Judging by his post on 5 Skills for Career Success, Indian blogger Gautam Ghosh values ideas. Always a positive sign. We picked up on one of his ideas – essentially, why don’t HR make themselves redundant – in an earlier posting here, because we liked the emphasis on direct line management involvement in recruitment, mentoring, development (and more) that it implicitly promoted. Maybe the world really is getting smaller, but we seem to have remotely synchronised our metaphorical songsheets on another topic.

I recently came across another of his blog posts from last August – Training has failed the business. The posting was relatively short, so I’ll post it in full here (but click through and add your comments there too if you wish):

That’s not what I said but someone who has facilitated learning and OD sessions for the last 18 years. Was meeting him last weekend and he asked “Have you ever asked someone what their biggest learning experience has been and been answered with ‘a training program’?”

No. Really.

Think about it.

What has been your biggest learning experience?

See? Nothing in the classroom qualifies as a great learning experience.

Yet, tonnes of money get poured into training programs by organizations of all shapes and sizes across the world.

Here’s a hint. If you want great learning focus on what happens before the training and what happens after the training.

Of course, as this person shared, maybe we have to evolve a new paradigm for learning totally different from training too.”

Understandably, this raised objections. Mostly, it seemed, at that title. India may not have a bullfighting tradition, but Gautam clearly understands the principle of the red rag and the bull. Trainers were offended: they’ve worked hard and no doubt taught vigorously. They may also have – at least from our own experience – missed the point, which to my mind happens in the penultimate sentence of the extract above.

The ‘classroom’ – a word we’re trying to avoid, and your suggestions for a replacement would be very welcome – is not the end of the process. I can go to evening classes in conversational Dutch, but the process isn’t complete until I’m standing in Holland speaking Dutch with someone. That takes more than lessons: it takes practice (thankfully, the Dutch are patient – and multilingual), support (usually my partner thumbing furiously through a phrase book), and confidence (you may be familiar with the expression ‘Dutch courage’).

Assuming ‘learning’ ‘finishes’ in a ‘classroom’ (all scare quotes deliberate) is to see it as the equivalent of suncream. We know we need it, but buying it and remembering to pack it isn’t the point: the point is applying it. It’s perfectly possible to buy suncream and still get burned.

And if the classroom isn’t the end of the process, it’s not the beginning of it either. If I don’t know that I need  to learn something, can’t understand – or accept – that I need to change, can’t comprehend how the learning I’m being offered is supposed to make a difference, or see what it is supposed to make a difference to – well, I won’t learn and it won’t make a difference. It’s that old joke about the psychotherapist and the lightbulb: until the lightbulb really, really wants to …

All of which probably explains why we don’t agree with the word ‘training’ either. It depends what you’re trying to impart, of course, but learning (a term we prefer) isn’t an event, it’s a process. And a time-consuming one at that: time before the events it encompasses – wherever they take place or by whatever medium – to ensure everyone (included peers and line managers of the learners) knows what it’s intended to achieve. And time after them to allow the learner to practice, evolve and become confident in new knowledge and behaviours – in an environment that monitors, guides, encourages and supports.

Gautam’s title might be sweeping, and it’s not true of every organisation, but it’s true of too many. The model of training and classroom creates an artificial divide – some mythical place outside the office where we develop in quantum leaps and return newly made and fully-fledged. That’s more a parody of development than a paradigm, and it seems as far from reality as I am from Faridabad.

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