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L&D: Is your outdated mindset holding you back?

It's time to disrupt the knowns and norms of adult learning.

Mark Ward Co-Founder

L&D: Is your outdated mindset holding you back?

Training challenges. What does that even mean? A difficulty in delivering training? Developing training? Supporting learning? My utter resentment for the clichéd word aside, they’re still an ongoing and real problem for L&D. According to this website, the some of the main problems for L&D are:

  1. Dealing with change
  2. Engaging learners
  3. Delivering consistent training
  4. Tracking and post-assessment
  5. Improving learning effectiveness
  6. Demonstrating value to leadership

These are all real problems that organisations face. They’re legitimate and I’m certain probably keeping some of you up at night (herbal tea highly recommended post-6pm). But in my opinion they’re all granular problems; I feel there’s one root cause in all of this. And sad to say, it’s about you – and that’s an even bigger problem.

Old ways of thinking are still the norm

Let’s try and look at this objectively. We’re in a world which has advanced at a terrifying rate in just twenty years. Progress and innovation have changed the world in countless ways. Technology is ubiquitous. It has taken over; it dominates our lives and permeates almost everything we do. The way we shop, select restaurants, interact and communicate have all changed vastly in such a short time. I mean, look, I even have gifs embedded in this post, #modernorwhat?

1998 was the year Google was born – it took just twenty years to deliver advancements on an unprecedented scale. But Google wasn’t everything. You know what else was happening twenty years ago?

  1. Charles Jennings was working hard on the inception of the 70:20:10 model to replace the ADDIE model
  2. I had a pet Furby and a Tamagotchi. They were life.
  3. Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation created
  4. Europeans agreed on a single currency and Britney Spears stole our hearts
  5. The term ‘e-learning’ was just in Elliott Masie’s head (that’s right kids, the term e-learning wasn’t coined until 1999. Feel old yet?)

Now, before you get upset, I am not dismissing the validity and application of both elearning and Charles’ omnipresent model in 2020. But what I am trying to say is that the way L&D builds the foundations of organisational training and how that training is subsequently approached is flawed now. Because many of those foundations are based on these dated theories. Theories which were all conceptualised and set in a world which is nowhere near the radically different place we exist in now. Arguably obsolete – definitely in need of evolution.

And that means we’re trying to solve entirely new problems with old frameworks, old mindsets and old approaches. Problems which actually did not exist 20 years ago such as smartphones, goldfish-sized attention spans and the knee-wobble inducing digital transformation. No wonder it’s all going a bit pear shaped.

Yeah – we talk about new tech and new ways to connect with our learners. We get excited about VR and BYOD and MOOCS. We swoon over shiny things that we think will enamour our learners. But we’re not changing the way we think. We’re not changing our ways of working, or indeed our core principles of how to drive engagement. We’re not changing our mindsets, so how can we expect to change theirs? And that’s the real sticking point.

Our challenges have changed, our approaches have not

The challenges I listed at the top of this post are all realities for L&D, but let’s look at number 3: ‘Engaging learners’. The training challenges twenty years ago, when it came to keeping learners engaged, would likely look something like this:

  • How to drive attendance to F2F events
  • Best ways to accelerate attentiveness in the classroom
  • Making training more interesting (ie, train the trainer etc)

Years of classroom-based training environments no doubt led to Charles Jennings finally saying enough is enough with just the classroom training. But now we’re in 2020 and those challenges have changed drastically when it comes to engaging learners:

Very different challenges yes. But the root cause has also changed. In 1998, learning was focused on push environments: “We need you to learn, so you must go here and learn that.” Learners were still disengaged, but in a different way. Now, they won’t respond well to that approach; they expect more because of the experiences they are having outside of workplace training.

And that’s the crux of it – although the ‘learner engagement’ challenge (and all the others) continues across decades, learner expectations have evolved significantly in that time. And meanwhile we’re still trying to apply outdated training techniques to modern learners and technology. And it just doesn’t work.

Why are we even expecting it to?

The learning frameworks of twenty years ago frankly shouldn’t work for this day and age. Times are changing and L&D needs to evolve with the rest of the world, instead of remaining obstinate and trying to blindly fit square pegs into round holes. (I was going to go into an elaborate analogy between your learners being the pegs and training being the holes, but I refrained. You get it already, right?)

In the world of the internet of things, surely we need to adapt, adjust and change the way we think and approach training – technology alone is not enough. We need to disrupt the knowns and norms of adult learning and organisational training and go back to the rule book – because it’s high time to write a new one I reckon!

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