One of the concerns I hear is whether L&D still has a role. The litany is that they’re so far out of touch with their organization, and science, that it’s probably better to let them die an unnatural death than to try to save them. The prevailing attitude of this extreme view is that the Enterprise Social Network is the natural successor to the LMS, and it’s going to come from operations or IT rather than L&D. And, given that I’m on record suggesting that we revolutionize L&D rather than ignoring it, it makes sense to justify why. And while I’ve had other arguments, a really good argument comes from my thesis advisor, Don Norman.
Don’s on a new mission, something he calls DesignX, which is scaling up design processes to deal with “complex socio-technological systems”. And he recently wrote an article about why DesignX that put out a good case why L&D as well. Before I get there, however, I want to point out two other facets of his argument.
The first is that often design has to go beyond science. That is, while you use science when you can, when you can’t you use theory inferences, intuition, and more to fill in the gaps, which you hope you’ll find out later (based upon later science, or your own data) was the right choice. I’ve often had to do this in my designs, where, for instance, I think research hasn’t gone quite far enough in understanding engagement. I’m not in a research position as of now, so I can’t do the research myself, but I continue to look at what can be useful. And this is true of moving L&D forward. While we have some good directions and examples, we’re still ahead of documented research. He points out that system science and service thinking are science based, but suggests design needs to come in beyond those approaches. To the extent L&D can, it should draw from science, but also theory and keep moving forward regardless.
His other important point is, to me, that he is talking about systems. He points out that design as a craft works well on simple areas, but where he wants to scale design is to the level of systemic solutions. A noble goal, and here too I think this is an approach L&D needs to consider as well. We have to go beyond point solutions – training, job aids, etc – to performance ecosystems, and this won’t come without a different mindset.
Perhaps the most interesting one, the one that triggered this post, however, was a point on why designers are needed. His point is that others have focuses on efficiency and effectiveness, but he argued that designers have empathy for the users as well. And I think this is really important. As I used to say the budding software engineers I was teaching interface design to: “don’t trust your intuition, you don’t think like normal people”. And similarly, the reason I want L&D in the equation is that they (should) be the ones who really understand how we think, work, and learn, and consequently they should be the ones facilitating performance and development. It takes an empathy with users to facilitate them through change, to help them deal with fears and anxieties dealing with new systems, to understand what a good learning culture is and help foster it.
Who else would you want to be guiding an organization in achieving effectiveness in a humane way? So Don’s provided, to me, a good point on why we might still want L&D (well, P&D really ;) in the organization. Well, as long as they also addressing the bigger picture and not just pushing info dump and knowledge test. Does this make sense to you?