One question

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Image courtesy of Pixabay

People are already building their own online learning by searching for solutions (with Google) and saving resources for themselves (with Flip, Pocket and simple bookmarks). They’re sifting and filtering content (from YouTube, TED talks and Google Scholar), taking courses to develop themselves (MOOCs) and are documenting it for themselves publicly (on blogs) or privately (within documents). They’re sharing what they’ve learnt online (through forums, Facebook, Pinterest, Mumsnet etc) and are coaching and mentoring other people informally (through Twitter and other channels) and formally (through Horsesmouth)

If people are capable and willing to do that for themselves in non-work situations, why is workplace Learning and Development spending so much time and money trying to create internal processes which copy it?

20 thoughts on “One question

  1. Recently asked this question of a senior officer in a public sector environment and her response contained the following: “….we can monitor how much time they’re wasting on so called on-line learning…..” This was followed by me standing perfectly still and open-mouthed for a full 20mins until the despair and shock had worn off.


  2. I think there’s a few things to this.

    One is that consumer behaviour doesn’t always reflect ease of transfer to other skills. Are people using social technologies to search for what they need? Yes. Does that mean they know how to do the same for their own L&D? No.

    There is a need to educate the workforce on how to use the same technology for their professional development. I’m not convinced that the mass population is as readily capable of doing this as is suggested in the wider narrative. (I.e. it’s not just you saying this, but I’m yet to experience the droves banging on my door telling me they’re actually doing it.)

    Those who are doing it professionally tend to fall in the 1:10:90 ratio. 1% are doing it, 10% dabble in it on a regular-ish basis, 90% might be aware but just not interested to commit.

    L&D are trying to create processes for it because they need to stay relevant in theit organisations. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator. As in your previous piece, there is a gap of skill amongst L&D to provide this curation of services which is fundamentally different to stand and deliver as the subject matter expert.


  3. There is a tendency within organizations for them to want to homogenize activities so that everyone works in the same way. With the rigours of LMS’s and the like, that attempted industrialization of learning has happened in spades in recent years. That tone, I fear, along with automated compliance “learnings” through dreadful online multiple choice exams has tainted the expectation within organizations of how technology and learning fit together. It’s an issue of control and compliance and measurable outcomes in a world where “delivery” is king.

    Fostering true learner-centric learning which isn’t under the control of the L&D department doesn’t win corporate brownie points, is too vague, and so gets ignored. See also collaborative platforms, enterprise social networks, etc, etc…


  4. The first question to get the answer to is “How many people are actually doing what you report?” We sometimes get carried away and assume that everyone in the work place are as up to date with – and as passionate about – learning and personal development as we and our immediate colleagues are.

    I would guess that the huge majority of those at work are not, think training means courses, and in general aren’t interested in developing their skills.

    Controversial? Yes. Likely? Very much so.


  5. Motivation. There’s a lot of workplace learning that is frankly boring stuff, because it’s about internal products, processes, etc. If I have to learn about how to submit expenses, I certainly don’t want to be looking for that information myself. If I have to learn about the products and services we offer, I expect the organization to tell me what they are. I don’t want to have to go look that up or seek out the internal expert. I think it depends hugely on what we are learning about in the workplace.


  6. I think we confuse L&D or professional development with knowledge search. To Colin’s point: I don’t think the average person who is looking up information on YouTube considers this to be professional development. They are simply looking for information. So for us to say that this person has no desire to improve their skills is far from the truth. We are just trying to fit the word “development” into a particular box.

    In my opinion, I see adults on a constant hunt for information. Information they need to do their jobs better and why should they have to report their findings to a hierarchical L&D department. So they can be told what they found wasn’t good enough? By whose standards? The more time progresses, the more our roles of content curators becomes even more critical. Making information easy to access and consume is of paramount importance. Allowing people to take ownership of their development (in whatever form that takes) makes for the “learning culture” we are striving to have.


  7. Great points you make Andrew and all the above are equally relevant in this area.

    Martin’s point and that of Matt on homogenised ways in corporate, leads us to the point I have in my mind: conditioning. I’ve seen clever, adept, versatile people conditioned to believe the only way they learn is through being taught, seriously, in a classroom environment and that anything else is secondary and not as good.

