Classrooms are not the problem but they are also not the solution

In July, the Learning and Performance Institute published an initial report summarising the results of some 983 self-assessments carried out in the previous six months against their Capability Map.

To quote from the Executive Summary:

‘Two things stand out from the data collected over the first six months of use of the LPI Capability Map  First, the Learning and Development profession has broad and deep roots in the traditional training model – in particular, in the creation of training materials for delivery in a face-to-face environment.

This should not come as a surprise. Until recently this was the entirety of L&D, and in many organisations classroom training is still the primary medium for improving employee skills and knowledge. While the classroom has its place, L&D’s model has to change to deal with the 21st Century’s fast pace of change.

The second – and concerning – thing to stand out from these data is that the L&D profession does not appear to be expanding its skills base to do this.’

As the writer says, this should not come as any surprise. It should also not be that surprising if they find very similar results in another two or three years. I have long resigned myself to the fact that L&D is one of the most conservative professions going and is finding it very hard to believe that its role as provider of classroom courses is becoming less and less relevant.

However, I sort of understand why. In the hands of a good facilitator, the classroom can be a very productive place of learning, at least in small doses. L&D knows how to deliver classroom experiences that are well received by learners, even if they do not make much of an impact back on the job. Both the emergence of new and powerful learning technologies and the increased recognition of the importance of on-demand, informal and experiential learning, are unsettling in the extreme to a profession that likes to act as an agent of change but doesn’t like doing the changing.

At their best, classrooms provide an opportunity for extended periods of practical experimentation, discussion, reflection and knowledge sharing, away from the demands of the day-to-day job. But, as everyone knows by now, they are also relatively expensive, inflexible, unscalable, not to mention ineffective (at least when used in isolation).

There’s no doubt that L&D is shifting, in some cases because new L&D managers have got the message and are making change happen, and in other cases because of pressure from the business. But this process is being held back by a widespread deficiency of skills and confidence among the profession as a whole. It doesn’t help that much of the training that is available for trainers only reinforces the old model and slows up change. Yet without a radical re-skilling, it will become harder and harder for L&D to maintain its credibility.
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