Monday, February 09, 2009

Jumping back up on the 'mandatory' soap box

Last time I addressed this issue, I got into serious trouble and wound up having to delete the post. But a presentation at the recent Learning Technologies conference has once again raised this matter on my radar, and I'm sorry, but it has to be said. Again.

In the L&D business, we are dealing with adults!

"Well, duh!" I hear you say. Except that it's nowhere near as well duh as I would like.

One of the primary reasons I didn't become a school teacher (in spite of an aptitude test that returned a massive spike for teaching) was because I didn't ever want to be faced with a group of people who were there against their will. I wanted all my learners to be there by choice.

So why oh why do we try to force adults to complete our learning programmes?

The presentation I am referring to covered the learning support provision around a change programme within an organisation. They made it mandatory.

Now, I don't know about you, but my experience of making things mandatory with busy adults is that they have the power of veto. They just say no: either explicitly or tacitly. I have been in several meetings over the years when I have pointed out that the worst culprits for not completing 'mandatory' programmes is senior management. I have asked what they plan to do do address the fact that the SMT might simply opt not to complete the learning programme and have lost count of the number of times the response has been of the order of "Well, they just must". Oh yeah? Or what?

Well, the answer in this particular organisation is that they linked completion of the training programme to departmental budgets. No training completion, no budget approval. And for good measure, no bonuses either.

The presenter seemed to see this as a good thing and referred to it as the 'carrot'. Sorry, but to me, that looks like a stick. A carrot would be an increased budget, a team weekend away, an increased bonus, new laptops... something along those lines. A carrot is a reward, not the threat of loss of standard affordances.

But surely the best thing you can do is develop a resource that is worth their while to use? And by involving the user community/target audience along the way, the resource is already on its way to being owned by the community by the time it is launched. And if you build in ways for the community to contribute to the material, it becomes even more theirs.

Now I'm not that naive. I have built facilities for user generated content into solutions I have designed in the past, and they have been used very little and then fizzled out. But I don't believe that this reduces the validity of the approach. We simply need to sell it better. To get more buy-in. To get the comms people on board. To have a few evangelists out there among the general populace. And the issues we address need to be important to the community. We will only identify those with any accuracy if we involve them in the solution itself, instead the whole 'done to' thing.

Making a thing mandatory is not the way forward. Think about the longer term. You might be able to claim a 98% take-up rate for your solution, but how much learning actually went on? How much change will you see in the workplace? And how much damage have you done to people's attitudes to learning solutions? As if our jobs weren't tough enough as it is!

I know that you could stop reading this blog at any time. You have that freedom. And I wouldn't deprive you of it. I'm thrilled that you're here, but I'm not going to force you to stay. I simply have to work hard to make sure that you want to stick around and see what I have to say tomorrow.

I like to approach learning solutions in the same way. There are going to be all sorts of recommendations to you to swing by. All sorts of signposts that tell you this is a good place to come for help. And when you do, I'm going to bust a gut to make sure that your experience is such that you'll stick around. That you'll come back. That you'll tell the guy at the next desk about it.

Because you're a grown-up. A busy one. And I respect that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Karyn, this is amazing you have summed it up beautifully. True, instead of forcing people to go through the mandatory courses, it is much better approach to develop content that is gripping and the learner is hooked.

Another important thing, when the work is done with passion, it has the depth and magnetism without the toil associated with quality work. The people who create these courses should love the work and know the art of creating interest. The hearts are perfect! Happy Valentines Day to you and to your shady character!