Sunday, February 10, 2008

Let's Broaden the Training Conversation

I really enjoy Donald Clark's Plan B Blog. Clark is an Englishman with loads of experience in the training field. He has an acerbic wit and writes about training in general, and eLearning in particular, with a refreshing candor. You may not agree with everything Clark says, but there is no confusion about where he stands. One of his recent postings about the blandness of training magazines really resonated with me. I myself stopped all my paid subscriptions to training publications a long time ago and only flip through the free ones quickly in the off chance that there may be something interesting and of value. There usually is not.

Clark thinks that training magazines are so dull, boring and predictable because they rely on an advertising model for their existence. Therefore, they go out of their way to be non-controversial, non-critical, non-offensive, and full of puff pieces about how rosy everything is everywhere in the world of training.

Certainly, the advertising model has something to do with this blandness. However, I also think that part of the problem is the very insular nature of the training field itself. Articles in training magazines are, for the most part, written by training professionals (consultants, academics, vendors, CLOs, training directors, instructional designers, etc.) to be read by people just like them. It's much the same phenomenon at training conferences - training folks talking to training folks.

This is why so much of the dialogue is self-congratulatory and a little delusional. Every thing's fine. Everyone is great. There are no problems. All training is of good quality, useful, effective, and, of course, well worth the investment of time and money. It is those nasty people not in the training function (executives, managers, business unit heads, etc.) who don't understand the inherent value of training and don't give it the respect and resources it deserves.

Well, working in the "eLearning trenches" every day, I can tell you that it is not as pretty a picture as is painted in the training magazines, or presented at training conferences. It is hard work producing quality learning experiences that meet real needs. Not everything produced by our field is of great quality, and results can vary tremendously. Some things work, and others don't, and we are still figuring things out as we go. It's messy business.

I think we should be more self-critical and be honest with ourselves about the state of our field. It is only when you recognize and openly admit problems that you can begin to work toward real improvement. The training field could really benefit from some lively discussions, debates and disagreements about what we do and how we do it.

Another way to broaden the training conversation is to invite non-training folks into the discussion. We should be giving a greater voice to our clients (executives, managers, directors, and learners) and listening to their needs and their concerns. We should be hearing more from these folks in our magazines and at our conferences, and a little less from each other about how wonderful we are. It can be a real eye-opener to see yourself as others see you.

Broadening the training conversation will not only improve the quality of our magazines and conferences, it will improve the quality of training itself.