Putting the “Human” Back into Learning

We need to put the “human” back into learning. 

Recently, I have been doing a lot of venting on twitter about how the “human” has been taken out of Human Resources, but with all fairness to HR, slowly but surely, the “human” has been taken out of a number of other business functions too, such as:


  1. IT.  Yes, IT.  I know it seems counter-intuitive to say human and IT in the same sentence, but let’s think about who is the end user?  ME! And while I use a computer until it feels like it’s an appendage, the fact remains, I’m still human and IT needs to remember this fact.
  2. Recruiting.  Absolutely DO NOT get me started on what has happened to recruiters and the recruiting process. I think all humans have been secretly eliminated out of the profession and it’s now being run by r2d2 and c3po.   You know this to be true.
  3. Payroll and Benefits. True, these elements are traditionally housed under HR, but in many companies these departments are organized under Finance.  Let’s contemplate this one for a moment…We pay PEOPLE and PEOPLE need health benefits…hmmmm… my bank treats me less like a number than some payroll departments.

darth vader

This brings me to Learning.  Yes, Learning.  

We do a lot of bitching and complaining about how we, as Learning Professionals, are not taken seriously and given the respect we’re due. (Creditable complaints that I’ll address in future posts).  But what about our learners?  Where is the respect for THEM?  Where is the trusting relationship with THEM? The answer? Why, it’s being managed by “Super Nanny”, the LMS (Learning Management System). Which seems to be more the norm than exception, and it’s kinda sad. I was in a LinkedIn group the other day, out of the first 10 discussions – 5…FIVE… were about LMS’s (all asking essentially the same question, clearly they don’t read the discussions in their own group – but I digress).  “Which one is best?”, “Which is most effective?”, “Which one does the group recommend?” and my personal favorite “How can an LMS best be used for social?” (Used for social?  Social what? I was too scared of the answer to dig deeper.)

In general I find there is a dark cloud of mistrust that hangs over the learning profession.  I once had an L&D person ask me if there were laws about videotaping people taking online courses without them knowing, to ensure they didn’t cheat.  I am totally serious, and unfortunately, so were they.  LMS systems, while needed as long as the government requires compliance training, are the harbingers of mistrust and disrespect.  They enable otherwise smart L&D professionals, to treat their colleagues like children.  We want the LMS to be the judge, jury and at times executioner of the adult worker population.


We have taken the “human” out of learning.  We want to measure peoples interactions, spy on postings and put endless and soulless rules in place which ultimately discourage collaborative learning on any level.   We tell students save questions until the end of the session, tell them not share answers with their neighbors until we say it’s okay and take away their smartphones while they watch an endless parade of really bad and really long PPT presentations.  It continues to confound me that, voluntarily, L&D people attend sessions that teach the application of social learning tools only to complain about the social part.  Their employees can’t be trusted with discussions outside of a classroom, much less having those discussions online.  What? Huh? Are our colleagues adults or not?  It’s like every single person in the room is employed by the Pentagon rather than Bob’s Chicken Shack.

Perhaps I’m looking at this incorrectly, maybe it’s not entirely about taking the human element out of learning – could the root cause be about having one person who needs to maintain absolute control? Either way, we are failing the learner and it’s time to come clean.  If you had thoughts about “doing social” through your LMS – stop it.  If you have thought about setting up a discussion board where the comments have to be approved first – stop it.  If you have put the halt on any learning program because you couldn’t figure out how to measure it – for the love of all that is good – PLEASE stop it.  

Swivel your head around and take a look at your back, you will notice a light switch hasn’t been installed.  You cannot go up to people, flip a switch and say “Okay, now you will learn” and then turn it off “You will now stop learning, as anything outside this event is not sanctioned by Darth Vader”.  The cognitive brain doesn’t stop.  The curious brain will keep searching for new information, then will look to naturally share that information.  If the people at Google and Mark Zuckerburg can figure that out – so can we.


So let’s just stop the madness and put the “human” back into learning. Stop worrying about the measurement and let people immerse themselves, let them collaborate and let them share and discuss; on Facebook, Youtube, twitter; on Google plus, Instagram, Vine; on Pinterest, Blogger, and Yammer.  There is no way around it – social/informal learning, is happening right here, right now, right under your nose; and you know what? This style of learning  has always been around from cavemen to water coolers, it’s the human way of communicating and learning. We can try to control it, but the rebellion against controlled learning is upon us.  I would suggest that we, as “human” Learning Professionals, get together and start acting like real, engaged people; by trusting and respecting the other humans around us.   Because know this – the rebellion is upon us and they will soon figure out how to destroy our Death Star.


Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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