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ATD Blog

What if We Let Learners Share and They Share Bad Info?

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

“What if my learners share bad info?!” is a question I get frequently. Nobody should argue that we are in a unique time for learning and development organizations. The new post-COVID-19 digital inflection point has forced organizations to re-evaluate and adopt new technologies to solve their learning and development needs. As L&D leaders adopt new technology that allows learners to share information, it’s only natural they’ll become concerned about what will be shared. But let me start with this: Being the provider of knowledge is an old way of thinking. By holding on to it, you’re not doing yourself or your learners any favors.

Let me explain why you don’t want to get stuck in a bad power trip. Historically, L&D has controlled the flow of information. Learning was a one-way conversation in which L&D created the content and the learners consumed it, but the two never interacted in between. We’re so used to controlling the information that it’s hard for some to give up that power.

Here are a few things I share when I’m asked this question:

1. Big deal? Is it even something you should worry about? Let’s be honest—if one of your learners shares incorrect information, they are most likely doing it on the job already. Even worse, they’re possibly sharing it with others. The only difference is you didn’t know it. By giving them the opportunity to share (even incorrect information), you’re creating the opportunity to correct them and correct any misinformation that may be floating around. The other thing is, you may not have to correct anything because your learners will probably correct it themselves. The community itself does a great job of policing its content and correcting any wrong information.


2. Studies show that learning improves if a user gives an incorrect answer and gets corrected. Think about it from your own experiences. Have you ever had a time when someone asked a question and you were positive that you knew the answer? Before you knew what you were doing, your hand shot up and you blurted out the answer only to discover you were wrong? That stings. But it’s a powerful learning moment for you because the correct information sticks. Making a mistake with high confidence is one of the most powerful ways to absorb learning.


3. Perhaps most importantly you’re not giving your learners enough credit. You’re assuming your learners, if given the chance to share, will be wrong. That’s the same assumption of that old way of thinking. It’s the same reason we used to (and sometimes still do) lock down learning so that you have to complete A before you are allowed to complete B. We don’t trust our learners to learn the way that works best for them, so we dictate the path they must take.

Isn’t it time to trust your learners? They are full of knowledge and experiences, and it’s human nature to want to be able to share it with others. We do it every day. We make LinkedIn posts, we give advice to friends, family, and co-workers in person and on social media. We make DIY YouTube videos and join social media groups and forums to learn from and share with others. Why would you want to make your learning initiatives any different? The ability to share and collaborate is powerful in learning. Instead of being afraid of what learners might share, be excited about their ability to share and the doors that will open for you and your learners.

About the Author

JR Burch is a principal consultant on the LED team. He’s spent the last 13 years in various L&D roles, from facilitator, to designer, to program manager. He’s always looking for new ways to improve the learner experience.

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