3 Problems With Learning Today

A few months ago, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Treasury, asked me to deliver a presentation entitled, “The Agile, Resilient Leader.” The good news, I told them, was that I had been reading several great books on that subject and was enthusiastic about putting them together in a concise, yet comprehensive format – books like Dan Pink’s “Drive” and “A Whole New Mind,” Carol Dweck’s ground-breaking “Mindset” as well as old and new classics, such as Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive” and Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.” Individually, these books are excellent in their own right. When woven together, they form a compelling case for the kind of leaders and employees we need in our organizations today.

The general framework of the presentation is as follows:

  • The Problem With Learning Today – Location, Cost, Time
  • Defining Moment – Agile, Resilient, Learner
  • Looking Inward – Mind: (Perspective | Creativity), Heart (Motivation | Determination), Gut (Willpower | Intuition)
  • Looking Outward – Mind (Self-Study | Snacking), Heart (Connect | Contribute), Gut (Trust | Endurance)
  • The Opportunity With Learning Today – Everywhere, Inexpensive, Accessible

In delivering the talk a couple times, I realized that I still had some work to do in terms of blending the ideas and crafting a seamless narrative around these powerful ideas. One of the best ways I know how to do that is by organizing my thoughts through writing. As a result, this post is the first in a blog series I plan to roll out over the next few weeks.

The Problem(s) With Learning Today

First, let’s talk about the problem with learning today. I think we’d all agree that there are three main constraints:

Location: Traditional training models require learners to be somewhere, like a school or a conference room, often away from the office, but not always. You could argue that ‘deeper learning’ happens when we reserve time to get away and focus our attention, especially in an increasingly busy workplace. And generally I’d agree with the value of designated places away from the grind on occasion. Yet we’re all aware that we need to learn something new almost every day – and that sneaking a moment to get smarter on a subject is increasingly online, on commutes, on the spot and in the palm of our hands.

Cost: In addition to the problem of location, there’s the challenge of cost. Traditional models feel increasingly expensive, both in terms of money and productivity, especially when so much information can be found for free with a simple online search. Granted, online training has its own cost in terms of purchasing licenses to existing content libraries or developing your own content. However, the real value there is economies of scale. Once that content is created, it’s immediately accessible to a broad audience.

Time: Let’s face it: most learners can’t wait weeks or months for the knowledge they need to do their jobs better right now. Even online training can be time intensive as the smallest modular unit is often a recorded, archived webinar that’s at least an hour long. Plus, it’s really hard to unplug from the realities back at the ranch. How many of us have traveled to offsite training, but find ourselves on our phones or even cracking open our laptops to multi-task during a classroom-based training…or trying to take that online training, but get distracted by emails or other communications?

Those are the broad problems with training today, from my vantage point.

Do these resonate with you? Do you see them in your agency? Anything that you’d add or alter?

Look for the next set of posts over the coming weeks!

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Lori Hornbeck

I agree but we need to look at other concepts too, one is that people “know” many things (via the internet) but do not “learn” them, which builds upon itself because much knowledge today given in training is not retained. This is especially true for on-line training. The retention rate is very, very low, despite everyone running to this format.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks, Lori. How do you think we can increase retention rates? I have a couple ideas that involve regular follow-up via digital learning prompts. Also, can you say more about the distinction between “knowing” and “learning?” Just curious…

Andrey Korsak

To me, these are not problems rather than constrains in which the instructional designers need to innovate.

I think the key questions around learning is:
– What skills or knowledge do people need?
– How to know that people attained the knowledge and skills?

Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks, Andrey. Good reframing as constraints vs. problems and agree on your two questions. A third critical question is: “How do you design the learning experience to ensure that they get those knowledge and skills…and that you can appropriately track if they have?”