    I wonder how much of this conditioning of opinion or attitude is to blame for the pursuit in internal L&D to replicate and probably “smarten” the knowledge search/apply/store/retrieve you set out in your prose?

    A lot I’d suggest. We’re conditioned through education; that anything serious has to be taught in a lecture theatre with stacks of referencing.

    There’s also the newness of the ubiquitous access to knowledge that we have now. OK it feels like we’ve had Google search forever but it’s still quite fresh technology compared to literature and teaching methods which go way back.

    I’m wondering if the early education “factory” came up against story-telling methods; apprentice-like schemes and so on in its day?

    Conditioning – prescribed thinking we all know, feel comforted by perhaps and think is the only way – is perhaps our biggest challenge in, literally, re-wiring learning and creating a better philosophy around corporate learning.

    How reliable is that blog post you find on the Mehrabian theory versus other challenges to its proper meaning, validity and relevance?

    I’m a massive fan of socialised learning that you describe above. In the last 7+ years it’s liberated, enlightened and charged me. I feel I know a duff piece of content from a marvellous one and I guess L&D professionals role in the connected age of learning, is to make sure we pass on wisdom and discernment as much as we stand back and stop force-feeding people theory and create systems that also do that.

    Great post, nice set of comments here and great that we keep thinking and challenging ourselves around this.


  8. Not sure about Sukh”s maths (1+10+90=101%) but his answer feels about right.
    Outside of work people pick very specifically the learning and/or development they want to do that fits with the life they want to lead. From mindfulness to Minecraft. From flower-arranging to flute lessons. Some are skills-based, some are knowledge-based and some a combination of the two. Some is done face to face, some in the classroom, some through coaching and mentoring and, yes, some is online. And outside of work choice is more available (generally) and consequence apparent eg I want to learn to play guitar but I can only get face-to-facs lessons at the same time as I have to take my daughter to Brownies so I’ll do online tutorials to pick up the basics till she’s old enough not to need me to take her or I can make alternative arrangements. That degree of flexibility just isn’t there yet in most workplaces and so much discretionary effort (eurgh) is expended just to stand still. Carving out time is bloody hard because the other demands aren’t within your control.
    We also have to acknowledge what I think we sometimes choose to ignore. A lot of people are done learning. A lot. More than we might be comfortable admitting. Life-long, self-directed learners they ain’t. If I walked into any light industrial park in the land, grabbed someone at random and showed them round the CIPD L&D show they’d say “You’re ‘avin a larf, aintcha?”
    So, why are L&D doing it. Because it keeps them in a job. Because it’s easier than dealing with all of the above. Because changing this landscape means activism and going back to the fundamentals of our education system.
    What do the people at the top of organisations want from L&D (or any other department for that matter)? A contribution that drives the business forward, that grows revenues, profitability, keeps cost under control and is more productive. Keeping the body healthy so the mind can be freed to explore.
    As for the rest? You can open the door to the sunny uplands but you can’t make them walk through.


    1. “We also have to acknowledge what I think we sometimes choose to ignore. A lot of people are done learning. A lot. More than we might be comfortable admitting. Life-long, self-directed learners they ain’t”

      My point exactly. There is a lot of work to do


  9. I think there are some assumptions here; that all people are sourcing online, that L&D teams aren’t innovating, that being together constitutes a classroom and that is somehow undesirable.

    Many of my social network use internet for quite basic use, maybe look up a recipe, order a book from amazon. My social network – I’m the only blogger, tweeter, multiple platform user. Even the young ones; only know one that is blogging.

    Many clients I work are working with under invested IT loaded with security protocols, and BYOD – forget it. The L&D teams are dealing with continual fall outs from redundancies and restructures constantly working with change and readapting themselves, but sometimes so busy what they do with me is simply have space to step back and breathe a little.

    So, there are different realities.

