Room 101

Photo Credit: chelmsfordpubliclibrary via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: chelmsfordpubliclibrary via Compfight cc

I wrote last time about my Learning Live experience and how the conversations between sessions were one of the most valuable parts of the time there.  I was lucky enough to engage in dozens of short and sharp dialogues with many people who I respect greatly.  One conversation particularly stood out for me; this was a conversation with Owen Ferguson around lunch on the second day.

We’d been mooching about, generally chewing the fat and trading ideas about what good learning might look like. We’d moved organically, as all the best exchanges between people do, and got onto how we thought vendors might be trying to hit a need for good learning.  As L&D professionals we seem, more than in other industries (education excepted), trying to find what’s new and good. Then Owen asked the following:

How do we know what ‘good’ is if we don’t understand what ‘bad’ looks like?

We both paused, thought about it for a minute, and said it might make a good blog post. I sketched a few ideas about it on the way home and drafted a post for next week.

This conversation came up again yesterday on Twitter. Brent Schenkler posted a super piece on the corporate learning function and Twitter did what it does best; a group of interested people asked questions and posted comments about it.  The brilliant Jane Hart did what she does so well and got to the heart of the conversation with another question:

I think there’s some truth in that. And the reason for that truth is because we don’t admit when we fail. So, with this conversation taking palce on Twitter, and my blog post in draft form, it seemed the right time to ask what Owen and I were discussing. Quite simply:

What, in your opinion, makes bad learning?

Take a moment; we all think we can describe what good looks like. We can all think back to our ‘best’ day learning. But what’s the worst? What is the piece of work that has your name on it somewhere that you’re unhappy, embarrassed, or downright ashamed with? What fills you with dread when you see certain practice being used? It might be a big issue, or a small wrinkle…but there’s bound to be something that creates ‘bad’ learning in your mind.

Post your thoughts in the comments box below. If you want to share but don’t want to share your name then email me  – – and I’ll add your comments anonymously.

There’s no judgement here; this isn’t a name and shame session. It’s not about atatcking what other people do – it’s about holding a mirror up to our profession and having an honest conversation. I’m as guilty as the next person of doing things I wish I hadn’t –  I’ll add my examples as the comments arrive.

5 thoughts on “Room 101

  1. Bad learning occurs when there isn’t a fit between the objectives, methods of delivery, resources, and learners.
    My experience includes badly used PowerPoint when visuals have got in the way rather than enhanced the learning.
    Bad learning also occurs when trainers who are predominantly pedagogy and have an almost desperate need to share what they know – this is good for a plenary or presentation. Good learning delivery for adults is androgogical in drawing out existing learning (ASK) and carefully adding to it for a more permenant change. In this scenario responsibility for learning is more likely to be share by facilitator and learner.


  2. Hi Andy,

    A great question, but I need some clarification…

    When you say ‘learning’, are you talking about the internal process
    that takes place in our brain as a result of the brepeated firing of
    electrical synapses or are we taking about the
    activity/resource/practice that is intended (usually hoped)! to
    elicit/spark/bring about that ‘learning’?

    I ask this because I think many people (including those in our
    Industry) use the word ‘learning’ when describing the activities that
    take place before/during etc the ‘learning’ as opposed to the
    internalised personal process.

    The examples you’ve provided in your post suggests you’re asking in
    relation to the ‘activities’ and not the ‘learning’ itself.

    If you could clarify that’d be great




    1. Good question Craig, I deliberately used the phrase ‘piece of work’ as it’s more than just ‘activities’; Using the approach we’ve adopted activities don’t necessarily exist in traditional terms. I also think that correlation does not imply causation for much of what we do in L&D. To assume it does isn’t giving enough credit to the people who learn. That’s why I deliberately posted Jane’s tweet about training; again the words training/learning are too often used interchangeably without specifying what we mean.

      The conversation with Owen was at an industry event; it would be reasonable to assume learning meaning the industry, encompassing both sides of what you’ve raised.


  3. Great post Andrew and what a cracker of a Twitter thread we were having.

    When Jane asked the question, she called it a ‘rhetorical’ question but it was a question that was mulling in my mind but didn’t have the guts to ask it because I have colleagues reading my tweets (and I’ve been pulled aside and “advised” accordingly for my non-traditional approaches when it comes to my work) and wouldn’t know how it would go.

    Also, we are in the pointy end of a restructure where we find out if we have jobs in the next few days so things are slightly ‘tense’ to say the least with many L&D people.

    The way I gauge good and bad learning for me is that if my business clients are raving about the solution provided (or if they continue to come back or ask for me for new work or if I’m seen as a mentor/coach to others from outside L&D) then this is good. It means that I solved their problem and they have a level of trust in me.

    If on the other hand L&D, tell me that they believe my approaches are non-traditional, take issue with how I work with my clients or cannot align my performance against their own standards then this tells me that there are other factors at play. All I can do in these cases is stay true to myself and take heart that there are others out there who see the bigger picture.


  4. Many years ago I moved from “IT professional” through customer account management and started on the LD route; lots of facilitation and experiential learning was the way to go…. and then Powerpoint was invented. Well, in those early days I spent hours producing hugely complex actions and transitions to amaze the learners on my courses! It took a while to work out that the reality was very different to my expectations; they hated it.
    Lesson learnt, any powerpoint I’m forced to use now has a picture and a couple of words on it.


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