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Why Learning Professionals Still Have a Lot to Learn

— by Bill Cushard


You know the expression — “We only hear what we want to hear.” I usually attribute this phrase to others, but I admit that last week at the ASTD TechKnowledge 2011 Conference, I only heard what I wanted to hear — all about e-learning practices in organizations. Perhaps the other explanation is that so many speakers were talking about e-learning, I couldn’t help but hear a constant echo.

It all started for me during longtime learning educator Allison Rossett’s session, “So Much Talk, So Little Action: E-Learning Practices Today and in the Near Future.” In a study Rossett conducted, she found that organizations are not implementing effective e-learning as much as we think — people are talking a big game, but few are actually doing it.

The top two most frequently cited implementations of e-learning in Rossett’s study are “tests of skill and knowledge” and “computer use in classroom training.”  Use of computers in the classroom? That’s hardly what I would call cutting-edge e-learning. Her session served as a great reminder that trainers and managers alike need to step back from the lectern a little and define what valuable e-learning really is and how we can begin to better implement it within organizations.  Here are few other takeaways from the conference:

Ask a Different Question

Implementing new day-to-day methods within an organization is often difficult and overwhelming. In frustration, we ask, “Is our organization ready?” This is not the question you should ask, but instead, “What are specific problems in our organization that we can start attacking at a small level to prove this new method works?” Addressing this question will increase the chance that learning professionals can make a measurable impact in their organizations.

Start Small

When proposing new training programs, learning technologies, or complete changes in how learning is facilitated in an organization, it is best to find a specific problem to solve in a small group within the organization. Bob Mosher of LearningGuide suggested in his session, “Blending 2.0: Formal and Informal Learning at the Moment of Need,” that we should not try to “boil the ocean.” He recommended for learning professionals pick a small problem and solve it. If you do, people will beat a path to your door, and you will soon be overwhelmed with work.

Make it Tangible

In a panel discussion of chief learning officers, Susan Burnett, Chief Learning Officer at Yahoo!, took a more specific approach to the question. She advised to start by helping sales departments increase sales. Since sales performance interventions are all about levels 3 and 4, they are tangible and easy to prove value. If you can prove that you can help one sales team increase sales, every other sales group in your organization will line up for your help.

What techniques have you used to implement new learning methods or technologies in your organization and what where the results? I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you were unable to attend TechKnowledge this year, you can follow @tk11 on Twitter or download the presentation slides from all the sessions.

>>More on e-learning on the Mindflash blog.

Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

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