Learning is not a parcel

I’m about to embark on a three-week road trip working with teams of faciliators to share experiences and develop skills. I now hesitate to call it training especially after reading Harold Jarche’s post – Training Evaluation: a mug’s game. Harold links to this spendidly fierce post by Dan Pontefract a pushback to something called the Kirkpatrick Four Levels™ Evaluation Model.

Anything to do with learning that bears a ™ tends to put me in a critical frame of mind for starters. I find it hard to associate the joy of learning with intellectual property chastity belts. And to be honest I find the presence of ™ correlates fairly positively with banality.

Echoing Dan, I feel rather miserable reading statements like this:

any successful initiative starts with a clear definition of the desired outcomes.

It’s management speak and it’s a wild overclaim for a world of complexity and the unexpected.

Both Dan and Harold argue for a far more social way of understanding how learning happens in organisations.

I can understand why management feels pressure to prove some return on investment, but this is a game with unintended consequences. The pressure is on participants to establish they have been “good” learners by affecting to have taken delivery of profound “outcomes” whether they have or haven’t. It puts learners in a childlike position vis-a-vis the training which results in either good boy (thank you, mummy, for that valuable lesson) or bad boy (delete your own expletive) behaviour in response. We end up in the same world as that I talk about in this post on commitment ceremonies.

Learning is not a FedEx package that you sign for at the door. Learning happens on its own schedule. We often realise the significance of events long after their original impact, and may actually continue to revise what we think the lesson is as our lives unfold.

I can see that for some training you might well want to set practical tests and evaluations. But for soft skills, I would put much more emphasis on supporting peer-to-peer sharing and support. Reducing things to models may comfort management that it’s doing something but easily gets in the way of people’s intrinsic desire to learn and to socialise.

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