Thursday, October 08, 2009

Five Reasons Why Command-and-Control Learning May Not Work

After I wrote the rather 'autobiographical' note on how I got frustrated in my efforts to establish an open learning-orientated environment in a training organization, which, I reasoned, would have triggered culture change and resulted in greater commitment and team work, I was reminded by some of the readers that I have not explained fully why I think command-and-control learning is such a bad thing. Yet others reminded me that corporate learning can not happen in a cafeteria format, and companies do not pay for learning to educate people but to get the job done. So, they reasoned, the companies must focus the learning efforts of an individual on what they need, rather than on the whims and fancies of the individual employees. In summary, they suggested the opposite conclusion from my own: the pendulum actually is swinging away from my own, learner-directed learning end.

I think I made one mistake in my previous post. I stated that I do not like command-and-control systems at all, and hence dislike such approaches to learning. But that was my heart speaking. But this should not take away anything from the rationale why a 'social', peer- and learner-driven learning environment is better than directed training environments. Here are 10 top reasons why such a shift is inevitable.

(1) Because the nature of work is shifting. Daniel Pink makes the point in his brilliant 'A Whole New Mind' - work is not what it used to be. He points out that three factors - abundance, asia and automation - are changing the nature of work and skill requirements across the world. So, anything that could be automated and/or outsourced, will be automated and/or outsourced, and with affluence, the customer expectations will rise beyond the basics and they would start expecting us to add value at every interaction. Us here is all our front-line staff, who take their calls or meet them at the door. And, in the context of this rapid shift, we, the managers or the training experts, do not really know what's needed. We have to let everyone think for themselves.

(2) Because, it is rather an old theory Chris Argyris propagated, people usually work at their lowest level of competence and motivation in an autocratic organization. One would work just as much to keep getting their salaries. Similarly, they will learn just as much to keep their jobs. And, as Professor Argyris pointed out, they will seek their meaning of life, involvement and commitment outside work. That's not what we want; do we?

(3) Because, it is not enough to do today's job well, but to prepare for tomorrow. The organizations which are too transaction focused, indeed the one I referred to earlier was very much so, tend to become a victim of changing circumstances. And, as I discussed, even being a government contractor is no longer a stable business. So, in that kind of setting, how could a manager possibly know what's best for their staff?

(4) Because, in the current world, the responsibility of learning needs to shift to staff. The companies can neither tell them what to learn, nor it can bear the responsibility of their learning. Like, they are unwilling to take the responsibility of their livelihood, they need to shed the responsibility of their learning and moving forward. Yet, one can not make learning redundant. And, hence, one must create a culture to induce people to learn, rather than pushing them into it.

(5) Because, technology makes it easy to facilitate learning and yet keep a handle on what's going on. Consider this to be a self-service environment of learning, where one can control the inducements and keep a track of consumption real time. Without that, the self-service may not have been possible or would have resulted in spiralling costs.

What I think will happen is that a continuous movement towards Social Learning, where learners do not only learn by themselves, but they will collaborate in and across groups, tell the organization what they need to learn and even create materials and resources to share across the network. This will create tremendous opportunities for the organizations, and a different set of challenges, including those related to copyright laws etc. However, one must remember that laws must be created to keep the world functioning, and the world should not stop functioning the way it should because of some law.

So, I remain confident that we shall be moving towards more self-directed learning, not less.

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