It takes a team to teach a topic
Think about what you need to do to assemble flat pack furniture (nee IKEA stuff). First you have to find all the parts that you need in the warehouse. This can be a challenge when the legs of your bed are in aisle 26, the slats are in 78 and the frame is in 02. But after dragging it all together and getting it home, you have to see what you have, and if there is any quality there. If there is something broken or missing, you need to see if there is something on hand that you can use to do the same job. Extras from previous builds or ways to hide the damage save you a trip back to the large yellow and blue archive. Once you’ve got everything that you need, you can start building, and as likely as not there is only a small handful of tools that you need, and for some of builds, all you need is a simple Allen key. Unless you are really serious about your IKEA furniture, it’s unlikely you are going to use any sort of upgraded tools, you’ll just spin that little key around with your fingers to get the job done.
While assembling flat pack furniture can be a challenge, the real work of the product was put in far before you purchased it, and even then, the team that designed the individual piece use parts that are often common across a range of products. We don’t see those people in our in store/just in time transactions, so their contributions are often minimized, but I would argue that those designers are the ones that play the most crucial roll process. And while they may not be the tool and die makers that create the fasteners, or the automation engineers who program the robot cutters and packers, they are the ones who have the vision and knit things together. They don’t try to be anything else. That being said, the end user with the Allen key is also important and plays an important role as well. Without the demand from the end user, the rest of the chain doesn’t have a reason for existing. That end user also knows, that regardless of their IKEA-Fu, they are not doing anything other than meeting their near term needs.
Contrast this with a typical learning or education team within an organization. Sure, there are some groups out there who create new material, but there are also many out there who, often working alone, only have the resources to assemble content from what already exists in the field. Many education teams have people with some skills presenting material, some writing skills, and maybe some limited technical skills. Hopefully these skills are augmented with some measure of subject area knowledge that can be leveraged to identify, curate, and possibly modify valuable content as it is identified. Looking at basic classroom education, this would be a decent description of a great many teachers that those within the organization had growing up. If this worked from kindergarten to post secondary school, why would it need to change? Why would a decision maker within an organization stray from what is a fairly standard model of training? I would argue that this learning and development model needs to change because the means of delivering learning experiences no longer match the means of producing those experiences.
It’s the experience that should be key to any learning endeavor. At one point, the ability to create these experiences used the same tools that were used to deliver those experiences. In days past, one only needed to be a strong orator and collector of stories to provide an engaging experience to a crowd gathered before them. Later, a strong writer was needed to be able to communicate the details of a lesson. Augmenting those written words was certainly a bonus, but not always essential. Today, people still learn from speakers, and books, but they are also learning from new mediums that combine both. And while the presentation of the words may seem the same, the knowledge and skills required are markedly different. Scripting, audio production, SCORM, xAPI (Tin Can), or whatever other “thing” that is out there is now increasingly important. The tools that are required to create great learning experiences, ones that will adapt and engage today’s learner, be it in the classroom or the workplace, have changed. It is no longer possible to be “one of all trades”.
I believe it is time for learning and development professionals, be they instructional designers, knowledge managers, writers, etc. to examine their strengths and identify them to everyone by shedding the antiquated and generic titles we have. By doing so, we can push organizations to build real learning and development teams. The C Suite may not understand the need for the various players on the team at first, but they will, once these roles are identified. And once these roles are identified, something else can start to happen. Organizations can start asking real questions about learning and development.
If you are wondering why this identification is so important, think of a football (nee soccer) team. You need at least a goalie, a defender, and a forward to get things rolling. Short of this, you have some major gaps on your team, but even those three positions are too general. What about left side and right side players? Sure you can have a great game of pickup with a bunch of people who put themselves together and play the beautiful game, but is that the best experience for all those involved? It might be for a one off event, but if the outcome of the match matters, then skills need to be identified and questions about how the game is played need to be asked. And with those questions in mind, those players now have important roles to play.