    I sometimes am confused about Learning and Development …. it feels like training has become a dirty word. training (learning?) can be delivered through multiple channels; there’s room for them all. People learn from each other; being in a room to learn something that is for example mandatory; can land the learning much more through discussion and can set it in the organisation context, build social networks etc. Organisationally, we’re part of a system, so our learning has to be more than about ourselves; it’s understanding the context which we’re in.

    An opportunity perhaps for L&D is to work with people to understand their organisational context and shift from the “classroom” which seems to incur such derision. Perhaps inviting people to think of the ways that they can create communal areas (both virtual and IRL) for sharing learning would be a step forward. The act of inviting them tothink together will be what creates the change.

    I would challenge though that the “classroom” is made so by the way space is organised and the psychological contract. When people are together in a shared space with equity then notions of the classroom recede and community fostered.

    I’ve been running some “training” recently, and one of the major elements of people’s reflections on what has been of value has been their value of time out to be together and think together. These are educators, L&D, HR and OD professionals; all fairly progressive I would say in their approach to learning.


  10. So this might be a tangential leap, but some of the comments being made are reminding me of a broader issue that I’ve spoken with others about in recent years: is part of the problem the “brand” of “learning”? (uh-oh, double inverted commas…)

    Learning is such a loaded term. It has many implications (mostly schooling-fed) for those outside of the L&D world that force certain types of behaviour (sit in rows, set to receive mode). In general management thinking it’s also (whisper this) ‘lumped in with all that other HR stuff’. Take a long hard look at it and “Learning and Development” isn’t aspirational stuff, really, now is it? And also so much of what passes as L&D (as Holly points out – certainly the mandatory) is little more than dull compliance information transfer, done as cheaply as possible at scale.

    A rebranding isn’t the answer in totality, but maybe ditching the term “learning” rather than getting people to (ahem) relearn its meaning from its use in general (rather than L&D) parlance might be one of the factors here?


  11. So many things bubble up in response to such a provocative question.

    The first highlights the taxonomical minefield that is the workplace and the language of organisation. All the activities you outline in your opening paragraph relate to the individual following their own curiosity. At a conscious level, it is probably not even appreciated as ‘learning’. We have a question, we seek out an answer, we internalise it, we act accordingly. It is autonomous, common-sense, natural, unlabelled.

    Shift to a workplace context and this all becomes labelled and signposted. We are forced to name it and think about it at a conscious level. It suddenly feels unnatural, constrained. We are expected to adopt routines that may not suit our natural learning patterns. We actually have to think of it as learning and development. Or training. It feels like we are being done unto, sheep-dipped. We bristle in response.

    As has already been mentioned, there is also the backdrop of economic constraint, business reorganisation, automation and so on. This raises issues of relevance and busyness. How do I make myself appear indispensable? The trap of quantification is set at the expense of quality. Institutionalisation trumps individual needs. When that happens internally, it impacts external service provision too.


  12. Another thought provoked by the discussion; I think we need too, an awareness of what is our vision, our personal process, and what we are imposing on others. is it what we think is good for them? Is it what we want for ourselves?


  13. Some great comments above. Having recently had an appraisal where I’ve been encouraged to think about my learning needs, there is something around how formal L&D can create space to consider learning needs in a wider context. I’ve found that I do all the things you mentioned on a day to day basis, but I haven’t made the time to consider how L&D can contribute to my (and the project’s) long term goals. The formal appraisal type process might not need to leave to formal learning, but there is something about how organisations stop firefighting for a second to actually ponder what good looks like. Great post!


  14. So many interesting analysis in the previous answers, some of which I am way too junior to really grasp right now. The question revolving around how to develop a learning organisation or employee engagement and responsibility, I like Accenture forums where subject matter experts post relevant information; such forums could be a collaborative, dynamic and safe place where employees do share information more relevant to their own roles and could share their questions, define their own learning needs, report their own progression – for it to be scheduled regularly. Wondering now about how such a tool would also tackle the silo effect between departments… Anyway 🙂 Another interesting blog about this very same subject:


      1. Craig
        Thank you for your reply. I was able to find out what it meant after reading Andrews post. My question was referring to the fact that I wasn’t aware of MOOC’s till I read the post.


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