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Parkin Space: Is the Trainer an Endangered Species?


In the minds of many trainers, e-learning has taken on a life of its own – as if it exists outside of their control. Every survey over the past five years has had corporations calling for greater and greater percentages of their training to be done online. So is the trainer an endangered species?

Optimistic trainers say that learning technology will make their lives easier or richer. Pessimists see themselves losing their livelihoods. Pragmatists scramble to enroll in courses that promise to teach them e-learning authoring skills. But what if you don’t want to become a Dreamweaver expert or a Flash guru? What if you, like me, see learning as much too important to be left to the e-learning geeks?

A computer equipped with Microsoft Word will not make an untalented, unskilled person into a world-class writer, nor will a blogger account. But a good writer might exploit such technologies where appropriate and relevant. Had blogging been around when James Joyce wanted to write, he would have been drawn to it as a form of unfettered self-expression, requiring neither editor nor publisher. (Imagine reading Ulysses in blog-sized chunks, with every day’s episode coming to your RSS reader from Joyce sitting hunched over his wireless PDA in the corner of a pub).

Good trainers, like good writers, will exploit new technologies only in so far as they help to fulfill their vision. The technology may influence that vision, but it should never be allowed to corrupt or dominate it. The ability to understand training needs, analyse the learning environment, interpret the objectives and constraints of the learners, conceive a learning process that will be effective, and manage its creation and deployment is not yet available at the click of a mouse.

The skilled, talented, committed professional in training is an “old-school tool” that will remain integral to learning no matter how cool the digital evolution becomes. Learning is a process. We often forget, no matter how exotic the enabling technology, that at the beginning and end of every business process is a human being. Every process is conceived and architected by people to achieve goals that are decided on by people. In a decade or so, machines and software may start to evolve themselves. But in the meantime the electronic systems that we have are products of – and servants to – real human beings.

Naturally, human beings change, sometimes rather rapidly. Trainers should be in tune with the evolving needs and preferences of their learners. If, on average, a group of learners is indicating that they learn better with processes or experiences that are wildly different from those the trainer has grown comfortable with, the trainer must adapt. This is not easy to do. Even if an individual trainer sees the benefit of a fundamental shift in approach, his or her colleagues or managers may be skeptical or outright hostile to a move away from established “best” practices.

One of the paradoxes of e-learning is that you need an open mind to see and embrace the potential of web technologies, yet many e-learning practitioners are incapable of seeing beyond their new-found comfort zone. There is a bigger context out there, an ever-changing learning landscape. It’s one you cannot see clearly if buried in your chosen technology du jour. True learning professionals are able to keep their heads and exercise all their options when all those around them are clutching at Macromediocrity.

The technologies available to us are simply tools. The trainer is the craftsman. The trainer is an indispensable conceiver, creator and driver of the training process, whether those processes are online, face-to-face, automated, interactive, immersive, text-based, synchronous, asynchronous, mentored, phone-based, or drawn with a stick in the sand.

* Read more of Godfrey's columns at Parkin Space.


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