When Will We Learn?

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 I recently was doing some digging though content I previously created on blogs and wikis and came across a post I wrote in Learning Circuits Blog that I feel deserves a revisit.

Back in July 2006, I wrote We’re #3! We’re #3! in which I suggested that training departments, at that time, weren’t the home of the best training in organizations when it came to helping employees or customers learn what they needed to learn. I suggested that IT and Customer Service, on average, did a better job of meeting their audiences’ needs. I also pointed to Sales, OD and Finance employee training as perhaps better than what training departments were producing.

Comments in reaction to my post pointed out that IT Help Desks and Customer Service teams often fell short of helping those who called them. But my general point that the training department might not be the home of the best training within an organization was supported.

I provided a long list of practices that are found in IT and Customer Service for developing their own employees and helping customers. A summary of those practices would be:

  • They diagnose the immediate need of the learner in real time
  • They provide a response at the moment of the learner’s greatest need for that response
  • They provide a proposed solution as quickly as possible
  • They check in with the learner after they have had a chance to implement their learning to see if the need was resolved
  • They track the question, the answer provided and the result – in detail
  • They maintain a knowledge base of previous responses to learners’ needs and the effectiveness of the response provided
  • They maintain a practice of sharing best practices and peer-to-peer learning
  • They provide feedback to parts of the organization that might be able to solve the situation that created the need or better anticipate future needs
  • They constantly gather feedback from key stakeholders regarding their performance
  • They do very little of this through a pre-designed curriculum of courses.

I suggested that learning professionals might have a lot to learn from the practices used by other parts of the organization to better serve our “customers”, key stakeholders, and organizations better.

Yet 13.5 years later, only a small percentage of L&D teams are implementing more that a few of these best practices. Why?

With all the talk about being learner-centered, building a culture of learning, self-directed microlearning, etc. You’d think we’d be further along than we are? What’s the hold up?

Here are some thoughts as to why we aren’t making the progress towards the change we as an profession have been advocating for over a decade:

We don’t want to or don’t know how to change. We’re comfortable with the paradigm we’ve been using. We’re used to providing wide swathes of knowledge and instruction to prepare employees for the situations they may face in the future. We work with SME’s and do research to provide the ideal corpus of knowledge and set of skills they will need to know.

We haven’t developed the processes needed to provide immediate solutions at the moment of need.

  • Do we understand the day-to-day work well enough to suggest appropriate solutions?
  • How well do we understand the strategic objectives of the organization and how the target audience fits into them?
  • Do we identify ourselves as problem solvers and pain relievers?
  • Do we understand how various parts of the organization currently learn what they need to know?

Our stakeholders keep demanding or expecting standard training. The way we’ve done things in the past is the only way they ask for us to do things. We, in turn, in our order taking tradition, build what they ask for. After all, they often hold the purse strings to the funding we need and the access to SME’s and the target employees to be trained.

We aren’t used to pushing back when their requested solution may not be the best solution to the problem they are trying to solve.

  • Perhaps we don’t know their business well enough to suggest an option that will work better.
  • Maybe we don’t have the knowledge of their work or understanding of organizational strategic goals to build a compelling argument for a different approach.
  • Or we haven’t developed a business relationship of trust in which they understand and appreciate our professionalism at what we do.
  • We lack the awareness of different ways of organizing learning solutions or the tools to deliver them.

We lack evidence that shows we are effective or don’t see the need to promote what we do. We’re happy to keep doing what we are doing rather than rocking the boat. Neither we nor our stakeholders truly understand what the other does, so we keep focused on what we do and don’t challenge each other. We’re comfortable with the status quo.

We aren’t created evidence based solutions that can be pointed to as changing individual performance and driving organizational strategy.

  • Do we gather evidence that we are adding value to the organization?
  • Are we providing managers with the tools they need to support their employees who are involved in our solutions? Are we holding them accountable?
  • Do our solutions form an ecosystem of learning that builds a culture of collaborative, work-based learning?

Obviously, the these thoughts are not equally applicable from organization to organization. There are learning professionals who are successfully changing and are becoming better partners to their organizations. But as a field, we are lagging.


Do you think these regulations will change anything? Will they drive greater support for data collection in learning? Motivate more collaboration between the business units and L&D?

Feature Photo by Suzanne D. Williams provided by Unsplash.

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