Learners Win. Every single time.

May 28, 2017

Image 87813948 used with permission the excitement of ATD2017 last week, it’s easy to get swept away and forget that all the fancy gadgets and models don’t actually create learning. But no matter what anyone can say or sell, they can’t make learning happen.

Our technological and conceptual constructs can aid in learning (though more often they distract us from the learning itself). Learning is something we can hopefully facilitate, but we can never control or enforce. Why? Because learning is simply out of our jurisdiction. It takes place within the Learner, or not at all.

The  only thing that actually creates learning is when  the learner is ready learn.

Until then, all our information, tools, and techniques will be ultimately ineffective. It doesn’t matter how perfect our training may seem to us.

The Learners will always win, every single time.

It seems the whole education industry — from academic institutions to workplace training — is built upon the flawed idea that teaching results in learning.

We innately know this is not true, and most of us have personal experiences as victorious students who rebelled against the learning machine at one stage of our lives or another. Yet, as teachers/trainers, we forget this and instead prefer to believe we have some measure of control. And when in organizations, we like to think the things that we’re counting (sessions delivered, classes passed, credits granted, etc.) have some sort of meaning.

Perhaps they do, but not as measures of learning. Only as measures of opportunities of learning. That Learner who sat in the seat for the full day of training or online class or whatever? Did they actually learn anything?

Though they can tell you, you cannot tell them.

After all:

  • Maybe they didn’t want to learn, and so they willfully didn’t.
  • Maybe your assessment is so poorly written (as most are!) that they didn’t need to know anything to guess their way through on the first, or second, or third, or however-many-chances-you-give-them try.
  • Maybe they really did know all they needed to when they walked in the door. They really didn’t need to be there in the first place, but they were told that they needed to be, and so they did what they were told (“compliance” anyone?).

I’d argue that the sole determinant of learning — the only thing that makes it happen or not — is curiosity. With it you can’t keep a learner from learning, no matter how hard you try. Without it, you can’t make them learn a damned thing, no matter how hard you try.

When you fight the learner, you will lose. Again and again.

Fortunately, there is a better way…

Enabling curiosity

You can choose to engage the Learner where they’re at, and speak to what they want to know. You can kindle their questions and then follow where they lead.

Personally, it totally lights me up! It’s what I did with my Smartphone Cinema for L&D Professionals workshop at ATD, and it went exceedingly well. I can hardly wait to do it again!

Sure, I had a structure. I made plenty of advance preparations for where I thought it would go, but ultimately the workshop was as much of a surprise and adventure for me as it was for the Learners. In this learning climate, engagement is not a problem. Enable their curiosity, and let ’em run to whatever they need next.

I’ve realized recently that enabling curiosity one of the only unifying threads I can draw through all I’ve ever done. I love meeting people where they’re at and helping them get just a little more to help them on their path. I love designing paths and systems that rely on each other and adapt to solve problems. I love being curious myself! I’m interested in so many, many things…

But enforcing learning is not one of them. Nope, it can’t be done. You can try, but I hope you like losing.

Yes, we could take a step back and decide simply to measure the opportunities for learning instead (i.e. Training). There are lots of shiny technologies and methodologies to help. But no matter how many of them you buy or adopt, they’re not really helpful to anyone’s learning, now are they?

Luckily, there are much better problems to solve than that, anyhow.

…Like how best to enable curiosity!

Sam Rogers creates more effective, efficient, and engaging ways to deliver learning for clients including Google/YouTube, Capital One, Deloitte, and AAA. He’s a highly creative and technically proficient eLearning professional… who can’t help mentioning that he was the first solo act to win an A Cappella group competition.

Upcoming Events

  • Learning DevCamp, Salt Lake City, June 5-8 2017 | Campthink session Learning Technologies: from Now to Next | Concurrent session Shoot Me Now: eLearning Video Gets Real
  • FocusOn Learning Conference, San Diego, June 18-22 2017 | Pre-conference workshop Smartphone Cinema for L&D Professionals | Concurrent session Video from the Business Perspective: Mitigating Risk and Maximizing | Concurrent session “We’ll Do It Live!”: Live Streaming for L&D | Morning buzz session Podcasting in L&D
  • Training Magazine Network Masters Series, online, July 14 2017 | Webinar From Now to Next in Learning Tech
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