Learning And Development: Anyone Can Do It… Right?

Learning And Development: Anyone Can Do It… Right?
Summary: The belief that anyone can build or deliver training permeates many corporate cultures. This article attempts to identify what drives the cavalier attitude toward Learning and Development: That anyone can do it.

Why People Believe That Anyone Can Create Learning And Development Programs 

In my fifteen years-experience working in Learning and Development, I have come across more than a handful of people who either directly or indirectly demonstrated the belief that anyone can build or deliver training. Learning professionals witness this when leaders task Subject Matter Experts with creating and delivering “training”, usually PowerPoint decks on steroids delivered to passive audiences, or when business leaders fail to distinguish between communication and training. While most learning professionals undoubtedly deem this attitude as annoying, counterproductive, and even disrespectful, most rational people do not go out of their way to denigrate another individual’s profession. So what drives this cavalier attitude toward training, that anyone can do it? In the space below, I explore 3 possibilities.

  1. A misunderstanding of what constitutes training.
    This dynamic stems from mistaking communication and training as interchangeable. The use of “understand” or “know” as learning objectives act as red flags that a would-be training professional cannot differentiate between training and communication. A savvy Instructional Designer avoids using “understand” as a learning objective due to its incompatibility with measurement. One cannot measure an ethereal concept like understanding. Knowledge, while technically measureable by rote tests, is not much better. Whether or not you agree with the specifics of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a strictly knowledge-based objective measures nothing more than the ability to parrot information. If pseudo objectives such as “understand” and “know” truly satisfy the needs of the situation at hand, the prospective audience likely requires simple awareness, and communication rather than training may suffice. It is the act of advertising such solutions as training by which non-learning professionals create confusion. Training implies the application of knowledge, which in turn manifests in the form of behaviors. Subject Matter Expert driven “training” rarely moves beyond awareness, which means classifying it as training remains suspect at best.
  2. Underestimating the knowledge/experience that learning professionals apply to their craft.
    As demonstrated by the communication/training dynamic, Learning and Development rests upon a foundation that someone who did not specialize in learning would find difficult to navigate. Learning and Development incorporates elements of psychology, biology, visual design, writing, interviewing, delivery, and measurement capabilities at which one grows proficient via a combination of schooling and practice. In this respect it mirrors most other professions such as law, medicine, engineering, or accounting. Except in the rarest of circumstances, a lawyer would not attempt to perform surgery while a surgeon would not moonlight as a city prosecutor. Why? Because each respects the training and experience necessary to perform the other's job well. Why then does training and education tend to produce a high number of quasi-practitioners? Over-estimating one's capabilities due to a perceived familiarity may provide one explanation. Because virtually everyone has attended school in their lifetime, they do have limited context with the field of education. Problems arise when they extrapolate this experience as providing them with the necessary expertise to develop training. After all, they’ve attended school so they know what it’s all about.
  3. Reticence/inability to make a real investment.
    The final reason that prospective clients assign Subject Matter Experts to create or deliver training stems from neither a misunderstanding of the purpose of training nor of the expertise necessary to create it, but instead from monetary restrictions. Developing and implementing interactive training that evokes behavioral change incurs significant costs. When a single simulation-based eLearning can easily run over 40k, businesses may resort to going the Subject Matter Expert route out of expediency or necessity. In situations such as these, one can only hope that the Subject Matter Expert tasked with creating or delivering learning receives support in the form of a train the trainer experience or an Instructional Design fundamentals class. One cannot learn an entire profession in such a manner, but a short Instructional Design seminar or training delivery course can introduce the basics.


So where do we go from here? What is a weary learning professional to do in the face of these misunderstandings? For one thing, all Learning and Development employees can advocate on behalf of the profession. Take the time to explain the differences between communication and training to prospective clients; introduce them to sound practices that demonstrate the value of the profession. If we fail to do so, we only propagate the frustrating dynamic in which we often find ourselves. The best learning professionals not only provide clients with viable solutions, but insight into their process and why it matters.