Are we missing something in L&D?
When I began in this field in the mid-1980s the job was very much about the production and delivery of training courses. It carried on that way until I left full-time employment for a classroom training provider on the last working day of 1999.
Things have, of course, changed since then, probably more dramatically than any of us fully appreciates. The ability to access pretty much the entire sum of human knowledge with a swipe of our thumb is something that would have seemed like science fiction or magic a few decades ago.
And yet despite all the technology, and despite the shift in our relationship to information – from “knowledge is power” to “information wants to be free” – the model for L&D has remained largely unchanged: we create and deliver content.
Sometimes content is the right answer to a performance issue, but because it is sometimes the right answer does not mean that delivering content should be our default position. And – crucially – even when learning materials, or a course, is the right answer to a performance problem, that does not mean that L&D should have to produce that material.
I spend a lot of time talking to people in L&D world-wide, and I’m constantly struck by two things. First, almost everyone seems to be over-worked. Second, almost everyone seems to be producing a lot of learning content. These two facts are not unrelated. Making good content takes time and energy. Time and energy that could often be better spent doing other things – in particular, engaging with the business.
So here’s an idea. On the occasions when we can tackle a performance issue with learning content, how about we don’t produce those materials ourselves?
Take one instance: MOOCs. Massive Open Online Courses have been accelerating in popularity, with the numbers of courses, and the numbers of people registering for them doubling in 2015, and that trend continuing. Yet most L&D professionals show no interest in MOOCs. (In my annual L&D Global Sentiment Survey, MOOCs dropped from 4th position of 12 options in 2014 to 14th of 16 two years later.) Anecdotal evidence backs this up – it’s very rare to find an L&D department using MOOCs as part of their corporate offering.
There may be many reasons why MOOCs cannot be used for everything we do. They are often long, running over weeks or months, rather than being completed in days. It may not be possible to cover the precise material we want: MOOCs tend to be offered in general academic subjects rather than in specific business-related topics. But just because you can’t find a MOOC for everything you need, doesn’t mean you can’t find one for something. And here’s the kicker: they are created by someone else, they are available now, and they are free.
I’m not saying that MOOCs are the panacea for all of L&D’s issues, but they are indicative of one major problem we have – that we are bound to the treadmill of content production. We can unshackle ourselves more easily than we might believe, if just give up the need to produce perfect content, and instead use good enough content produced by someone else. In return, we get the one thing every L&D professional needs today: time.
This was first published as the preface to Inside Learning Technologies Magazine #59.