Self-Advocacy: “Is That All There Is?” Or Can We Add Value To eLearning By Creating A Self Advocacy Culture?

Creating A Culture Of Self-Advocacy  

What does eLearning have to do with:

  • A fire?
  • The circus?
  • Falling in love?

Nothing. At this time in 2016, as far as I can tell, eLearning has nothing to do with a fire, the circus, or falling in love.

In 2016, eLearning professionals are creating and facilitating experiences in which learners develop skills and competencies they need to be excellent in their work roles and support organizational missions.

And in 1969, Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?” spent 10 gloomy, disillusioned weeks on the Billboard chart.

Is that all there is ... to a fire?

Is that all there is ... to the circus?

Is that all there is ... to love?

If she were here today, would not Peggy Lee ask, “Is that all there is ... to eLearning?”

Peggy Lee, the mid-20th century American jazz singer inspiring learners and instructional designers across the globe to create an eLearning culture of self-advocacy in the 21st century.

Peggy Lee, the mid-20th century American jazz singer inspiring learners and Instructional Designers across the globe to create an eLearning culture of self-advocacy in the 21st century.

Although we will never know what contributions Miss Lee might have made to eLearning (*sigh*), I must insist that is not all there is.

Wait! There’s More!

Certainly, we all know colleagues who are 100% on board with eLearning. They proudly call themselves lifelong learners. They intentionally seek out new topics and training providers to challenge themselves. Maybe they even share professional development resources with their training departments!

These folks are, in a word, advocates. And we think they are just wonderful because they reinforce everything we, as Instructional Designers and eLearning professionals, believe in.

Let me be real here though: Rank and file workers don't make “the big bucks”, and going to training does not always translate fast enough to satisfactorily significant improvements in their lives.

Because, see, there is more to life than being a good worker bee for the company.

Your learners might have a two-hour commute to work one-way by bus. They might be raising their children’s children. They might be in unimaginable physical or emotional pain that you don't recognize from the outside.

When we see others in ourselves though, and when we see ourselves in others, then we totally get where they're coming from.

I'm not just a survey respondent or a number on your roster. I'm a person with a history that influences how I perceive and experience eLearning.

I'm not just a survey respondent or a number on your roster. I'm a person with a history that influences how I perceive and experience eLearning.

In my current role administering the Indiana State Library's public librarian certification program, I am keenly aware of Learning and Development's potential to come across as punitive or intrusive.

Surely, readers, you have also heard your learners express sentiments like:

"What do 'they' want us to do now that we don't have time or money for?"

"I only work part-time and I make $8 an hour. Training isn’t worth my time, and my manager isn't going to pay for it."

"If 'they' are going to require continuing education, I'm not going to do it."
I hear ya, workers, loud and clear. I understand your time, energy, and other resources are stretched thin.

But AND I know that each one of you has something special that matters to you personally that you can contribute to your role. Maybe you don't know yet what that is. Maybe you despise your job, or your coworkers or your boss (being real again). Maybe you don’t even believe me or think I have any clue what I’m talking about whatsoever.

Your Learning and Development department cannot make magic or miracles happen that change your job or your boss or your salary.

However: What I can do is create opportunities for you to exercise agency in your professional development. I can encourage you to be an advocate.

Nobody can be happy for you but you, and the only person who can find and execute your purpose is you. We all have to be our own advocates.

Current Learning and Development research and literature prioritizes establishing strong connections between training objectives and business results. Attending training just for the sake of maybe, someday, needing the information (if one can recall it) is out of style.

What was that question Peggy Lee asked though?

Is that all there is?

No, Miss Lee, that does not have to be all there is.

I recently conducted an informal survey with library professionals in a webinar I called “Take It Nice and Easy: Fall in Love with Your Professional Development”. I asked learners to share with me not just what skills they had learned over time about how to be a better, more productive worker, but, rather, how had professional development made them each, in some way, a better person.

Now, I won’t pretend this data is valid, reliable, or statistically significant. This was a strictly informal survey from which I collected anecdotal comments.

However: When I asked them pointedly how professional development had made them better people, here’s what they shared:

Moving from a state that doesn't require it, I feel much more connected now to fellow librarians and the profession in general.

Lets me know I'm not the only one trying to learn new things.”

Gave me more confidence working with patrons on computer problems, IT.

It’s taught me to slow down and focus on what’s important.

Made me more aware of what else I could be doing.

Makes me better-rounded in order to assist others.

"It gives me an excuse to pursue interests outside of my job."

Kept me from getting stuck and to try new things.

Having more patience with patrons and staff.

What if eLearning professionals, learners, and their managers encouraged and celebrated this kind of professional development exploration and self-advocacy?

Sure, not everyone will take you up on the opportunity to explore professional development. We are not such cockeyed optimists to believe that! (Or are we as “incurably green” as Nellie Forbush in Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific? “I suppose I am”, Nellie swooned. “But I can't help it.”)

To that, eLearning professionals, what say you?

Do you see an opportunity to add value to eLearning by creating a culture of self-advocacy?

Are you a “cockeyed optimist” who sees creating a culture of self-advocacy as an opportunity to add value to eLearning initiatives?

Or are you bemoaning, as Peggy Lee did, “that final disappointment”?