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Parkin Space: The Tail is Wagging the Dog

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In learning, process is more important than either content or technology. I find it frustrating that trainers still view e-learning as technology-with-content, instead of as a set of learning processes that exploit technology. Because of this, the training profession continues to abdicate to a gang of software developers our responsibility to evolve new learning processes.

Training is not the only field impacted by Internet technologies. Sales, services, and marketing, to name a few, have been fundamentally changed in many companies. The job of a marketing manager today is very different from what it used to be. The ultimate marketing goals may be the same, but they are achieved with a different set of tools and a number of processes inconceivable a decade ago. Search engine marketing, deep data mining, dynamic environments, rapid product creation, contextual advertising, cross-media strategies and real-time personalization of customer experiences, are simply par for the course. Marketers have seized the opportunities, imposed their will on the technology, and forged new processes that get them to their goals.

What have trainers done?

The view that e-learning is just “classes online” still holds sway. Our understanding of our customers (the learners as individuals) is as primitive as ever. Tailoring a learning experience to the needs, abilities, and goals of the individual just does not happen (outside some classrooms). In a world of real-time micro-transactions, we are still batch processing our e-learners. The internet presents opportunities to create and implement learning processes that are departures from the processes we grew up with in everyday classroom environments, with exciting prospects for performance improvement. Yet we are so reluctant to explore and experiment. We will take yesterday’s learning process and force it into today’s technology, and when it fails, we will decry the technology.

Trainers are not less intelligent, less dynamic, or less diligent than their marketing colleagues, so why have we been so much slower to leverage technology? Perhaps it’s because we are fighting much more entrenched paradigms with less generous budgets. Perhaps it’s because the benefit of better-performing teams and individuals is undervalued in senior management circles. I suspect it’s because we allow vendors of software to invent our future for us – we are going with the flow instead of dictating it.

And the problem is becoming entrenched. Training departments are advertising for Instructional Designers all the time, yet so often the skills they specify relate to authoring tools, not conceptual architecture or pedagogy. People wanting to move into a career in e-learning (short-sighted as that may be) are taking courses that give them ID diplomas. Yet the focus of so many of those courses is on building competency in authoring tools, not on developing the understanding of learning that allows one to transcend mundane approaches to improving performance.

The basic ways in which training and learning have taken place over the centuries should be just as subject to accelerated improvement as the processes in any other field. Those improvements should be driven by those best equipped to conceive them. If anyone should be actively seeking better ways to accomplish their task, it should be those engaged in training – after all, our generic goal is to prepare people for the future, not to shackle them to the past.

Read all of Godfrey Parkin's columns at his TrainingZone Parkin Space

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