How L&D became masters of doing the wrong thing

In a comment to Niklas Angmyr’s post on the subject of learning, corporate learning and the article Making Corporate Learning work by Shlomo Ben-Hur and Nik Kenley, Niklas get one of the authors to comment, namely Nik Kenley, and a very interesting point is made:

Corporate learning has behavioral change as its main goal – not learning. The clinch is that the L&D departments across the globe DO have learning as its main goal – not behavioral change.

Why does this matter? It’s similar to leaving your car at the mechanic’s expecting a tune-up and getting it washed, because the mechanic didn’t have tune-up as her main goal but to get your car as good looking as possible. Not only will the car malfunction as before, but you’d probably still get charged for the washing you didn’t ask for.

Arguing about how to best make sure people learn is therefore all beside the point. Is it more effective to extract learning from work than to add learning to it? This is a totally meaningless debate. What the discussion should be about is of course how we get people to change. The thing is, this also makes the 70/20/10 model moot as it’s about how people learn. Even if it is correct in describing the ways of learning to the very last percentage, it doesn’t really matter if it’s the 10, 20 or 70 if we’d be better off not looking at learning at all.

Learning should be seen as one of many possible inputs to a change process. The outputs are the motivation, commitment, behavioral change and result.

I attended a three day certification course/workshop on the New World Four Levels of Kirkpatrick some months ago and one of the biggest revelations for me was that the model wasn’t at all that focused on learning and its measuring as I’d previously thought. There’s belief to the contrary but I suspect that this depends on them not researching the newest version of the model but just basing their opinions by assuming that it’s the same as it ever was when it was created 50+ years ago.

Stating this revelation out loud in class didn’t go that well though. Here’s what I said: “If we’d make sure we get an optimally stated end-result and also get the proper leading indicators, their critical behavior and their supporting organizational drivers down… Then we could produce bad training, or even skip it completely, and still get that end-result!” Jim Kirkpatrick smiled and nodded in silent agreement when outcries where heard from around us in the room.

“You can’t eliminate training! That’s what L&D do! That’s what our companies want!” with mutters of agreement going around the room…

Jim answered this training assuredness onslaught with an anecdote about his father, Donald Kirkpatrick, saying the same thing to him. I don’t think that anyone else got the message but me. Jim agreed but we let the subject rest right there and then.

The new world Kirkpatrick model isn’t about training or learning. It’s all about making sure the changes we want are identified, analyzed, measured, supported and met. (And “supported” does not mean Learning as the only option by far.)

Nik Kenley continues the comment of Niklas Angmyr’s post by saying:

“The methods and mechanisms of how to change behavior are different from how to help people learn, and therefore, by seeing Corporate Learning as being about learning rather than behavior change, Corporate Learning Functions have been approaching the task ineffectively.”

So, should we really bask L&D for not getting any real organizational result? No, because that would be like asking the car washer to tune-up your car.