Friday, April 04, 2008

How Training is the Enemy of Learning

Learning Cycle: University of Tasmania
Buried deep in the psyche of quality management systems is the discipline of training. It goes something like this:
  • Define what needs to be done
  • Train people how to do the work
  • Test to ensure compliance
  • Repeat activity in a predictable manner
  • Optimize as needed
The Danger Zone

Much of this emphasis finds its roots in Taylorism. Also known as Scientific Management, this discipline focussed on studying current work processes and optimizing quality and performance in mass production environments. Unfortunately, the context has shifted dramatically to what is needed in today's knowledge-based organizations.
"In political and sociological terms, Taylorism can be seen as the division of labour pushed to its logical extreme, with a consequent de-skilling of the worker and dehumanisation of the workplace."
from Wikipedia: Scientific Management

Learning in the Brave New World

The truth is that in our current information-age work contexts, there are a number of significant dynamics that truly make training the enemy of learning.
  1. Much of what we tackle is emerging, and therefore unknown. Focussing only on what is "known", training tends to emphasize the status quo and stifle innovation.
  2. The work is learning. It's often difficult to get people to create documentation because much of what they are doing is "figuring out" how to creat something or solve a problem.
  3. Sustainable value requires disruptive activity. Linear improvements are no longer adequate to ongoing competitive success. The rate of change and nature of work require discontinuous practices to exploit emerging opportunities.
  4. Patterns are more important than details. Learning design principles and strategies is more relevant to tackling new challenges than methodically following previously defined recipes.
Put Training Back in its Place

Is training still important? Of course, however:
"More is learned through legitimate peripheral participation than overt instructions"
from Catherine Schryer: The Dark Side of Health Informatics
Here are some practical tips to move beyond training into a continuous learning environment:
  1. Focus training on empowering people to collaborate, research and develop learning skills.
  2. Allocate and enforce a segment of exploration time (2-5%) that is dissasociated from the current project and work tasks.
  3. Use social collaboration tools to encourage serendipity and intra-organizational knowledge flow.
  4. Provide a rich environment of tools and support that allow people to create and share learning content, configurations, and practices.
By consciously emphasizing learning as an integrated activity, you will soon augment your training programs with a new level of productivity and innovation.

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