Ask not for whom the Reaper comes

My colleagues and I often get cast as informal learning zealots in pieces written to placate the training industry and maintain the status quo, especially the lucrative compliance training market. Actually, given the tone of some articles and presentations, I am certain many people think of us in even less friendly terms.

So…now you get back to Training and they’re sitting around the fire at the mouth of the Training cave hugging their storyboards to their chests like flotation devices in a water landing. They’re in a trance and chanting ADDIE over and over…rocking back and forth and hugging those storyboard for dear life. And here you come, dragging your new stakeholder relationship and your sparkling new EPSS behind you, or your cheap-as-heck Web services portal, or your SharePoint, or your WordPress site. Your silhouette looks to many of your peers like that of the grim reaper. Several are updating resumes. Others whimper softly, “Please don’t make me change.” – Gary Wise

The Grim Reaper seems an appropriate image. My colleague Charles Jennings looks at workplace learning from the perspective of Experience, Exposure & Education; with the latter accounting for about ten percent of time and effort. The Reaper looks for those who spend 100% of their efforts only supporting the ten percent. The Reaper knows that work is learning and learning is the work. Workplace learning means much more than courses and management systems. I have said many times that courses are artifacts of a time when information was scarce and connections were few. That time has passed. The Reaper is looking for those who insist on living in the past.

While the course purveyors look to “leverage” informal and social learning for their schooling tools, they should note that levers are designed to move things, and it will be the courses that move – into a darker corner. As my colleague Jane Hart shows in this image, there is a lot of room to expand as a learning and performance consultant.

In an increasingly complex workplace, many of the old models are no longer useful. Schooling, the basis of much of corporate training, is one of these. Connections to almost unlimited information show how much more powerful Pull learning is to Push, like self-taught African teens and hole-in-the-wall learning. A generation of self-taught learners outside the western schooling model is becoming the next global workforce, and more importantly, your competition.

Ask not for whom the Reaper comes – he comes for you.

6 Responses to “Ask not for whom the Reaper comes”

  1. Carol Anderson

    Have been following your blog for awhile now, and am just getting started on my own. Your colleague’s definition is terrific, but very difficult to convey to the operational folks. I think that will be my life’s crusade – to get rid of the term “training” and replace it is “learning” in the corporate environment. Learning is more difficult and more time consuming, but it is the only way to effect organizational change.

    Found a quote from Descartes back in grad school that really turned on a light bulb….

  2. Ara Ohanian

    Harold, as you know I’ve been following your blog for some time. As the CEO of a global learning technologies innovator I can say that the status quo firmly needs to be challenged. And it’s in everybody’s interests that it is. From Jane Hart’s emphasis on the new roles for learning and development professionals to Charles’ stress on the need to move beyond the 10 percent, it’s clear that traditional training methods cannot keep up in today’s business environment. Organizations are moving faster than their L&D departments unless we change we can only expect to become irrelevant.

  3. Gary Wise

    Thanks, Harold, it’s always nice to be appreciated. Am glad to see the informal side of learning gaining traction beyond the reach of training. Liked your post!

  4. Brenden

    Great post and topic. I’m passionate about the learning campaign – not the event (learning events are great of course if they are actually used the next day or minute at work). I also think about it as 90ten Learning. Looking at 70, 20, 10 principles, it’s the 10% that are distinct – that are contrived, the 20 much less so and the 70, really not at all. If we work in the 10 (i.e. most contracts we win are in the 10), my feeling is to exploit the 90. It’s the campaigns that win the war, make us all battle hardy and learning ready… Sorry for the rant, but your post is right in line with my own direction, great blog – thanks Harold.


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