Do we really need Training & Development?…not in the way we think we do

By: | Posted in: Be Expertise / Be Listening, Industrial Era / Social Era | Wednesday, Feb 9, 2011 - 9:02pm

“Education is a self organizing system where learning is an emergent phenomena.” ~S. Mitra



If you’ve read my introductory posts on this site, you are familiar with the distinction between Training and Education. One of the things Sugata’s work is demonstrating is that Training – and the presence of a Trainer – can interfere with Education. What are the implications for learning in organizations? Consider the traditional, industrial-era approach to Training & Development: the approach can be distilled down to 3 basic principles [in brackets after each principle is an expression of what is really going on]:

  1. develop a detailed and rigorous understanding of the content (knowledge, skills, etc.) that the participant must internalize [identify the new performance specifications that the machine must meet]
  2. create an experience and/or materials that will ensure uniform and consistent transfer of that content from Trainer to participant [design a process for most efficiently updating all existing machines to meet the new specifications]
  3. develop and implement a methodology for accurately assessing participants’ internalization of the content [inspect machines after they have been updated to ensure that they meet the new specifications]

Yes, I realize I’m being unfair to the T&D function….but perhaps only a bit unfair. In my experience, Trainers and OD professionals don’t see the participants in their programs as machines and the overwhelming majority of them do operate out of a genuine desire to contribute. However, the assumptions that inform their approach to Training are deeply rooted in the industrial era’s view of human beings as one of the material resources of the organization, one of the machines that must be made to be efficient (note that we still insist on referring to Human Capital and Human Resources instead of acknowledging what we are actually dealing with: Human Beings – messy, unpredictable, creative, individual Human Beings).

The economy – and the world – that is emerging simply doesn’t allow us to continue to engage our employees – and our children – this way. We must create systems that allow for true learning versus machine-like training, that allow for the voice of the individual learner and the complex, unpredictable interaction of communities of learners. As Sugata points out, true learning is an emergent phenomena and as such we are not able to control it in the way that we can causal phenomena (a human being is capable of engaging in both, a machine only in the latter). In keeping with the theme of this conversation platform:

We must come to see that we Train human machines so as to eliminate Surprise, to make them more predictable; we Educate human beings so as to create the possibility for Surprise, to allow them to express what is there for them to express – and in doing so, to create value for themselves and our businesses.

Finally, take note of the role of the ‘Granny Cloud’ in the video: this is the role not of Expert Trainer but of Committed Listener; this is the frontier (or at least part of the frontier) for those of us in Organizational Practice. For the entirety of our history as professionals, we have been encouraged to Know and to Speak from that Knowing in a way that causes others to repeat what we Know; what is emergent for us is to Inquire and to Listen from our Inquiry in a way that allows others to say what only they can say.

P.S., in addition to the video above, I’d encourage you to watch Sugata’s first TED talk (this one is his second) as well as all three of Ken Robinson’s TED talks.