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The Fashion Follower’s Essential Guide to L&D

Bob Little 

November 10, 2017

L&D is a victim of changing fashions – just like other professions and people. Theories and approaches abound. Many become popular, but then fall out of favor. Others hog the limelight.

Forty years ago, for example, Transactional Analysis (TA) became the learning fashion of the age. L&D professionals developed and thrived with their “interpersonal game-playing techniques.” But, 10 years later, TA had declined to a minority sport. Max Kostick’s Perception and Preference Inventory, which also enjoyed its moment of glory in the 1970s, faded into the background, too.

These days, some of the principles of TA underlie several tongue-in-cheek, possibly-spoof-but-nonetheless-insightful “self-help” books, such as Sarah Cooper’s “100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings.”

The Fashion of Blended Learning

In the 1980s and 1990s, competency-based learning, with its quantitative slant, became the mantra. Then, with the growth of technology-delivered learning, new fashions emerged – first e-learning and, then, blended learning.

Learning technologies guru Elliott Masie says, “Over 19 years ago, the [L&D] field started to use phrase-blended learning to reflect the ways in which organizations were combining e-learning with classroom, on-job training or other formats.  The assumption was that learning organizations would design and deliver a suggested or enforced format to learners.

“I’ve noticed a recent drop in the use of the term blended learning,” Masie adds. “For some organizations, it reflects a normalization of the blend – where most learning programs have a combination of two or more formats.

“Yet many organizations have had difficulty in designing, delivering and supporting a designed blend. In fact, many LMS [learning management systems] engines don’t have the agility to deliver an effective blend.

“But the larger shift is that learners, rather than designers, are more likely to be the blenders. Many learners are creating their own mixture of learning formats. They may watch a video, review the social content or FAQs, then find a subject matter expert to have a discussion with and, finally, take the assessment quiz.

“We’re seeing the mixture as a dynamic shift – with learners mixing their learning from a growing panorama or buffet of official, informal or open external content. It’ll be a new challenge for learning systems to support and optimize this learner-centered mixed learning model,” says Masie.

The Cyclical Nature of Learning Fashions

Fashions change – and fortunes are favored or fall on the strength of these changes. Experienced L&D exponents may be tempted to be cynical about these shifts in emphasis and practice. But Cath Convery, CEO of Explosive Learning Solutions, advocates positivity.

“It’s not so much cynical as cyclical,” she says. “Developing young people in the workplace – through apprenticeships in the UK, for example – fell out of fashion for a while but it’s now back high on the agenda. The key is to keep well-informed and be alert to these changes – and try to anticipate them if possible – so you can remain, if not at the leading edge, at least in the vanguard of your profession.”

The Short Life of  Learnscaping

Vaughan Waller, senior learning architect for Deloitte Learning Technologies, says, “The late Jay Cross seemed to regularly invent new fashions – such as ‘learnscaping’ – but they’re now gone.

“A few years back, there was the fashion for social learning. It became another part of the blend and LMSs boasted of having ‘social learning facilities built-in’ – but, since no one wants to be forced to use social media, no one wanted to do social learning if they had to use it. So, it’s not caught on!

“Millions learn from social media, but that’s because people use it to exchange information – which is 100 percent learner-centric, so that works well.”

The Rise of 70:20:10

“The rise of 70:20:10 was, to me, the most influential L&D fashion,” says Waller. “It made perfect sense and explained much of what happens in the corporate learning world.

“The numbers may be approximate, but the theory behind it is what matters. The only downside is that too many people think this framework is rigid – yet these percentages should depend on need.

“The most beneficial L&D fashion to me was Roger Schank’s ideas on how not to transfer education-type methods into the corporate L&D world,” Waller adds.

“Schank said, ‘Don’t make it subject-oriented. Allow learners to think in the context of their work rather than learn something specific which may only be peripherally relevant to what they do.’

“Workplace learning should be about getting people to think more clearly. If only I could get more people to think that way!”

Top Learning Fashion Tips

Waller’s top tips for corporate L&D’s future fashions are:

  • New technologies will provide new learning experiences. Simulations will become mainstream, allowing people to be changed by the experience rather than through watching/reading/hearing something.
  • Learner-centric learning should improve as new attitudes towards learning in the workplace become more relaxed. Putting compliance on one side, there’ll come a time where learning and working will be the same thing.
  • Blended learning is now dead in the water. If the learning need requires it, learning will be blended. If it doesn’t, it won’t. Good learning design will dictate it, rather than the “B-fashion.”
  • Organizations won’t spend time devising learning strategies. You can’t strategize learning – since this is an innately human process. The best learning strategy is being aware of what needs to change and how learners should behave in the future. The rest is just good learning design.
  • Learners will become the stakeholders of their future. People will design their own learning pathways instead of dictating what they should learn in terms of their performance within their organization. This is the best way for them to achieve their true potential.

Next time – some more L&D fashion fads and tips…


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