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The New Culture of Learning

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Can teaching a man to fish still feed him for a lifetime? Today, it is more likely that if you teach a man to fish, he will only eat for a few months until the technology changes or new research is released that overhauls the industry or the legislation governing when, where, and how much he is allowed to fish shifts and he’s suddenly drowning in citations despite following your training. 

The example is trite, but the theory is accurate. 

Ask any hiring manager about the significance placed on an applicant’s GPA and you’ll hear it is declining. Your ability to retain information is no longer valuable because it’s no longer applicable. No one needs to attend training on fishing. The hungry man would simply search the app store for “fishing for dummies,” watch a few YouTube videos, order materials on Amazon, and be well on his way to eating for a lifetime. Your time and effort to reel that individual into a classroom or web module would be in vain. (Please forgive the pun.) 

An information evolution 

In today’s society, all information is already available. According to the law of supply and demand, this means that information is also less valuable. Historically, it may have been that the trainer (the almighty fishing expert) held a monopoly on information and, therefore, the value. That person could determine who got to eat for a lifetime and who would starve. 

But the internet—and Google—has changed all that. I don’t need to sit in a classroom and learn how to bait the hook or how much a fishing license is because I am never more than seven seconds away from finding out that information for myself. 

Is e-learning the solution? No. 

Let’s keep with the fishing metaphor. You’re hungry, and you want to fish for a lifetime. You take your pole (recently delivered via an Amazon drone) out to the lake, but you don’t know where to start. You have a wealth of options at hand to help: 

  • You could call up your own resident fishing expert (every family has one)
  • You could look at instructional videos on YouTube.
  • You could Google “how to fish.”
  • You could download a fishing app or e-book, or launch a 30 minute e-learning course. 

Which way are you leaning? 
Is m-learning the solution—short, informative chunks of information accessible exactly when you need them? No. 

Industry leaders have been telling us for years that mobile is where we are headed. You know the mantra: Go mobile! It’s quick, convenient, and just-in-time training. Serve the declining attention spans and increasing demand for accessibility. Give them what they need and nothing more! 

These are good principles, and in lots of cases this will work—but in most cases, the content already exists. 

Let me be clear. I am not talking about purchasing pre-developed training (who has the budget?), but rather making use of the wealth of resources already available. It is OK to let Google and YouTube teach people sometimes! (Do you know how many doctors use Wikipedia, for instance?) 

Application to curation 

As professionals, we may be reluctant to let go of the elite trainer status, as those who understand what learners need and why, and can customize it from scratch. L&D has already been through one big overhaul, moving from “telling” and information to “training” and application. Now we need to go from application to curation. If you’d like, we can even brand it with a cute abbreviation, such as c-learning! 

This isn’t about decreasing your value. You are passionate about people. As an L&D professional, you want nothing more than to help as many hungry, soon-to-be fisherman learn how to fish for a lifetime. There will always be skills and topics that require instructor-led, web-based, or mobile applications. But how many more people could you help if you were willing to provide quick and easy access to vetted and effective resources that already exist, instead of spending your time and resources creating them? 

Bottom line: your role is changing. The key here is that you no longer need to teach your learners information. Information is everywhere. Your role is to teach them where to find it. Teach learners where to find the best user guides and videos. Introduce them to the experts in the field. Send them informative blog posts. Stay on top of the industry and keep learners updated. 

We no longer work in an economy of information, but an economy of accessibility. If we want to stay relevant, efficient, and valuable in it, it’s time to adapt! Success is no longer a matter of what you know, but of finding what you don’t know. We need to prepare our learners for this new culture of learning.

About the Author
Jessica Davis is a learning technologies specialist. She spends most of her time brainstorming new ways to enhance the learner’s experience. She is passionate about envelope-pushing, status-quo-busting and having a visceral distaste for “the way it was done before.” In her free time, she is also a piano teacher, distance runner, blogger, and mystery novel fanatic.
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