Recently Brent Schlenker returned to blogging after a year back in the corporate training world, and he talked about some of his experiences. At the end of his post he made an interesting – if not depressing – statement.
“The truth is, there are no learning problems in corporate settings. There are only people unwilling to learn”
He then asked, “How do we change that?”
When I tweeted out the link, a number of us on Twitter began to have a conversation around this question. I tweeted a couple of things, including
Pple will only (want to) learn when they nd 2 get a job/keep a job; all the while they r spoonfed (trained) they do not nd 2 make the effort
— Jane Hart (C4LPT) (@C4LPT) September 21, 2013
Although the Social Web is chock full of self-directed learners; most corporates/organisations are comprised of directed learners. — Jane Hart (C4LPT) (@C4LPT) September 21, 2013
But then I realised I was confusing two, albeit, related issues : willingness to learn and ability to learn for oneself. So I decided to try and plot these two issues on a chart.
Whereas those who are willing and able to learn for themselves (in the top left-hand quadrant), just do it and pretty much sort themselves out, it is those in the bottom right-hand quadrant – the directed, unwilling learners who are not motivated or interested in learning, and expect to be taught. And this is clearly where most training efforts are placed. Hence the constant stream of advice about how to make learning effective, appealing, engaging – how to use the right colours or font sizes or images or games or whatever – in a desperate attempt to motivate the unwilling learner.
But these efforts can also turn willing learners into unwilling learners. And there is a lot of evidence that shows how individuals are becoming frustrated and angry at “knowledge dumps with trivial interactions”, or being forced to click on every interaction on a screen – just to prove they have “learned” it, or who see no purpose or relevance in what they are being asked to learn (bottom left-hand quadrant).
But it is the top right-hand quadrant that is interesting. There are surely many who are fundamentally, willing learners, they just don’t know how to learn for themselves. These are the people who can do with our help to revive their innate ability to learn – which has unfortunately been knocked out of them by the education system.
What about the others?
The willing, self-directed learners who like a lot of autonomy certainly shouldn’t be forced to endure (e-)learning solutions intended for unwilling, directed learners, they should be largely left alone, and offered more appropriate approaches, if and when required (eg compliance/regulatory training).
As for the unwilling, directed learners, then maybe LESS effort needs to be spent at simply throwing, costly highly engineered e-learning at them, and MORE effort needs to be spent on (a) helping them become self-directed learners, (b) helping them find solutions that suit them as individuals, and (c) building responsibility and accountability for learning – with the obvious consequences if this doesn’t happen. All with the aim of moving them from the right-hand side of the chart to the left-hand side.
One thing that seems clear from my little activity here, is that providing a one-size fits all e-learning/training solution for every employee in the organization solves very few problems and causes far more.
As with most of my blogging, this post is mainly to help clarify my own thinking – it’s certainly not a definitive answer to Brent’s question, for as Brent himself tweeted later in our conversation
What do you think?
UPDATE: Here are some posts others have written on this topic