"Trainers won't be replaced by technology. They will be replaced by trainers who are willing to use technology.”So am I really a trainer? I call myself a learning generalist - training is one of the things I do in order to create learning. Oops, isn't learning a dirty word? Let me rephrase then - training is one of the things I do to improve workplace performance. For simplicity however, let me use the word 'learning' for this article.
Fortunately enough, there's room for all types learning. Unfortunately though, in an age of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, we still have to create a mindset change. As I've said earlier, training cannot be the only way to create learning. In fact I believe that "A single mode of education sans informal learning, is the waterfall of the learning world." For knowledge workers, all I can say, is that you need to learn to learn or lag behind. For L&D and HR professionals however, I ask that we look at our situation with a sense of pragmatism. Training CANNOT be the solution to all our organisations' problems. Let me tell you why.
We don't have the Skills to do all kinds of Training"Unless you know everything about everything and have practical experiences in everything, you can't teach everything!"
Unless your training budget runs into millions of dollars a year, you're perhaps like me. You run a small team and you get subject matter experts (SMEs) to come and train with you whenever a need comes by. Why do we need SMEs? Well we can't teach someone about business analysis, if we have no experience of being business analysts. We can't teach someone about CRM if we don't understand the topic. You get the idea!
And so we need SMEs. As it turns out, your SMEs are SMEs because they're really skilled at their job. They are always in high demand and it's never easy to get an SME to design, develop and deliver a course with you. What happens then?
- The business comes to you with a training need.
- You need an SME.
- The SMEs are in high demand.
- They can spend only so much time with you everyday, to design the course.
- By the time you either get a full time SME or finish work with a part time SME, your problem has almost passed you by.
We don't have the Bandwidth to Manage all kinds of TrainingNot everyone knows how to train. Training itself requires a fair amount of skill. You need to be confident with presentation skills, public speaking, facilitation and the art of using training tools. If you can't do the training all by yourself and your SME doesn't have the experience of training, you need to train your SMEs to train. This is what we call teacher training or 'train the trainer'. Don't get me wrong! I love doing this stuff, but it takes time and effort.
So you then need to add some more time to train the trainer and watch the problem pass you by a little more.
We can't 'Train our way out' fast enoughBy the time we're about to fix an outdated problem with training, we have another training need on hand. We wait for an SME again, spend weeks designing a course, train the SME and again get back into the vicious cycle of training that solves outdated problems. As Neil Lasher would say, "Training departments are left just chasing their tails."
Don't jump to the conclusion though. If you think I'm about to say that elearning is the silver bullet that solves these problems, you're wrong. I have a bigger problem with our generic approach of creating courses to solve problems. Elearning is great for repeatability, but it has pretty much the same problems with SME availability, development time and time-to-market. Yes, rapid elearning does solve part of the problem, but that's not enough. We need to solve seven scary problems with today's status quo.
Workscapes, not Training are the need for today's Enterprise
"Organizations must stop thinking of learning as something separate from work. The further we get into the Knowledge Age, the greater the convergence of working and learning. Workers in a workscape learn by solving problems, coming up with fresh thinking, and collaborating with colleagues. They donʼt learn about these things; they learn by doing them. Workscapes are not a new structure but rather a holistic way of looking at and reformulating existing business infrastructure. They use the same networks and social media as the business itself." - Jay CrossWe need to integrate learning with work. When we create an environment where people learn all the time and can find solutions to their problems in the same context where the problems emerge, the need for training starts to reduce. The goal however is not to do away with training. The goal is to ensure that we have a workplace that learns so efficiently that we train only in the situations that really merit strong, collaborative colocation and facilitation. Think about the benefits of being able to focus your efforts effectively, by just creating the right context for learning. Think about creating value for your organisation everyday, than waiting for months to see value. I would love to articulate how you can do this, but Jane Hart has done a far better job in explaining how we can plan for different types of learning in the enterprise.
Let's focus on Context, not ContentIf we really have to be effective as L&D organisations, we need to move from our preoccupation with content and focus on the context. Strategically and tactically, context trumps content in the modern L&D world. Think about it.
- We need to create the context for knowledge sharing in the enterprise so that sharing ideas, thoughts, tips, advice becomes a part of the culture. This connects experts to the rest of the workscape. Think - enterprise 2.0.
- We need to create the context for collaboration not just in teams but also beyond. How can we ensure that people know how to be a team, irrespective of geographical boundaries and distance? What are your watercooler conversations worth?
- On a daily basis we need to create the context for people to 'learn how to learn'. Even when doing training, it's critical that we reinforce this message about learning to learn. People learn iteratively and if they don't know how to exploit a rich organisational ecosystem, they're very likely to lag behind. Teaching people to learn is crucial when setting them up for success. After all, it's important that everyone knows what an important part informal learning plays in their professional lives.
I'm still as passionate about training people as I was when I started my career. I have however, gotten more pragmatic with time. I have seen glimpses of how little improvements in the workplace and work systems can make a positive change in people's approach to learning.
"You need to think about your stuff more than you think, but not as much as you're afraid you might." - David AllenWhile David Allen's quote comes from a different topic, I think it holds very true in the context of our professions. It's perhaps a good idea for each one of us to stop our training factories for a while and think about what we're trying to achieve. Do we really need the heavyweight approaches that we're using today? Can modern, lightweight, yet highly effective technology provide us the edge to achieve our goals at the right pace? How do you feel about the transition to workscapes? How do you feel about being generalists as against training specialists? I'd love to know what you think -- so please comment liberally on this post. I'll look forward to hearing from you.