I’m a Worry-Wart | Heretic | Luddite

It’s official – I’m a worry-wart, a heretic, and a Luddite.

There, I said it.

I feel like a heretic lately, even though I swear I’m not and don’t generally like Luddites. And I rarely worry too much… well, until lately. What’s got me going?

Are you sitting down?

What’s My Problem?

Social learning, informal learning, microlearning, and other bright-shiny-object learning thingies.

See? I told you. I’m a worry-wart, a heretic, and a Luddite. I’m so disappointed in myself. And I’m probably one post-publish away from a good lashing by the training community, including some bright, talented and published people whom I respect. But I don’t own a conflict-avoidance filter, so I’m going there anyway. I need to get this out and I do seriously invite responses by those who believe differently. Hey, it’s likely I have something to learn here.

Objects in the Rear View Mirror | Perspective

To toot my own horn for a moment, I’ve orchestrated some major organizational performance lifts in my career and delivered multi-million dollar returns on training investment. I know that isn’t common in the “training” or “learning” industry, so maybe that’s why I’m seeing things differently. (I’m not 100% sure about that, but I am pretty certain someone will tell me where to put that statement. 😉  I seriously don’t mean that to be egotistical or demeaning, I have just had a somewhat different, hardcore performance focus than many (but certainly not all) of the training industry folks I’ve met.

Social Learning | Informal Learning

Back to the topic. Look, I support the concept of “social learning” as it’s being talked about today. But for the record, social learning isn’t new, just the tools we’re using today that are new. Informal learning has been happening since we emerged from the primordial ooze. I guarantee it was around before Mager or Gilbert.  But okay, I agree with the idea of creating platforms to harness, direct, or at the very least “encourage” it. Smart move. Encourage the sharing of information, learning, and especially finding the answers you need when you need them. Not much different than the concept of job aids, EPSS or other performance support aids. Just an evolution aided by more technology and the changes in interaction brought about by the social media movement. (Is that the big deal here? Maybe I am so ingrained in social media myself that I’m not seeing this as something magical?)  I’m still at a loss about how it’s going to improve organizational performance, though. What am I missing?

Microlending. Er… Learning.

Microlearning isn’t new either, but given the glut of information available today, the pace of change, and the myriad of tools for dissemination, finding ways to support learning in snippets (again, what you need when you need it) is smart. Orchestrating that may be quite an execution challenge – do you know anyone who’s implemented a great EPSS system lately? But that’s another post.

How’s That Been Working For Ya?

The other thing I worry about is that informal learning has been working so poorly for so many years, that now we’re going to try to make it a formalized, ineffective channel. LOL, okay, I say that partly tongue-in-cheek, but I am also partly serious. Come on, you know what I mean. In most organizations, there isn’t formalized training with learning objectives and experiential learning activities designed for every level employee in every function of every department. So how do people learn how to do their jobs? The person next to them. Good ol’ on the job training. Then, they “pick up” stuff over time, from various people or sources… informal learning.  Does this “work?”  Sure. It’s been “working” for years.  Knowledge varies widely and performance is all over the board.  Usually, I go into organizations and “fix” that problem for key positions, so effective learning occurs and performance improves, but that’s probably why I’m jaded. Because I don’t even do that with just formal training, but formal training embedded in aligned performance systems.

Is It OJT?  (If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.)

Back to the topic. So, if we’re talking about providing some structure for OJT to ensure consistency and best practices, with preparation, good explanations (chunk, sequence, and layer, oh my!), communication checks, demonstrations, trial runs with feedback, and some performance observation with coaching to get performance going well… by golly, I’m onboard. But that’s structured OJT and (in some cases/places) that’s been around for years, so I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here, either. Otherwise, we’d be talking about training everyone on teaching skills, communication skills, and coaching skills, and then have them teach each other and newcomers, especially rewarding managers and top performers to share their knowledge. (Hooo boy. Don’t even get me started on teaching OD and performance consulting to every single organizational manager, because that’s their real job. No, let’s not go there. 😉

Bright Shiny Object, Right Corner Pocket

So, I guess what I’m really worried about here is that at the focus on all these bright shiny objects and buzzwords takes the focus off the big performance picture. Organizational learning, formal or informal, micro or macro, and whether “learning” or “training” or “education,” is not an end in itself. Well, at least not to me, especially not if I’m a CEO and paying for it.  It is a means to the end of organizational performance, gained through the good, collective performance of individual employees.  And although it’s probably never been different during times of evolution (remember when programmed instruction, video, CBT, WBT and blended learning were each the Next Big Thing?), I worry that critical training, OD and real performance work is getting lost in the glare.  Perhaps it’s my own limitation, but I can’t yet imagine a world where well-designed and implemented training isn’t going to be required to ensure employees know what, why, how, where and when to do things (apply skills in the most effective way to produce the desired goal). Or, that various organizational systems won’t need to be in alignment.  Since we rarely seem to get to that phase of performance development, and since it is proven to be effective, why isn’t *that* the brightest, shiniest new object in the business and training/learning/performance worlds? And how is social learning, microlearning or informal learning going to get us there?

Please Don’t Hurt Me

Take your best shot. Please. I probably need to be straightened out and I’ll take it well. I certainly need to stop worrying. Maybe the answer is that these things co-exist and will support each other, but I only hear about some of them. The bright shiny ones. Not the boring ones that are brutally hard work (and not solely training/learning work).

Lastly, death threats are not necessary. Fight with your brain. Most of this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, anyway. (The key word being “most.” 😉

With thanks in advance for your thoughts,


mike_kunkle at mindspring dotcom


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Mike Kunkle

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