Guest Editor - Michael Cannon

After a golf lesson, my handicap dropped from 11 to 5. One piano lesson prepared me for the recital. I participated in a sales bootcamp, and now I’m trained and ready to hit the streets.

Everyone recognizes the folly of the first two statements. And yet, in the world of corporate L&D, the approach reflected in the third statement is far too common. Need to be a better presenter? Take a presentation skills class. Need to improve your negotiation skills? Take a negotiation class. Just promoted to management? Take a new manager class.

The concept of needing more than just formal training isn’t new. Models, such as The Center for Creative Leadership’s 70:20:10, Dan Pontefract’s Pervasive Learning, and Bersin by Deloitte’s Continuous Learning, address the need for experiential and social learning. I would like to share my views on some tough questions.

Why do corporate learning programs still rely heavily on formal training?

It’s what we know how to design, develop and deliver. It’s what our business stakeholders and learners understand and expect, and what we think we know how to measure. We also have some level of control over the training environment.

Whose job is it to ensure experiential and social learning are implemented?

It’s our job! Our job as learning professionals is not training; our real job is to sustain behavior change and improve performance. If we could give every employee a pill to improve performance, we would. Since no such pill exists, we rely on L&D interventions. However, unless they consistently include more than formal training, they will not produce sustained behavior change, and we will not have done our job.

What is our bare minimum responsibility?

  1. Explain to business leaders that performance improvement will only happen if they support L&D interventions that include on-the-job practice, feedback, reflection and peer-to-peer support (i.e., experiential and social learning).
  2. Set realistic expectations for learners by explaining the Real Learning Curve. Constantly explain that formal training (e.g., e-learning) is only the beginning of the learning process. Without a commitment to ongoing practice, reflection and acting on feedback, new skills cannot be developed. Ensure learners understand it’s normal that the first time applying a new skill results in reduced performance.
  3. Don’t just tell participants to apply formal learning or develop their own “after class action plan.” If this is all we do, we are abdicating our responsibilities as learning professionals. Develop and fight for programs that include designed experiences and reinforcement outside the classroom that guide learners through the experiential and social phases of learning.

The bare minimum steps are difficult. At Red Hat, we’ve been on the journey for over two years, and still have some distance to go. Like most learning organizations, we don’t have direct authority to force business leader support or employee commitment to experiential and social learning. Nonetheless, I believe we have to ensure it happens. Otherwise, there won’t be sustained behavior change or performance improvement. And without that, what values have we actually delivered?