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Essay, Selling Up Selling Down

Do We Practice What We Preach?

What we’re told we want and what we do to get it are two different things.

When I do my typical debriefing at the end of each conference I try and consider two perspectives: What were the running themes, and what is the collective buzz, or the overall feel of the event? This year, two conflicting topics were common.

With the movement toward more personalized learning there is a lot of talk about the power of failure and mistakes in the learning process. It’s definitely a running theme. For years, research has supported that we learn more from failure than success, and with the advent of immersive technologies such as performance support, mobile, and virtual/augmented reality, the practical and safe application of this research is quickly becoming more common. Under the category of collective buzz, we’re still talking about some of the same old problems:

  • When will we have a seat at the table?
  • When will we be more than just order takers?
  • How do we align better with strategic business outcomes?
  • How do we motivate the lines of business to value learning deliverables?
  • How can we best work with IT to deploy learning systems?

Is it me, or are these two perspectives contradictory and a bit hypocritical? On the one hand we want a less risk-averse learner and overall learning culture. One that will forego the fear of failure and courageously stretch themselves when adapting new learning strategies and approaches. At the same time, we as an industry continue to spin on old issues, too afraid to put ourselves and our deliverables at risk to innovate and to meet our learners where they live.

Do we have the courage to do what we ask of our learners? Do we have the leadership skills and vision to risk a few failures; to put our reputation and record of delivering successful learning solutions in peril? I’d say we have no choice. How can we ask our learners to do something we won’t ask of ourselves?

Look at the world our learners are asked to survive in every day. Three things rule the landscape: less time, higher demands and constant change. This world is dominated by risk and a high probability of failure. To support employees, we need to break the friendly confines of our classrooms, LMSs, e-learning, coaching programs and virtual sessions, and risk offering a more robust array of options. Those options change often.

To enable a more risk-minded learner, we need to model the same behavior. We need to get beyond the common perceptions, fears and myths that prevent change. We need to scrutinize and evaluate our old methodologies, deliverables and organizational structures. If they don’t meet the needs of today’s learners, let’s be courageous enough to adapt them or to simply let them go. Let’s be open and honest with those that we support, and let’s experiment and, in some cases, fail our way to success.

I’m not saying do this in a vacuum or at the expense of our learners; there is such a thing as safe failure. Not everything we try will cause the learners we support to come to a grinding halt. They get it. Many have lapped our ability to keep up and are innovating in spite of us, using tools and resources created outside of L&D. If we don’t jump in and learn right alongside them, they will continue to distance us from what they need to continue learning and performing.

This will take a candid and transparent approach; one we’ve not had in a while. But the learning organizations I’ve seen that put themselves out there are experiencing a resurgence and buy-in from the lines of business like never before. They are seen as learning partners, not training providers; as performance consultants, not instructional designers.

It’s a new day, my friends. Performance demands are staggering. Only those who risk, grow and stretch in the workplace survive. Will we be courageous, or will we lag back and defend our turf? Who will take the lead in the discussion? Will we create and model the next generation of learning solutions that step up to this daunting, yet exciting challenge? I hope so, so that next year’s conference buzz is one of excitement, examples and best practices that finally address what we’ve talked about for way too long.

Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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