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How would the world have evolved if everyone assumed training was just about worthless? Like it has!

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Sun Oct 21 2007

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There is a pact between corporate students and corporate trainers (and, I think, IT, budget holders, the lawyers, and middle management) that essentially says, "We all know that training does almost nothing. Given that, let's all agree to make it as frictionless as possible so that we can all check off that necessary corporate requirement and get on with our 'real' work."

This was the motivation for "e-learning" back in 1999. "Given that training was useless, let's make it cheap and convenient." The biggest sponsors of e-learning were the corporate managers who most opposed learning programs. The vendors who did well offered the most titles as cheaply as possible.

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Today, most organizations only bother with level one analysis of training. "Question one: did we make the program as convenient and easy as possible? There is no question two." And stunningly, in a recent eLearning Guild's report, managers of educational programs from both academics and corporate, when asked about relative importance in a learning program, ranked ease of deployment (57.4% said it was very important and 37.2 said it was important) over every other category, including provides a strong return on investment (34.6% very important/ 41.4% important) and fun and exciting for participants (50.2%/28.4%).

The newest attempt to reduce the friction of learning to all stakeholders may be epitomized by the informal learning movement (which is happening if we choose to label it or not). "People learn what they need on the Internet. Who needs an LMS when you have Google?"

Simulation people disrupt that pact at all points. Students actually have to put some skin in the game, and experience intellectual awkwardness (which they hate). Trainers have content that does literally change behavior, so now they have to be extra careful it is the right content, and they actually have to learn how to measure the impact of formal learning, something they have never really figured out. IT, in some cases, has to now justify why some employees have old browsers, bad connections, and no sound. Middle managers have to free up the participants to actually learn (which means offloading work and not just letting it pile up in their absence).

Any new program can be killed by any member of the pact who feels that the deal is changing. We may be at a point where real formal learning is the enemy of everyone (but the organization's shareholders).

There are exceptions, of course. There are environments that truly value formal development programs. These are the groups that say (in a riff on the more famous phrase) "train hard, manage easy." That seems better than, "if you pretend to teach me, I will pretend to learn."

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