Why is Learning So Complicated?

Mousetrap post

#Blimage on! How can the Mouse Trap Game relate to learning? Let’s discuss…

When I read Steve Wheeler’s #Blimage challenge I knew I had to share and participate. Last week I posted the shout out to all of you to become involved. It is always good to stretch our minds and letting our eyes do some of the work. In this case a conversation with Larry Straining brought the inspiration. MouseTrap, the Game. Perfect analogy for learning today.

In case you over the age of…let’s say 40, it may be possible you have no idea of how MouseTrap works. At it’s core it’s a Rube Goldberg machine. Taking simple tasks and making them overly complex, usually in a fun and interesting way.  Fun for all ages!

When I watched the commercial on YouTube and saw the game box…


a flood of memories washed over me. I remember playing this game MANY times. The things you learn from the game are transferable to real life: Cause and effect, logical thinking, patience, problem solving; just to name a few. A fun, overly complex game teaching real life lessons. Oh, we didn’t know we were learning at the time, but when you think back… you know it to be true.

Then there is the “Learning Industry”. We as learning practitioners, have turned training/learning into a Rube Goldberg Machine, only without the fun. How is it possible that we have turned learning into such a complicated endeavor? Which brings me back to another oldie but goodie commercial, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” How many hoops does a person have to jump through to get the learning they need to do the job to the best of their ability?

Way too many.

data complexity

In our well-intended quest to bring learning to the people, we have managed to drive those same people away, giving birth to the notion of “Training ROI” and worse “Training ROE”.  Terms that have made training/learning much more complicated than it ever needed to be. Okay, I know there is a collective raising of hands attached to people saying..”yes, but..” Yes, but OSHA. Yes, but HIPAA. Yes, but compliance.  Yes, I get it. Safety, risk management, HR compliance, legal – all-important on some level. My question then becomes, if these issues are so critical, so important, and so urgent – why are we making people play the Mouse Trap Game to get to this critical training? Forced hoop jumping, forced course taking, and forced SME information overload. Are we seeing success with this approach? My guess is no. We aren’t. Sure, we have butts-in-seats measurement but is this the only measurement worth having?

Employees across the land are finding ways around our antiquated notion of complicated learning. Google has taken our jobs away from us. Well, at least the jobs we USED to have. People now can find information when they want to find it. When they need to find it. Easy peasy. You know what? I’m OK with that. Now is the time to help people connect to the information they need. However, it still doesn’t have to be so complicated. So now we have a bazillion LMS companies all proclaiming to have the next greatest shiny object. This may be true. Here is my requirement, make the accessibility and search-ability of your program to be as easy as Google/YouTube/Wikipedia and you’ll have me first in line. Easy for the end-user is the key.

So now I am about to hear… “Easy is all great, but what if they get the wrong information?” This is where L&D can help. This is our new job: Learning curation & tour guide. It should be our role to help people connect with information they need. This also includes creating information people need too. Need, of course, being subjective. YouTube wouldn’t be what it is today without people contributing resources others need and use. Sure, there’s lots of crap. But I’m an adult and have the cognitive ability to sort through the crap to get what I need. I would trust that your people are adults too. Really, connecting learning to people isn’t rocket science but it is a different skill set. It takes skill to organize and curate content so it’s easy to find, consume and digest.

Learning isn’t limited to L&D

This blog post was sent to me by “degreed.com” and I found it to be on target. 7 Reasons Why Learning isn’t Limited to L&D. When all is said and done; people have found an easier, more efficient way to find learning without having to fight through a corn maze.

According to Degreed – “By a 3.5 to 1 margin, people tell us they believe their own self-directed learning is more effective in helping them be successful at work than the training provided by their employers.”

As you see in the post, and as I have stated many times before – people need their problem solved, it doesn’t matter where the answer comes from. Which is why I go back to the need to fine tune our 21st century toolbox so we can, in turn, make lives easier for those around us.

Learning doesn’t have to be like Mouse Trap. I’m not even sure how we got to this place, but we need to find the exit and quickly – if no reason other than this stat also quoted by Degreed:

“Fewer than 12% said they ask their L&D or HR department for courses or other resources.”

We all can’t be that 12% now can we? 


Share your thoughts about simplifying learning. How have you made changes to help your people find the learning they need?



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Disruptive Learning

Foreword by Brent Schlenker

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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).

3 thoughts on “Why is Learning So Complicated?”

  1. Yes! It’s absolutely about time for L&D to shift competencies from content owners to content curators, etc. I believe that a lot of the mess we in L&D find ourselves is because of a reluctance to push back; because of our willingness to serve our customers, many have become order-takers. “Oh, you want to know how many people completed the training? – we’ll count the heads;” “You say you need your new hires up to speed in half the time?; we’ll construct a complicated curriculum with completion gates and take 8 months to do it.” We all have to start/continue/be adamant about what employees need to DO, and what the business needs to be successful. It doesn’t matter how many people completed the training if they can’t do the work when they’re done. Let’s talk about building performance support instead of ‘training’, a systematic habit for finding and providing what’s needed when it’s needed, and practicing real work in a safe environment. And throw away smile sheets.

    • Candice – thank you for the comment and all I can say is ROCK ON. To quote Einstein, “The significant problems that we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” To move forward, we must move forward. It starts with L&D, in general, becoming more determined toward being business partners. It’s scary and risky to challenge the notion of reactionary training but the creation of reactionary training is what got us in this mess and a more thoughtful approach will be needed to get us out. It’s scary and risky to say, “I need more information before we start producing a learning program”. And it’s certainly scary and risky to point out past training programs that have been a waste of time and money. But as you point out, we must do this to move performance support forward within organizations. Smile sheets serve a purpose, the issue is the design is poor and therefore we get information that creates a perpetual cycle of poor training development. I wrote about this very issue here.

      Welcome to the Rebellion!


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