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

2 thoughts on “Challenging some L&D myths (aka fads and fancies)

  1. Hi – great post on an important subject. My observation is that it’s important to distinguish between fads and myths. A fad may be useful or not, and it may be well-founded or not, but it is temporary. In contrast, a myth is false and enduring. The idea of learning styles is the most pernicious myth, as you rightly say. Dales Cone and the false division of the brain into creative and linear hemispheres are also enduring pieces of nonsense.

    Myths and fads are both bad for the L&D profession, but for different reasons.

    Adherence to myths damages us in two ways. First, if dealing with anyone who knows what they’re talking about (from within L&D or without) it completely destroys credibility. Nobody who says “Most of our learners are visual” can expect anything else they go on to say to be taken seriously. Second, because myths are false, they promote bad practice. If you insist on producing 3 different types of content according the VAK model, then you are at the very least wasting your time. You’re probably also encouraging learners to think about themselves in a destructive way.

    Fads are less dangerous, but we should still be wary of them. The prime danger is that in slavishly following the latest fashion, our credibility is once again undermined. If on the one hand we want to persuade senior management of our serious intent and on the other hand we promote a new idea every 6 months, then we’re going to be seen as a bunch of scatter brains that can’t settle on anything. In addition, fads affect our practice by preventing us settling on one thing, concentrating on it and really making it work.

    I’m not sure if I can join the chat, but I hope it goes well. It’s a vital topic for the L&D profession.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Don …yes agree with you totally. Its also the language used that is confusing to senior management who don’t work in L & D and some who do. Similar applies to academics when they talk about research in language and terminology that business doesn’t understand its almost like we are trying to baffle people with science rather than engage.

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