Training is like Mexican Food

I’ve been asked to write this post for a while now as I’ve mentioned this idea a few times in the past and people have wanted to know more about it.

Quite simply, I believe that traditional training is like Mexican food.  It contains the same core ingredients that are added in differing quantities and then folded differently.

For example, you fancy chicken fajitas for dinner.  You chop up your chicken, peppers, onions and chilli.  As you prepare your skillet you remember that you have some cheese.  So, fire up your deep fat fryer, add the cheese, fold it differently and cook.  Voilà, enchilada.

What’s the difference between the meals?  Very little – a bit more cheese, a few less chillies but they are ostensibly the same.    For too long, training often happens the same way.  Get an idea, build it, add something, fold it differently and present it as something new.

Ah…I’m told there’s skill in designing and delivering L&D.  Of course there is.  There’s the same skill the chef uses – appropriate sourcing of ingredients, knife (editing) skills, knowing how long to cook something, advertising what we do and hope people enjoy it.  We know that users are hungry – do we spend enough time finding out what they want to eat, how they want to eat it, and how far they want to be involved in the design of the dish?

Let’s look at the Mexican cookery analogy in a little more detail:

The spices
Over used, the dish is ruined.  Too little, and it’s bland and tasteless.  Welcome to the L&D world of activities.  I’ve been on some courses that have exercises coming out of their ears.  Over-seasoned, the trainer adds more and more activities to try and make the training varied and original.  In the end it becomes distasteful as users struggle to find the meat of the piece.   Generally the lower the content, the more the spice.

The meat
It’s typical in Mexican food to have pork, beef and chicken.  Vegetarian alternatives are becoming more apparent but there has been little change in these recipes for years.


The comparison in L&D is knowledge transmission.  And how do we do it?  In the classroom.   You can have chicken, chicken, or…chicken.  In the classroom, the classroom, or…the classroom.  In my experience, L&D are fascinated by the desire to be ‘ALL-KNOWING’.  Are we the oracles of knowledge?  Do people learn from us?  Are we limiting people in how they learn by only offering this alternative?

Earlier, I asked where the skill is.  In terms of the substance of the piece it’s about choosing the right cut, knowing how to slice it, making it manageable for the user to consume.

The side order
I love the fact that many Mexican dishes come with re-fried beans.  Notwithstanding they’re filling and tasty, they describe the L&D issue over the extras.  Too often L&D will add an e-learning element to some training.  It’s a side order.  The main meal of the course can exist without it; it’s not integral; it adds to the user experience but has little value in itself.  How many re-fried e-learning courses have you completed that are face to face content, manipulated to make it ‘e-appropriate’.  Worst of all, the tag blended learning is used to describe it.  If it was blended learning, it wouldn’t be a side order.  If you truly want to blend your learning, include your e-elements, your open learning, your additional activities as integral parts of the learning experience.  Make the activity work with your other elements; why should your users treat your e-learning as anything more than a paper pot of sour cream if that’s how you present it.

The pancake
The  package is often presented as the programme, course, class, workshop, etc.  The style of delivery is the way we fold the pancake in L&D.  I’ve seen a lot of Mexican food in L&D in my time.   However, you can’t just call it something new as a way of presenting it as new.  There are times when we in L&D need to be original.  How many new ideas are ever launched in L&D?  When I say new, I mean completely original, based on research, transparent and of real value?  I’ve seen many L&D professionals  fold the pancake so tightly that the user can’t see what’s inside.  Where’s the value to the learner in that?  How many L&D professionals fold the pancake in a new way and call it new content?  I think there are substantially fewer L&D professionals who present a de-constructed meal.

Make this your mantra – put the pancakes on the side, put the cooked parts in different dishes, include the side orders and let the user decide how to build it.

As I put on all my posts, I’d love to hear your comments – please comment below.

27 thoughts on “Training is like Mexican Food

  1. Another thought inspiring blog Andrew- I agree wholeheartedly about ditching the pancake and letting users choose what they want when they want it, that’s the advantage of a good elearning programme embedded into an organisation – if you’ve had the sour cream before you don’t have to have it again if you don’t need it!
    You have jogged my memory about a presentation I did to get my first L & D post, “training is like a box of chocolates you never know what you are going to get,,” ….., I feel a blog of my own coming on!!!


  2. I love the metaphor. I so agree with your basic premise. I used to work for a training consultancy, 12 full time trainers at one point, The effort required to make sure there was no overlap between the 50 or so topics we offered was phenomenal. We sometimes used to say “there is only ONE course”!

    Let’s not get too hung up about this. Recognise that excellent delivery is what’s important, and ensure that we make the meal an a la carte one for as many people as possible. It’s not easy to do well, and those of us that can (5% ,by my reckoning) are doing something important and deserve to be well rewarded.

    I think we shouldn’t worry too much about this. We should ensure that


  3. Thanks Michael. I don’t think it’s about excellent delivery though; it’s more about finding what people want, what they want to prepare themselves, and what they want help creating. That’s about context and content of offer before delivery.


  4. Unfortunately, while I agree with your take on L&D, I don’t like your metaphor, because it’s wrongly based, as it doesn’t fairly represent real Mexican food! When done badly (like I experienced in Australia :), it’s as you describe. However, tacos al pastor can’t be turned into pozole, even if both use pork and corn. And when you say ‘pancake’, do you mean tortilla? Shudder. Can we qualify the metaphor to at least refer to badly done Mex food?


  5. […] The toughest choice for the designer in the asynchronous space is to decide whether the content that has been carefully crafted and prepared, in some cases, over many years, should even be made available asynchronously. My experience is that there isn’t a simple rule as to what should be made available and when. Some people will need more guidance and support whereas others will help themselves. […]


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