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The Learning Trap

On February 12th I attended the pre-meeting for the annual global conference of the Alliance for Talent Development, hosted to perfection by NVO2 and Rabobank.

The afternoon was (over)booked to capacity and this makes quite a lot of sense since five speakers gave previews of three ATD sessions on such diverse topics as the future of learning, the anthropology of learning and, last but not least, talent. I had the privilege to hear Hester van Breda en Marjoleine Heijboer preview their session on becoming a learning anthropologist. It turned out to be a very hands-on session with an excellent brown paper to guide us. Each of the three teams were tasked to work on a case of one of the team members. We worked on motivation, or actually, the lack thereof. The company in question had moved to an open offering of learning and found that this saw very little use. Before we knew it, we had discovered … “the learning trap”.

To be honest, I see this “learning trap” everywhere. Technology is becoming an incredible enabler for time and place independent learning and we’re building open learning systems all over the place. This is primarily driven by economy: it’s simply cheaper to learn electronically and on-demand than to meet face-to-face. It’s also partly driven by value creation: if we can learn at the time of performance, we negate the learning - performing gap and can apply what we learn instantly to improve our performance and KPI’s. So why is it that we see a such sharp decline in learning in these open learning systems? Why is it that leaders only took - on average - 0,8 courses in a two year leadership development program that I facilitated? Why is it that - for a company that openly celebrates talent - I’ve only been able to train nine (of their hundreds of) leaders to become managers of talent? Before you know it, this discussion becomes ‘owned’ by HRD and turned into a motivation issue, such as the one we worked on at the ATD 2015 pre-meeting. I cannot disagree more!

In psychology and in daily life we’re intimately familiar with the positive bias that we have on our own performance. Ask anyone, myself included, who is the better driver and we’ll all answer that we belong to the top 20% teer. It’s only when we receive feedback by others, preferably on-the-spot by my wife in the co-driver seat, that we begin to question our self-assessments. To phrase this more sharply. I believe that we’re positively biased to see ourselves as top performers. If we do so, and if we’re not corrected by our peers and managers through on-the-spot feedback, we’ll see and feel no need to learn. Even when it might be apparent by our lack of performance that we do.

So, dear learning colleagues: I urge you to become organisational developers and engage with managers, leaders and professionals to create on-the-job systems to offer on-the-spot feedback and appraisal. If we don’t, we’ll see this rapid decline of learning continue, we’ll be out of our HR jobs and our companies will fail. We DO need to learn, to become better, but our natures tell us otherwise. Let’s not fall in the learning trap.

Tags: high impact learning, innovation

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