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The 21st Century learning professional: Training delivery is not the big issue


TechnologyHowever high-tech, the method of training delivery comes way down the list of factors that influence how well people learn, says Paul Kearns and the 21st Century learning professional therefore isn't blinded by, or dependent upon, technology.

If you were asked to list all the factors that can influence how well people learn
(and by 'learn' I always mean applying what they've learned) what would be your top five and what order would they be in?

This is a question I have put to many trainers who come on my evaluation workshops. Of course, I always place evaluation at number one; arguing that if no one knows what the potential value of learning is then why should any learner or employer be interested? 'Accurate needs analysis' comes a very close second, followed by having a 'motivated and committed learner' and then 'a well designed learning experience'. Somewhere further down the list will be 'method of delivery'. Admittedly, all of these play a part - but surprisingly, when the participants are only allowed to vote for one factor, they rarely, if ever, choose 'delivery'.

Photo of Paul Kearns"90% of the most important influences on learning effectiveness are determined well before anything is actually delivered at all."

This always strikes me as a learning paradox. The amount of time and effort required to actually prepare a programme for delivery, the number of discussions on and elsewhere about what happens in the classroom and the continuing obsession with how technology can deliver seems to be totally at odds with the lowly position of 'delivery' in the league table of influences. I would hazard a guess that 90% of the most important influences on learning effectiveness are determined well before anything is actually delivered at all.

To illustrate my point I would like to go way back to one of my earliest experiences as a young and green, but very enthusiastic, training manager. At the time the use of comedy videos was very popular in training and one of the most popular was John Cleese's 'Meetings bloody meetings'. I was astounded to find that this is still available today and presumably still being used. You might think my strong reaction is because it is such old technology, but in fact the technology and method of delivery has absolutely nothing to do with it.

My major concern is that in the intervening 25 years I have seen plenty of evidence that the number of meetings seems to have been growing exponentially and their quality has not improved one jot. People spend far too much time in meetings. Often they are called at short notice, without a proper agenda, giving little time for proper preparation and then go on for far too long. Very few chairs appear to have mastered the wide range of skills required to get the best out of meetings and so, instead, act very dictatorially and don't listen or allow everyone to have their say. I could go on, but my conclusion is that, regardless of how funny John Cleese was, the simplest lessons that anyone should be able to understand from his training films have not been widely put into practice.

"Many learning 'technologists' still look down their collective noses at anyone who doesn't use interactive whiteboards, podcasts or digitised content as though it were a crime punishable by death."

Whether you watch it on VHS video, DVD or download it online doesn't make a one iota of difference to the outcome. Yet many learning 'technologists' still look down their collective noses at anyone who doesn't use interactive whiteboards, podcasts or digitised content and ridicule those who are unaware of the latest gadgetry as though it were a crime punishable by death. What they seem to have forgotten is one of the oldest lessons in the bible of learning: that people learn best when they are allowed to learn in a way of their own choosing. Just as some of the youngest of the iPod generation have chosen to include 'outmoded' vinyl in their music collection.

We will never get away from having meetings and video conferencing technology is improving all the time, but until chairs learn how to run meetings well the mode of delivery will count for nothing. The 21st Century learning professional isn't blinded by technology or even comedic brilliance. They know that if all of those other factors crucial to learning effectiveness are in place, then learning is much more likely to be actually applied in the workplace.

Paul Kearns is the author of the CIPD's best selling 'Evaluating the ROI from Learning'. Visit

To read Paul Kearns series The 21st Century learning professional, click on the titles below:

Evaluation: How to turn training dreams into reality

A serious case of mis-diagnosis?

It's the system, stupid

Being strategic

Training isn't learning

Putting evidence in the dock

Let battle commence

You can also join Paul Kearns by signing up to the training professional's Oath

This feature first appeared on site in October 2008


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