Workplace Learning: One World, Not Two

Two worlds maroon

Been buried under a stack of PowerPoint slides?

Stuck in meetings? Conducting a training session?

Then you missed it. Jane Hart recently posted an OpEd, called, “The L&D World is Splitting in Two” quickly followed by a rebuttal post from Will Thalheimer, “The Two-World Theory of Workplace Learning – Critiqued”. If you haven’t read them, I’ll wait here for you to review. Go on. Context with this post will be important.

Welcome back…

I want to thank Will for adding clarity to a post that could have easily made heads catch on fire. I had started a comment on Will’s site, but as my thoughts gained steam I realized I would completely hijack his thoughtful post with a 700 word comment..

So, here’s the thing: I can see Jane’s point. Really, I can. I travel a lot. I talk to learning professionals from all over who work in a wide variety of business sectors, and there are certainly some who are burying their heads in the sand with in regards to the “traditional training model” and others who have such control issues it’s scary. But there are others who are truly gifted, working magic with reduced budgets, and working fearlessly  – injecting tired training with solid “modern designed” applications.

However, where I struggle is the around the construct Jane used to reach her conclusions of “modern” versus “traditional” or as Will put it: “White hats” versus “Black hats”.  There is plenty on which Will and I can (as well as Jane and I) agree. For starters, as an industry we need work harder at recognizing ineffective training and then eradicating it from businesses, but I digress.

I have stood on soapboxes, shot off flares, and held up those big signs – you know the type, the ones you see on street corners advertising “THE BIGGEST SALE EVER” – all to say, “I’m mad as hell about crappy training and you should be too!”  

[ctt title=”Let’s stop the hamster wheel of shoving people into a class or in front of a computer, wonder why it doesn’t work, then do more of the same.” tweet=”Let’s stop the hamster wheel of shoving people into a class or in front of a computer, wonder why it doesn’t work, then do more of the same. via @stipton” coverup=”btP14″]

How about we meet in the middle?

Having said this, I also agree with Will’s belief that we are ignoring an under-served middle ground.  The learning profession is not black and white, nor should be treated as such. It would be great if all we did was curate, create and communicate via “modern” technologies, approaches and applications. (Would that have me wearing the “white hat”?) But we do know sometimes training someone to turn a widget IS what is critical, and you may need an “expert” widget turner to do the job AND sometimes it is safer for everyone to train widget turning somewhere other than on-the-job to allow for deeper practice/reflection. (Does this now make me a “black hat” owner?).  The successful end result will ultimately be determined by the end-user, the tools they are given, and the learning environment in which they are placed.

Here is my favorite quote from Will’s post, “What is often forgotten is that the only thing that really matters is the human cognitive architecture. If our learning events and workplace situations don’t align with that architecture, learning will suffer.”

True “Modern Workplace Learning” professionals know that it is not about the tools – it is about appropriate application, design and strategy. Now, do some learning professionals take the easier, less controversial path and plunk people in a death by PowerPoint class or place them in front of a computer and tell them to “click next”? Sure. This is where our focus needs to be: weaning business (and trainers) from that sort of knee-jerk “training” application; making Managers part of the solution and having them take or share in the responsibility for people development on all levels. “Traditional” learning in and of itself isn’t bad, it is poor learning design and lack of success metrics that is the silent killer of learning credibility.

Further, why is the word “Modern” (in Jane’s world) the “White hat”? Plenty of learning professionals have taken “modern” applications and used it like fairy dust hoping for a new result to an old problem. This concept has little to do with “modern learning” versus “traditional training” and everything to do with poor strategy; e.g. trying to solve problems with the same mindset that created them. THIS is what needs to be recognized and changed. THIS mindset takes the training of the past, into the learning world needed right now and in the future.

Last Thoughts

I would think we would all know by now, that polarizing words such as “always”, “never” and “best” diminish the conversation.  It is unfair to lump people into categories, especially when those categories clearly indicate a best/worst for a profession. I have yet to meet a learning professional who said, “I want to create the most boring, ineffective, unprofessional and non-productive training ever.” We know it happens but I doubt it is purposeful and blaming subsets of a profession does not help make it better.

Will also says: “In today’s world, there are simply too many echo-chambers — places which are comfortable, which reinforce our preconceptions, which encourage us to demonize and close off avenues to our own improvement.” These echo-chambers happen within both the “Modern Learning Workplace” and in “Traditional Learning” circles to the benefit no one.

I will leave you with this thought from Harold Jarche: Regarding the 70:20:10 model.

“The network era enterprise does not need ‘Training 2.0’ but rather a new organizational learning approach, where learning is integrated into the workflow.”

A new approach to learning design needs to include the organizational workflow, this is the professional mindset we all need to headed toward. There is so much more to learn about “Learning“. For example, we are finally rejecting long-perpetuated learning myths (Learning Pyramids, Learning Styles, Ebbinghaus Curve etc.) and I’m sure there are things we are hanging our “White hats” on that will be debunked or generally laughed at by future “modern” learning professionals.

I wonder what color hat I’ll be wearing then? Purple, I hope.


Let’s Discuss.


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).

5 thoughts on “Workplace Learning: One World, Not Two”

      • I did not write a blog post hinting that I might have something to add, sir. I was just checking in to see whether the C Team members were making their usual echo noise.

  1. Good post, Shannon. I like how you try to balance both sides. And I agree with you.

    Like Will, I hate how the initial post attempted to ‘group’ the positions…personally, I believe for someone so highly regarded hers was a simplistic, unsupported post.

    The worst, too many of people in our space like to believe/think they are forward thinkers and ‘modernists’ but too often fall back into the crappy old habits. I guess if one tells yourself this often enough you begin to believe it.

    For a learning community, many are not very open minded and open to learning themselves. I feel like I am always swimming against the tide and every so often a rip tide tries to take me under. I believe you feel the same.

    Thank you for your post, Shannon.

    • Ajay – thank you for sharing. I do agree, that creating sides is not beneficial to the L&D community as a whole. As I said in the post, I do see Jane’s point. I think some keep to “what to we know” to our own detriment. However, as with Will, we know there are people who are doing stellar things in a classroom environment and people who are throwing fairy dust to the wind with “modernist” technology. We need to be better at assessing the problem before applying a solution template (whether it’s performance support, courses, or going to the moon). We seriously need to up the ante and to me, the argument of which side you are on, is a distraction. Let’s put the focus back where it needs to be – helping to develop people to be the best they can be (in life and their jobs) so they in turn can best support their organizations.


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