The Life Long Learning Myth…Busted…

Implementation, coaching, mentoring, and supporting through experiences matters more to adult learning in a corporate setting, than sitting in a room for four hours — at most — listening to a facilitator.

The drop-off in retention after such an experience is 50% after participants leave the room, and without immediate changes, immediate implementation of the learning outcomes, coaching along the path of uncomfortability, and supervisory mentoring through the tough times, the retention drop-off is 75%.

So why do many organizations still offer corporate training opportunities in all kinds of topical areas, within a formalized “sit down, and absorb” learning structure, syllabi, certificates, and experienced trainers and facilitators who drone on and on for — at most — half a day?

There are three reasons:

Most organizations — whether corporations, training organizations, or higher education institutions — are unwilling (and many times unable) to do the hard work of challenging, breaking, and remaking the foundation of learning established through the last 150 years of K-12 schooling. Schooling which was designed in conjunction with corporate leaders and influencers, and codified with the support of intellectuals and educators, to produce compliant workers, who would sit (or stand) all day and do widget based, industrial work, while leaving the thinking and innovating to others up the chain. The kind of work that was hollowed out by those same individuals starting 40 years ago and now no longer matters much in America.

Many supervisors, managers, bosses, CEO’s, COO’s, and others in the hierarchical structure of many organizations, have come from a background of schooling that they either internally rejected because it was too rigid, or found comforting and conformed too. Such engrained mindsets around the value of learning (and education) do not advance and innovate organizations. Instead, they continue to produce leaders who believe that training (and life-long learning) is either a “nice to have” (rejection mindset) or a “necessary evil” (acceptance mindset). Either way, the mentality shaped through that rejection or acceptance, is reflected in buying, internally developing, or advocating for models of learning for employees based in an Industrial Revolution K-12 schooling model.

Trainers, facilitators, consultants, and others in the wide and deep field of corporate training (myself included) aren’t doing enough of the hard work, often enough, of breaking our own mindsets of how information, experiences, and content is delivered to audiences (online, F2F, etc.). We also aren’t engaging with the hard work of breaking institutional, corporate mindsets from the outside by creating offerings and client deliverables that will transcend the dying model of K-12 education. This means having the courage to stick to our principles around peer-to-peer learning, advocating to organizations that we serve for mentoring and coaching for our learners, encouraging accountability, and at the furthest end, treating adult learners like adults in the training room, rather than continuing to train them (i.e. treat them) in the K-12 learning mold they’re familiar with.

The feedback I always get when I write (or talk) in these three areas typically focuses around the inability of organizations to change, the unwillingness of employees to actually be motivated to do the hard work of working on things that are hard (i.e. engaging with emotional labor) and the inability of trainers, consultants, and others to feed their families based on selling what the market is not progressive enough to demand.

These are all legitimate concerns, but the facts of the 21st century are clear for anyone with two eyes to see:

The workplace, jobs, labor, and other tasks that people need to be organized into groups to accomplish, must still be done, or else there will be chaos in the world. Hard work — manufacturing work, “blue collar” work, etc. — will still be done in the world, but increasingly due to automation and algorithms, that work will be either outsourced or done by machines. And when it’s not, the people who will do it, will charge an even higher premium for it, to support their continued learning to become better artisans.

An acknowledgement that work matters, that tasks should be meaningful, rather than meaningless, and that employees should be treated like adults rather than like children in the workplace, is growing rather than going away. Calls from researchers, thought leaders, influencers, advocates, and others for more pay transparency, flexible family leave policies, and “flat” hierarchical structures, are only the tip of the iceberg.

The rewards to organizations in terms of prestige (Top 10 Best Places to Work), revenues (The World’s First $2 Billion Company), and public goodwill (Anyone See What Apple Made Today) in America, are drivers for success (or determinants of failure in a transparent media market) more now than ever. And these drivers become outsized to organizations that are willing to take risks, to supervisors that are willing to challenge the status quo, and to vendors who are willing to sell with courage.

Unrest will continue among employees who believe that they are not getting paid what they are worth, are increasingly mobile, and are calling the bluff of the industrialist mindset that has dominated every sector of life for over a century now. This unrest will grow in continued calls for a basic income, the cries against income inequality, and the accusations of a new “Gilded Age” of wealth and prosperity for some.

The conflicts that will arise if life-long, continuing, robust education is not increasingly, innovatively, and creatively integrated into the work lives of employees in all organizations in all sectors (from small businesses to the Fortune 1,000 companies), will be massive and unmanageable. And bosses, supervisors, shareholders, CEO’s, CFO’s, communities, civic leaders, politicians, and others will have to explain in plain terms to their constituencies, followers, and others, the reasons (and their mindsets) for why they rejected or ignored the golden opportunity to implement, coach, mentor, and support in order to transform corporate learning into something meaningful and valuable, in the early 21st century.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA

Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant

Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)

Originally published on the HSCT #Communication Blog.