History of corporate learning and development

There are multiple ways to design and deliver curriculum objects that satisfy the needs of a learning goal. The object and accompanying instructional resources represents an approximation due to the many solutions available. One selection is more likely than another to approximate the best interests of the learner or corporation. Let’s call this the standard of approximation. A standard because the employees who create and administer the learning do so based on their abilities, learning philosophy and resources. The counter weight to any standard is a progressive learning and development narrative made up of historical reference points. These waypoints inform the learning system and act as a buffer against elements that attempt to gain more influence than they should. The 1950’s was a waypoint for learning institutions. A paradigm shift occured in the field of education across America. 

Crises in Education Part 2

Void of public influence, industry has been left to their own devices. Re-purposed non-profit technology supported by a defunct learning theory dominates the corporate learning narrative.   

The Technology

The wide spread use of educational tools such as the all-encompassing learning management system has been a popular choice amongst overburdened HR departments. A technology designed for universities, colleges, elementary and high schools. In other words, learning institutions. A tool designed for class sizes of 25 plus students, in 50 minute blocks over four periods or more. A tool for educators who see 100 plus students per day, 500 per week 1000 per month. Some are cycling through in a multi-level programme where several classes and/or grades 10, 11 and 12 are all taught in the same classroom, at once. Yes, the one room school house still exists in the world of curriculum philosophy and learning theory. This level of academic rigour is a universal aim addressed at learning institutions. How would corporate learning history change if stake holders were asked if they want to exact the same standard of learning and academic rigour? Instead what was good for the corporation must also be good for the learner ergo a technology solution designed for vertical and horizontal integration. The inexact result of the standard of approximation in its finest form. An re-purposed solution that exudes a powerful force even at learning institutions. It takes a skilled educator with a hefty toolbox to counter the influence of the technology narrative. So what did the other standard look like prior to the onslaught of market conditioning within human resources? Business structured learning around a decentralized democratic learning model. In other words, if you leave people alone, they will self-organize using democracy as a framework.

The history of democratic education spans from at least the 1600s. While it is associated with a number of individuals, there has been no central figure, establishment, or nation that advocated democratic education. Provenzo, E.F. Jr. (ed) (2008) Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p 238.

Being as common and natural as it was, there was no need for a learning institution style of command. Remnants of democratic learning can still be heard today in the language used by the LD community when they show up to design objects of curriculum or map content into a learning system. Legacy documentation is a common one. Top marks goes to happenstance training. A derogatory term used to deride a self-regulated educational strategy that’s only failure was democracy. What was best for the common good became an easy target to monetize by learning management software companies. But for educational theorists discussion of content control goes way back to the 1700’s

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book of advice on education, Émile, was first published in 1762. Émile, the imaginary pupil he uses for illustration, was only to learn what he could appreciate as useful.[4] He was to enjoy his lessons, and learn to rely on his own judgement and experience. He also said that we should not substitute books for personal experience because this does not teach us to reason; it teaches us to use other people’s reasoning; it teaches us to believe a great deal but never to know anything.[7] 

Rousseau spoke to the parsing of learning by a central control stating, ‘it teaches us to use other people’s reasoning’. Rousseau’s learning philosophy forces you to take a side. You are either in control as the purveyor or you step aside and acknowledge the gifts and abilities of the learner. Business has taken a side.  In order for learning to function it must be sanctioned by technology and institutionalized. This stands in stark contrast to Rousseau’s curriculum philosophy of learning where the design and development of the condition is structured in such a way that, ‘The tutor must not lay down precepts, he must let them be discovered’. The technology of market dominance governs in the form of a sales solution not learning theory and curriculum philosophy. Having adopted Roussous research in the classroom and assessed corporate learning models,  I can attest that curriculum will grow to form a system, branching out following chronological developments without a gatekeeper. In HR’s eyes, this is a form of crime scene evidence to be labelled as happenstance training. Educators acknowledge that learners themselves can create, map and own their pathways to extend capability and form a higher level of understanding.

