in the right direction and giving them the space to decide for themselves.
The learners know more than you do about what learning experiences are right for them.
I don’t think we should necessarily build our own versions of YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter etc either, we just need to be the champions of these tools for learning.
In someways, L&D’s job should be much easier than we’re making it and in other ways, with the entrenched spoon-feeding learners have come to expect from corporate training, it’s much harder then it seems. What I’d hope you take away from this post is that there is a new way, and it’s your job (if you work in learning) to explain this to decision-makers who don’t know any better.

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