At the Learning Technologies conference in January, I took part in a debate about the future of learning management with Andy Wooler and Charles Jennings. We each had ten minutes to make our point. Here’s mine.
If you’ve seen me speak at conferences, read articles I’ve written, or just got in to conversation with me, you’ll know that I’ve been an advocate of collaborative and connected learning for more than eight years now (I say collaborative and connected because no one was calling it ‘social’ back then).
I believe that such collaborative and connected activity has a key role to play in organisational learning, today and in the future; at the same time I still believe that there’s a good case for managing learning. Those two statements are not mutually exclusive; this isn’t a zero sum game.
Learning Management <;>; LMS
First of all, let’s clear up one big misconception.
Learning Management does not equal LMS.
Learning management is a process, a way of doing things; there’s certainly a lot more to it than LMS.
If you do make the mistake of thinking that LMS is the be all and end of all of learning management then you’re on the way to the next flawed assumption; that managing learning means tracking it.
Management Should Not Be The Default
That’s not to say that I believe everything needs to be managed, nor that management should be done in the same way it always has been.
Last year, Clive wrote a book called the The New Learning Architect, and one of the ideas he put forward was that when you are designing a learning solution the default option should be online, and that you should have to make a strong argument for any other approach, such as face to face.
He has since extended this to suggest that the default option should also be asynchronous – and again you should have to make a robust argument for doing something synchronously.
I’d like to further extend that and suggest that as a default we should not be managing learning. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be managing anything, but just as with the choice of online vs offline and asynchronous vs synchronous, it puts the onus on us to make a solid case for doing so.
Why We Should Manage Learning
And there are some very good arguments for managing learning.
It’s too important
Some things are too important to leave to chance. This is a really broad category, but some of the more obvious things that fall in here are compliance and regulatory subjects; things that are being done to ensure legal compliance and to mitigate risk.
It also includes things that are critical to the way you do things in your organisation, for example; customer service standards, reporting procedures or keyholder responsibilities – in essence things that have a ‘right way’ to do them.
You should think very hard about what really falls into this category – when designing learning content, I think most of us would expect SME’s to say that people need to know everything, and they’re also likely to think that everything needs to be managed; be prepared to really challenge that.
Every day is someone’s first day
Every day is someone’s first day, whether that’s their first day in the organisation, their first day in a new role or just the first time they do something.
It’s tempting to assume that everyone knows how to go about finding the information they need and where they should go to look for it. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a novice; someone who lacks the necessary knowledge, skills and organisational context.
This is a serious issue. If you look at attrition rates in newly recruited managers, by far the most commonly stated reason for leaving is some variation on “I didn’t know what to do, or how to do it”.
They want and need some structure; they want their learning to be managed.
There’s another problem too. Even if it is possible for someone to explore and discover these things themselves, it’s often much quicker if their learning is given some structure; if it is managed. Reducing the time to competency is a very reasonable business goal.
But remember what I said earlier – even if we make the case for managing the learning we shouldn’t assume that means tracking elearning modules or face to face workshop in an LMS. It could just as easily be other employees adding content to a wiki, or on blogs or whatever platform you want to use.
The business of learning
Then there’s the business side of learning. I’ve been an L&D manager, in traditional face to face delivery environments as well as technology driven ones, and a lot more of my time was spent on management than it was on learning delivery – and that’s as it should be. I had a responsibility for managing budgets, and suppliers and the management and allocation of resources. Just like managers in every other department.
To do that effectively I needed the right tools and the best possible data, otherwise how would I know where to focus my resources? That’s learning management.
Learning or Training?
I’ll leave you with one final thought. In this post I’ve used the word learning a few times, but is that actually what we’re talking about? Ten years ago the kind of jobs we did were called training, and we worked in a training department. Some time after that the name changed to learning and development, but has the job really changed? Indeed, has the business changed it’s expectations of us? I don’t think so.
In the debate all three of us agreed on one thing; only learners can manage learning.
The thing is, that much of the time when we say ‘learning’ what we mean is ‘training’ and that can, and in some cases should, be managed.