All the roads that lead to Rome

You would be wrong if you thought the picture above was a tree at the cellular level. In fact it’s a network of roads leading to Rome developed over thousands of years. Learning if left alone will develop a similar network without the interference of a gatekeeper. The idea of systems thinking applied to corporate learning has not caught on. In Donella H. Meadows book titled, Thinking in Systems 

A system is more than the sum of its parts. It may exhibit adaptive, dynamic, goal seeking, self-preserving, and sometimes evolutionary behavior.

For HR the learning management problem grew into a software solution. A rich vein to tap that went on to form a multibillion dollar learning management software industry. But a sales solution will only carry you so far. The idea of waiting for a better product to come along is not a sound learning management strategy. The technology solution was never going to be the silver bullet HR hoped for. Learning is more complicated than a sales pitch. A unified learning theory was needed as a sales solution for new learning technologies. The marketing departments found it in a learning theory called adult learning.

There is no such thing as adult learning

Since he first proposed the model, Knowles has gradually modified his position regarding the contrast between how preadults learn (pedagogy) and how adults learn (andragogy). According to Feuer and Geber (1988), “[w]hat he once envisioned as unique characteristics of adult learners, he now sees as innate tendencies of all human beings, tendencies that emerge as people mature” (p. 33)…………Nevertheless, the andragogical model has strongly influenced the adult education field, with one result being the assumption teaching adults should differ from teaching children and adolescents. ERIC Identifier: ED305495 Publication Date: 1989-00-00 Author: Imel, Susan Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH. Teaching Adults: Is It Different? ERIC Digest No. 82.

There is nothing more progressive than the guy who started it all, Malcolm Knowles, to come out and admit he was wrong. No unified theory exists. All his work reduced down to….. a tendency.  As a review, here are the 4 tendencies that form the narrative of corporate learning and development   

  1. Humans tend to be self-directing
  2. Humans have a rich reservoir of experience that can serve as a resource for learning.
  3. Since humans’ readiness to learn is frequently affected by their need to know or do something, they tend to have a life-, task-, or problem-centered orientation to learning as contrasted to a subject-matter orientation.
  4. Humans are generally motivated to learn due to internal or intrinsic factors as opposed to external or extrinsic forces.

I have linked practice with research and changed the word adult with humans. As an educator with a decade teaching in both trades and academic, I have seen high school teachers adopt the so called tendencies. Would I build a learning event around one of them? Absolutly not. Why? Because if the administration heard me the first question would be, ‘How do you know the students are learning’? In other words, justify your mediocre standard of approximation. I have spent months building one lesson plan around those 8 words. A question that should be put to every person with the word training, trainer, learning or development in their job title. Good tool to use if you want your team to justify their salary. Great tool for the lawyer if you want to differentiate between the needs of the learner vs. the needs of the corporation in a death or accident lawsuit.   

Although the andragogical approach to teaching adults has been widely espoused by adult educators, until recently there has been no effort to test whether teachers do actually use a different style when teaching adults.

Well that makes sense. If there is no unified adult learning theory then it stands to reason there is no adult specific style of teaching. For the progressives, a wide open vista of opportunity is available to explore. Learning as a system and all the learning theories that inform its design. But being progressive is not a free pass. If you design, develop or implement a curriculum or objects of curriculum; instructional materials, classroom interactions, you influence their meaning. You are taking part in a political activity that may, or may not be, in the best interest of an individual.

… a comprehensive view of curriculum must take into consideration not only the planned curriculum, but also the enacted or taught curriculum, the experienced curriculum, and the tested curriculum as well as the hidden curriculum (Kelly, 2004; Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013; Giroux, & Purpel, 1983).

“But curriculum is also viewed as an arena for social engineering which takes into account all the experiences individuals are expected to have in order to become the kind of productive citizens they ought to be” Curriculum Politics in Higher Education: What Educators need to do to Survive Dr. Stephen Joseph

History in the making 

The universal social engineering of the learning and development employee is the single greatest accomplishment in the politics of curriculum. With market forces and internal sales agents on its side facts do not sway opinion, outside of the judicial system. To alter history an event is required. For educators we know it as a specific moment in time, October 4, 1957. The launch of Sputnik. This single event changed the face of education in North America. 

For corporate learning an HR employee taking the stand will do. Justification of job profiles that demand adult education credentials will be the…. “tiny blip in the sky”.  – Fut