How should we deliver learning?

‘How should we deliver learning?’ We shouldn’t. Or rather, we can’t.

Let’s be clear about this: it is individual people that learn (I’m putting to one side for the moment the contention that organisations learn). To repeat: individual people learn.

If individual people learn, how can we ‘deliver learning’ to them? We can’t.

I’m not trying to start a semantic witch-hunt here. I’m sure that I have made this mistake plenty of times myself in the past. No, this is not about the way we use words.

It’s more important than that.

This idea of ‘delivering learning’ has its roots in our thinking. It’s essentially another way of saying ‘delivering training’ or ‘delivering a course’. Now there is nothing wrong with courses and training. They remain an important part of the learning and development (L&D) mix.

However, some years ago we shifted from describing our field as ‘training’ to calling it L&D, with the intention of suggesting that we do more than training alone. In particular, there was a sense that we provided opportunities for people to learn. We do this is a variety of ways, including:

  • Providing the infrastructure for sharing information
  • Ensuring people have the skills to learn
  • Facilitating the production of user generated content
  • Creating useful materials
  • Curating a range of content
  • Setting up communities for learning, online and face-to-face

None of these ‘delivers’ learning. Each of them helps people learn better. This is a crucial shift in our role and in the perception of it by us and by others. That’s why every time I hear the phrase ‘deliver learning’ I wince. Because it indicates to me that perhaps we haven’t moved on quite as far as we should have by now.

Let’s stop trying to ‘deliver’ learning and instead concentrate on supporting it.

4 responses to “How should we deliver learning?

  1. Morning Don,

    Your post resonated loudly here in the Bavarian forest and I just wanted to say that for my money your right on the ball. The mere fact of the word ‘Learning’ in the the L&D combo should be the first reason to question about delivering learning or training to anyone. Development also lends itself rather well to performance, which can be supported, but ultimately is the result of an individual achievement.

    Learning professionals need to model behaviour and best practice that learners can aspire too – if delivery needs an object let it bring truth and hope, not learning.. Thanks, Don for a great start to the week.

  2. I agree with your sentiments Don, a few years ago I tried to work out a simple way of explaining this point, a bit frivolous and might not add much to the debate, but thought I would share it anyway.
    I used a gardening analogy. It is a bit like growing an climbing plant up a trellis. We can guide it in certain directions, but can’t guarantee it will always go where we want. We can give it resources for its development, but we can’t guarantee it will grow how we expected. We can even re-train its direction, but that doesn’t always work, it sometimes seem to have a mind of its own. The danger comes when you let it do its own thing!

    Individuals somewhat more complex, they ‘do’ have a mind, therefore the extra capacity to learn by experience and their mistakes, we don’t usually “deliver” this component despite it being one of the most powerful parts of learning and developing, (this also can differentiate us from climbing plants, amongst many other things).
    So Don your point is well made, maybe all we can do is make the right resources available, attempt to guide them in a preferred direction, and supply the right environment that they can learn by their mistakes with minimum detrimental impact on safety or the business.

    Thereafter they usually make up their own minds what they ‘do’, and ‘don’t’ want to learn, irrespective of “delivery” !

  3. There’s a few environmental difficulties to overcome…
    1. Too much provision is marketed and sold to organisations. We like having ‘stuff’ to give to people as a tangible example of what they learn.
    2. Too many L&D people still have a default training mindset. As a result, they’ll provide at the drop of a hat.
    3. We like measuring the small because it shows busyness; we need to measure the big to show business.

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