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Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

17 November 2015

Reconciling two worlds

Clark @ 8:06 am

A recent post by my colleague in the Internet Time Alliance, Jane Hart, has created quite the stir. In it, she talks about two worlds: an old world and a new world of workplace learning.  And another colleague from the Serious eLearning Manifesto, Will Thalheimer, wrote a rather ‘spirited’ response.  I know, respect, and like both these folks, so I’m wrestling with trying to reconcile these seemingly opposite viewpoints.  I tried to point out why I think the new perspective makes sense, but I want to go deeper.

Jane was talking about how there’s a split emerging between old-school L&D and new directions.  This is essentially the premise of the Revolution, so I’m sympathetic. She characterized each, admittedly in somewhat stark contrast, representing the past with a straw man portrait of an industrial era, and a similar version of a new and modern approach much more flexible and focused on outcomes, not on the learning event.  And I’ve experienced much of the former, and recognize the value of the latter.  It’s of course not quite as cut-and-dried, but Jane was making the case for change and using a stark contrast as a motivator.

Will responded to Jane with some pretty strong language.  He  acknowledged her points in a section where he talks about points of agreement, but then after accusing her of being too broad brush, he commits the same in his section on Oversimplifications.  Here he points out extreme views that he implies are the views being painted, but are overly stated as “always” and “never”.

Look, Will fights for the right things when he talks about how formal learning could be better. And Jane does too, when she looks to a more enlightened approach.  So let’s state some more reasonable claims that I hope both can agree with. Here I’m using Will’s ‘oversimplifications’  and infusing them with the viewpoints I believe in:

  1. Learners increasingly need to take responsibility for their learning, and we should facilitate and develop it instead of leaving it to chance
  2. Learning can frequently be trimmed (and more frequently needs to change the content/practice ratio), and we should substitute performance support for learning when possible
  3. Much of training and elearning is boring and we can and should do better making it meaningful
  4. That people can be a great source of content, but they sometimes need facilitation
  5. That using some sort of enterprise social platform can be a powerful source for learning, with facilitation and the right culture, but isn’t necessarily a substitute when formal learning is required
  6. That on-the-job learning isn’t necessarily easy to leverage but should be a focus for better outcomes in many cases
  7. Crowds of people have more wisdom than single individuals, when you facilitate the process appropriately
  8. Traditional learning professionals have an opportunity to contribute to an information age approach, with an awareness of the bigger picture

I do like that Will, at the end, argues that we need to be less divisive and I agree. I think Jane was trying to point in new directions, and I think the evidence is clear that L&D needs to change. I think healthy debate helps, we need to have opinions, even strong ones, hopefully without rancor or aspersions.  I don’t know quite why Jane’s post triggered such a backlash, but I hope we can come together to advance the field.

 

7 Comments »

  1. Thanks Clark! You’re a great peacekeeper! SMILE

    And for the record, my “spirited” (thanks Clark!) section on “oversimplifications” were in response to what I felt were oversimplifications in the arguments I was critiquing.

    ========
    My reflections:

    CLARK:
    Learners increasingly need to take responsibility for their learning, and we should facilitate and develop it instead of leaving it to chance
    WILL:
    Agreed! Although, I think people have always had to take responsibility for their own learning. Those who are most successful certainly do this.

    CLARK:
    Learning can frequently be trimmed (and more frequently needs to change the content/practice ratio), and we should substitute performance support for learning when possible
    WILL:
    Absolutely Agree!!!!!!!!!!! Teaching too much content is the NUMBER 1 problem in workplace learning. First, people often forget when they are overloaded with content. Second, teaching content does not leave time for the kind of learning supports that are required to (1) deepen understanding, (2) support long-term remembering, and (3) promote on-the-job application.

    CLARK:
    Much of training and elearning is boring and we can and should do better making it meaningful
    WILL:
    Abso-freakin-lutely!

    CLARK:
    That people can be a great source of content, but they sometimes need facilitation
    WILL:
    People can also be a source of poor content, even dangerous content. Sometimes it would be a foolish business/organizational practice NOT to vet content.

    CLARK:
    That using some sort of enterprise social platform can be a powerful source for learning, with facilitation and the right culture, but isn’t necessarily a substitute when formal learning is required.
    WILL:
    Agreed! First, focus on needs, then see what tools are right!

