Is it still L&D when you’re not learning or developing?
There are a few phrases guaranteed to instil dread in the heart of anyone who hears them: Rail Replacement Bus Service. New Coldplay album. And — worst of all — Learning Objectives. Heh, and you thought that when you put your pen down on your last exam all those years ago, it was the end of droning lecturers in dusty classrooms? Wrong, wrong, wrong: you’ve just received your appraisal plan from your manager, and there are no fewer than five mandatory courses.
Few people relish the prospect of workplace training. A three-day training course sucks up resources like an educationese Nosferatu, for all concerned. Centrally-hosted courses involve travel and accommodation for the candidates; on-site courses involve the same for the instructors; both are expensive, and the coffee is invariably foul.
But you’re going to need those oily Americanos to stay awake. Fact is, most training courses have little relevance to their hapless victims. Often, they’re focussed on compliance, where a manager’s own objective is to train their team — whether they like it or not. Very few people get a saucy thrill over the prospect of becoming an ITIL practitioner, and a sudden run on ISO 9001 certifications is unlikely to align with the day-to-day toils of Tanya in sales.
Pouring SCORM on tradition
Learning & Development has not, by and large, moved with the times. “Look at the world of the worker 150 years ago and compare it with today. There’s very little that’s the same,” says Charles Jennings, co-founder of the 70:20:10 Institute and all-round L&D guru. “If you look at L&D by comparison, there’s more in common than there is that’s different. That’s a big red flag — it suggests that L&D hasn’t been moving at the speed of business.”
The testudine plod of L&D sticks out like a sore thumb in a world of accelerating digital transformation, with eLearning in particular invariably being anchored to the less-than-flexible SCORM structure. A four-day course becomes a miniature eternity when you can’t fast forward or rewind to the one or two modules that you actually need.
Learning Management Systems themselves are frequently byzantine and built on démodé hardware that doesn’t play nicely with a firm’s infrastructure: any hybrid integration specialist would baulk at attempting to integrate a bunch of ZX Spectrums with a cloud-based enterprise. But even the most outdated systems look like the love child of Ultron and HAL 9000 compared to the model they’re built around.
The four-tier Kirkpatrick Model has been in constant use ever since Donald Kirkpatrick devised it in 1954, the same year that Alan Turing committed suicide. There’s an omen for you. This pyramid-shaped model moves up through four narrowing tiers — reaction, learning, transfer and results. But although the latter sits on the apex like a capstone, the Kirkpatrick model is pretty poor when it comes to measuring those results.
In fact, it only evaluates at the first level, in the form of those ubiquitous course evaluation forms that only indicate whether or not the instructor was a bit of an arse; there’s no measure of the actual business impact of the training. This makes the pyramid more Mexican than Egyptian; remember, the Aztecs were big on human sacrifices without expecting too much in return.
New adventures in L&D
The outlook may not be entirely bleak. Learning is becoming increasingly gamified, with people switching from Candy Crush to language apps like Memrise and Duolingo, squeezing in a few minutes of Italian grammar over breakfast, on the bus or ironically during an ISO 9001 course. One person who saw the potential is Fuse Universal founder Steve Dineen. “I had created hundreds of these courses, won various awards — and yet never actually managed to get through one myself.”
Having witnessed financial and educational poverty first-hand in India, he decided to set up FuseSchool, an online school to provide GCSE-grade education to anyone who wanted it, for free. “In some instances, more people have access to mobile devices than sanitation,” says Dineen. “We’ve reached the stage where it’s actually cheaper to take a year’s curriculum, digitise it, and put it onto a mobile phone than it is to buy one year’s textbooks. But cheap doesn’t mean free…”
The problem of funding was solved when he realised that the same approach would work in the corporate world: starting from the desired outcomes and creating bite-sized, searchable mini-modules around them. It’s a strategy that’s paying off — Fuse partners such as Scandic and Carpetright have seen big upsurges in their staff engaging with L&D, as well as hikes in profits.
Into the Upside Down
“It’s a whole new ball game,” says Charles Jennings. “We’re thinking now about L&D as part of an ecosystem to solve business problems.” This approach is big change for L&D: turning the Kirkpatrick Model on its head and making the shift from a cost centre to a money maker.
And it’s good news for the staff too — on-demand learning on your phone is a likely to be a far more attractive proposition than schlepping out on a wet Tuesday to a Brutalist hotel on the ring road. Plus, you can choose your own coffee. Mmmm.
If you only learn one thing today, it should be that there are other options.