Notes from the field: I struggle with the intellectual mono culture of corporate learning departments

Before working in the private sector I was an educator responsible for the design, development and delivery of learning. Now I attend meetings and there is one person at the table for each of these responsibilities. The problem is the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. It seems like we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I can see around the corners yet the team is blind to the realities coming our way. The amount of hours and money we spend under the guise of learning is astronomical. When I was an educator we talked about the learners needs. In business we talk about the departments needs as if the two are the same. It’s as if every time we start an initiative we are attempting to re-create the wheel. Why is something so straight forward made to be so complicated by so many?

I understand your frustration. Sitting in a board room with learning department staff rarely yields unexpected conversations. Typically instructional design, a marginalized topic among educators, becomes the quintessential talking point. As if all things learning depends on it. When my internal struggle begins I try to fight off the desire to maintain my grasp on knowledge and experience as an educator. I remind myself the discussions will centre around nodes and links. Each person is a node and acts as a link to the next node. At every meeting I will see a lot of nodes and the conversation is of links not learning. The competency assurance director and the learning and development director. The senior learning manager and the learning manager. One links to the next, the technical training lead to the training coordinator and the instructional design manager links to the technical writer. I fight the urge to talk of learning as a system. I know this idea is not going to go over well having prepped for the meeting by reviewing job ads in order to better understand HR’s interpretation of learning. I am always amused by words like ecosystem. A buzz word from the bowls of an HR society. It’s a red herring. Education and corporate learning have nothing to do with each other. If they did you would have discussed what various learning theories and methodologies you have explored in support of a learning hypothesis. That does not happen with HR. So here is what I do. I remember a thought from a TED session by Tom Wujec

“The ease in which you can change representation of a node or link correlates to our willingness to change the model”

Notice that I didn’t quote an educator. I stayed away from anyone who spent decades at Harvard studying one topic in education. No experts. That does not go over well in corporate. If you have read my articles you are well aware that you will never change the model even though every study you and I read states the over whelming majority of clients are unhappy with HR. And yet they still spend 50% more than they should on training even though 60% plus of business partners are dissatisfied. Learning departments are akin to those one room school houses that once doted the prairies. They even have a name for them now, chief learning officer. You know and I know that blended learning has been going on in public schools and at higher learning institutions across North America for decades. Don’t try and fight the intellectual mono culture. Your experiences are made up of dissimilar fragmented information that no one has a history for. Here is the business analysis of corporate learning in a nut shell. The nodes are linked by business needs i.e., job responsibilities not by the needs of the learner. Learning departments do not start with the customer experience and work back to the technology. They start with the tech and work back to the learner. With this knowledge in hand you will be better prepared for those meetings where a manager references a topic from your days in education. Decades old educational research discovered on Linkedin and is now classified as important because a righteous self appointed influencer aka knowledge manager, says so. Influencers are like grave robbers. They dress up the content hoping no one notices. In the meeting everyone is enthralled by this new found idea. Scratching their heads with excitement trying to figure out a way for this node and that node to be relevant and keep their job at the same time. What you see is an old fat pale white Canadian wandering the beach in Mexico wearing a Speedo and smelling of cheap Old Spice aftershave. This is to be the new face of learning. Make the Speedo fashionable again. I suggest you focus on a node. It’s not hard to cut learning costs in a node model. Absurdity rises to the top in meetings making it readily apparent who is no longer required. Run a straw man and prove you can get rid of a node and improve client satisfaction at the same time. Sad to say, but that’s how business works. Follow the money.

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