Challenging some L&D myths (aka fads and fancies)

L&D mythsThis week’s post comes from #chat2lrn crew member, Judith Christian-Carter. Judith is a Director of Effective Learning Solutions, a UK-based learning services company. You can find her on Twitter @JudithELS

Are we like moths to a flame?

What is it about L&D that makes it behave like a super-charged magnetic for attracting all manner of fads and fancies? I know that all learning sectors have their trends, but over the last 25 or so years it has never ceased to amaze me just how many L&D has managed to attract. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advancement and for trying out new ideas in a sensible and controlled fashion, but the over-whelming tendency by many in the L&D profession to jump on any passing bandwagon and, seemingly without question, to embrace it whole-heartedly with an almost Messianic fervour, has always intrigued me.

Some examples

For example, over the years the conversations of L&D people have been peppered with references to and support of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), accelerated learning, brain-friendly learning, emotional intelligence, learning styles, leadership styles, Belbin, Myers Briggs, body language, un/conscious in/competence, Fish, Johari Window, role playing, transactional analysis, to name but a few. So many L&D ‘courses’ are now deemed to be incomplete without a dose of ice breakers, energizers, koosh balls and games. For some the road to success is paved by fire walking, outward bound courses, rope courses, embracing the theories of Maslow and Hertzberg, doing Brain Gym exercises, hypnotherapy, and using actors and music.

What’s the harm?

Whilst some of L&D’s fads and fancies wax and wane, like transactional analysis which was a big thing in the UK back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, others, like ‘learning styles’, seem to stick around for much longer, where their longevity is often a direct relationship to the number of advocates they attract. This is not to say that any of the above are dangerous, with the possible exception of fire walking, about which I have extremely grave doubts, it is more a matter of L&D professionals using them without question on a regular basis, simply because they believe that this is what L&D is all about and, perhaps more significantly, needs.

Harm to the L&D profession

Even when these fads and fancies are shown to be myths, eg learning styles, there still remains a hard-core set of believers who react in an absolutely amazing way and deny that what they hold dear could ever be questioned! This is where I get seriously concerned, because when an idea or theory is proved to be incorrect, then why continue to cling to it? Such a stance, I contend does great harm to the whole L&D profession.

If you have time, just Google any of these fads/fancies and check-out the evidence against them.

How do we challenge such L&D myths?

For me this is the essential question. If our colleagues believe in something which is subsequently dismissed as pure bunkum, then how do we go about helping them and supporting them to put aside what they once held to be so true and to move on?

So, where do you stand on challenging L&D myths? Join in the debate and discuss this and other questions on 26th March 2015.  09.00 PST 12 EST 16.00 GMT

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The Business of Learning Evaluation

#Chat2lrn is delighted to have a guest post from @AjayPangarkar.  Ajay M. Pangarkar CTDP, CPA, CMA is founder of CentralKnowledge.com and LearningSourceonline.com. He is a renowned employee performance management expert and 3-time author most recently publishing the leading performance book, “The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy” (Wiley 2009), award-wining assessment specialist with Training Magazine, and award-winning writer winning the 2014 prestigious TrainingIndustry.com Readership and Editors’ Awards for the Top 10 most read articles. Help him start a, “Workplace Revolution” at blog.centralknowledge.com.

Learning practitioners are under tremendous pressure from business leaders to demonstrate that their learning efforts and initiatives are worth the budget they allocate. This has to be one of most daunting challenges facing those involved with any aspect of workplace learning.

There are many reasons why learning practitioners are unable to connect their efforts with actual workplace applications. One that stands out is that learning practitioners focus on the “learning” rather than on how learning “results” impact business performance.

Reality Check

Learning practitioners like to talk about being ‘accountable’ but behind the talk is an unfortunate reality where, like the three monkeys, this pesky ‘accountability’ issue will go away if we do not speak, see, or hear it. What learning practitioners really want to say to business leaders is, “Leave us alone to focus on the learning and stop bothering us with your trivial business issues!”

Regretfully, many learning practitioners remain under the impression that if proper learning takes place then everything else will take care of itself. Intuitively, this makes some sense but this causal relationship is too weak to be effective. Following this logic is the same as saying that, if you eat ice cream you’ll be cold; possibly, but there are many other reasons that also apply.

“If proper learning takes place then everything else will take care of itself is similar to saying that if you eat ice cream you’ll be cold; possibly but many other reasons also apply.”

Those involved with learning discover early to integrate and apply Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation. Yes, your organization explicitly hires learning practitioners for their expertise with level 1 (develop effective learning) and level 2 (learning retention). There isn’t one business leader that expects anything different. What’s more, however, is that they also expect their learning practitioners to ensure that the first two levels contribute to improving job performance (level 3) that will lead to business improvement (level 4).

Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Here lays every Learning Practitioner’s challenge…getting employees to learn the right skills and, ultimately, apply these skills to the job, again, ‘accountability’. In an attempt to answer this need, there are those proposing what appears as relevant solutions to this dilemma including measuring learning’s “return on investment” (training ROI) and how well learning meets business expectations (ROE). Again, the shortsightedness of these methodologies is just like the analogy of “ice cream making you cold”. The causal relationship is too weak to prove and too often inappropriate or irrelevant.

These solutions fall short to actually measure and evaluate how well learning contributes to on-the-job effectiveness and its role to achieving business objectives. With a growing need for innovation, creativity, and managing continuous market changes, business leaders are also under tremendous pressure to foster a knowledge-driven business environment. Leaders are increasingly depending on organizational knowledge to develop a strategic and business advantage that will help them to maintain relevance, let alone survival, within their market space.

“Rather than being viewed as a secondary role, workplace learning has quickly risen to the top of many business leaders to-do list.”

Rather than being viewed as a secondary role, workplace learning has quickly risen to the top of many business leaders to-do list. Furthermore, even though this is a learning practitioners dream, it also comes at a price…the need for accountability. So, what should learning practitioners do? How can they prove that their learning efforts actually improve employee and business performance? Is there anything currently available that works?

Let’s discuss these and other related questions to measuring and evaluating workplace learning impact at our next online gathering of #chat2lrn, Thursday 27 November at 16:00 BST / 12:00 EDT / 09:00 PDT. Come prepared, we look forward to seeing you!