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Learning: If it’s so hard to take it out, and equally hard to put it back in…. why take it out at all?

October 16, 2014

For learning & development professionals in organisations, I see two major challenges: 1) To distill out of ‘the business’ what learning and development needs there are, and 2) when we are done in our ‘l&d lab’ to ‘sell’ learning solutions back to the business and ensure transfer of learning. So, if it’s so hard to take it out, and equally hard to put it back in…. why take it out at all?

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In my opinion the language we use to intermediate between the demand (the learner) for and the supply (the l&d professional) of learning solutions is very much focused on what we learn. What do we need to learn? What topics are relevant to my role? What have I learned in this course? What will be in the exam? You could argue if that is the most appropriate language since learners talk amongst themselves about why they want to learn (Excel in my job, increase job security, master a skill, satisfy curiousity) and learning & development professionals talk about how we can learn most effectively (quality training, learning methods, learning on the job). Agreed, it works to match supply to demand, but there is a risk the match is too superficial and responsibility (or rather accountability) for the learning solution is deferred to the learning professional while it belongs to the learner.

We often talk about stimulating learning on the job in combination with formal training and about the transfer of learning from a training, but simply viewing (professional) learning as something seperate/different than working (even when done in the same place) is unnecessary in my view. Why call a meeting with a trainer a training, and not a meeting? Why call a trainer a trainer and a learner a participant if we want the responsibility of the learning to be with the learner? Learning should be part of working. It is ‘meta-working’ (evaluating and improving our work). This is not the same as ‘learning on the job’, and I’d rather call it ‘performing consciously’. See also my post “Is learning the same as performing consciously?”

The solution in my opinion does not lie primarily in finding new learning methods or strategies, we are pretty good at that, but more in how we ‘label’ learning initiatives and the people and departments involved in learning. It’s more a language thing than anything else. We should aim to keep learning where it’s most valuable and least distracting: in the work. This does not mean it should always take place in the same physical location as the work itself by the way. And I can imagine there are many exceptions to this, but I think it’s more true than we currently believe and put into practice.

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