    CLARK:
    That on-the-job learning isn’t necessarily easy to leverage but should be a focus for better outcomes in many cases
    WILL:
    Agreed! And our first targets of influence (often underutilized) are organizational supervisors/managers. Okay, maybe not necessarily first, but a high-value target!

    CLARK:
    Crowds of people have more wisdom than single individuals, when you facilitate the process appropriately
    WILL:
    DISAGREE! This is sometimes true, but sometimes NOT true. Depends on situation, content, and the people. I’m not smart enough to know when it’s okay to rely on “wisdom of crowd” and when it’s best to call in true experts, but I would be skeptical of defaulting to the crowd. Also, depending on the opportunity costs of getting a crowd together, it might be more efficient and inexpensive to call in an expert or two.

    CLARK:
    Traditional learning professionals have an opportunity to contribute to an information age approach, with an awareness of the bigger picture
    WILL:
    Agreed! In fact, we have a responsibility — not just an opportunity — to invest our research-based (vetted) learning wisdom into these information-age apps.

    THANKS CLARK!

    You Rock! You’re not only a good peacekeeper, but also you do a great service to our industry by spanning the two worlds Jane talks about.

    = Will

    Comment by Will Thalheimer — 18 November 2015 @ 7:24 am

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Will. Interesting point about crowds versus individuals. I think you’re right, and I think that situations that are ‘simple’ or ‘complicated’ (using the Cynefin model) are where an expert may be your best resource. I’m thinking of the ‘complicated’ (or chaotic ;) situations where we’re in new areas, and bringing together *more* than one expert, or people with relevant skills and knowledge, is better, e.g. where ‘learning’ (read: innovation) is needed. Here the research says that the crowd is really better than the individual (c.f. Keith Sawyer’s Group Genius or Stephen Berlin Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From). So helping identify where to go for an expert and where to (appropriately) crowdsource is a valuable distinction. Thanks for helping me be clear on that!

    Comment by Clark — 18 November 2015 @ 9:09 am

  3. I love how you are trying to reconcile the two strong views, especially because I think we all want the same: support people to become better in doing their job. I see truth in both Jane’s and Will’s posts. Yes, we need to move away from that default formal learning approach but what I miss in Jane’s argument is the acknowledgement that a. people don’t necessarily know what they need to do to improve and the majority definitely doesn’t know how they learn best (I am NOT saying though that therefore we need to control their learning; it’s just in the acknowledgment) and b. it is not easy to analyse and understand how people learn/improve best on-the-job or other more ‘unstructured’ ways of learning. BTW, I agree with almost all your points except 7. I find it hard to explain why – I just feel that your point is true when people are focussed, effective, and good at self-reflection. I still think that that is the minority of the global population. But that could be my cynical nature :).

    Wish I could upload an image that I just saw on Twitter called the ‘Bullshit Asymmetry Principle’. It says “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.’ I guess that is my concern with certain crowds.

    Comment by Mirjam — 19 November 2015 @ 3:55 am

  4. Mirjam, thanks for the feedback. If you see my response to Will’s concern about point 7, that differentiating when that’s true and not is an issue. I’ve a post queued for next week to address that. However, when it comes to innovation and new ideas, the evidence is clear (c.f. Keith Sawyer’s Group Genius or Stephen Berlin Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From) that a team is better than an individual. With my caveat: if you manage the process right.

    Comment by Clark — 19 November 2015 @ 9:39 am

  5. Hi Clark, yes that makes sense to me. Looking forward to your post next week!

    Comment by Mirjam — 19 November 2015 @ 10:25 am

  6. […] Quinn tried to play peace-maker and wrote a nice article trying to reconcile the two competing posts of Hart and Thalheimer. He sided with both thought […]

    Pingback by L&D World: Is It Really Splitting In Two? | BizLibrary — 24 November 2015 @ 10:45 am

  7. […] training has been acknowledged sufficiently. And still, Jane Hart’s article has created what Clark Quinn in a response to Jane Hart called “quite the stir”. […]

    Pingback by » After the storm. In Response to Jane Hart’s “The L&D world is splitting in two” — 15 December 2015 @ 5:22 am

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