Friday, February 21, 2014

Four Thoughts for 2014

Four Thoughts For 2014

Rachel Burnham writes: Here are some thoughts on the current direction of L&D for 2014.  They are very much first thoughts and it would be good to hear your response to them.

1.  Critical Thinking
Isn’t it great at last to see that more critical views of some long-standing and very popular models of learning are getting an airing?   Ever since Professor Frank Coffield and colleagues produced their report back in 2005/6 into learning style theories, it has been known that many of the most popular and best known models of learning styles had been found to have questionable validity.   I am picking up a lot more links to Coffield’s research in recent months and the suggestion of a more sceptical and questioning approach to various models of learning styles.  If you haven’t yet read this report, do read it for yourself.

Wouldn’t it be great to see some other theories that are regularly referred to (and misused) such as Mehrabian’s work on communication get a more accurate and rigorous treatment within the L&D field?

2.  Choose the Right Spoon for the Right Dish – or A Spoon for Every Occasion
In a similar vein, I am noticing that within L&D we do seem to becoming a little more sophisticated in relation to choosing when and where to use different learning methods.   Within L&D, we have been rather prone to fads and fancies leading us to attempt to use the latest in learning methods for all sorts of situations, whether they were quite suited or not.  Think about e-learning, coaching and now, perhaps social learning.   In each case, these have been trumpeted as great innovations, with lots of promise and have been rather over-sold.   And in many cases, we in L&D have uncritically attempted to adopt these methodologies wholesale. 

My mother – in- law has a great love of cutlery and over the course of her life has gathered a huge collection.  Under her tutelage I have discovered that there are far more types of cutlery than I ever realised.  For example, in relation to spoons, I knew of course of ‘desert spoons’, ‘soup spoons’, ‘table spoons’ and ‘serving spoons’ but I was less clear on the distinction between ‘tea’ and ‘coffee spoons’, nor was I aware of the full array of egg, grapefruit, ice cream, cake, oyster and other specialist spoons that are available (though I may be confusing oyster spoons, with oyster forks – my memory is a little fuzzy on the details!).  My mother-in-law is emphatic about the need to use the right cutlery for the right dish.

Perhaps like this cutlery enthusiast, we need to be better at picking the right learning method for the right situation, rather than expecting to use the same tool for every occasion.

3.  More useful, but less dutiful evaluation
More effective evaluation of L&D is a subject close to my heart.  We all know that we need to get better at evaluating L&D.  Last year I did a small piece of research into practice in evaluation and one of the issues that came out of this, was about the mindset that we bring to evaluation.   I think that we often see evaluation as a duty and feel rather guilty and possibly a little embarrassed at how little or how badly we do this. 

I think we need to change our mindset in relation to evaluation and focus on evaluation as something that is useful.  

We know that it can be hard to find the time or resources to put into evaluation.  If we focus on evaluation that is useful, we may find it easier to do this.

Evaluation can be a practical tool to encourage learners to learn more effectively eg by encouraging reflection and application.  It can provide us both with ideas to improve programmes, but also develop our insight into what works for L&D in our particular organisation.  So, the evaluation process can add real value to L&D.  So, let’s keep evaluation simple, practical and make full use of it!

4.  Peformance, performance, performance
In 2014, I think we in L&D need to focus less on learning and much more on performance in the workplace.  In some ways this sounds a little crazy and counter-intuitive – after all we are all about learning in L&D.   But sometimes we focus on learning and in our commitment to applying the latest thinking about how people learn and our enthusiasm for the latest learning methods, and all our other concerns, we forget that we are not in the business of education for its own sake but in order to improve performance by individuals, teams and organisations. 

So, let’s make it a priority to start with performance in mind, and build this in all that we do.

Rachel Burnham
20 February 2014

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation
Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

I would like to particularly thank my friend, John Morris, for the encouragement to get writing again.