Against the current at Newsweek

Art Hutchinson offers a striking example of a disconnect. Speaking at Columbia University, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham asked how many of the students read the magazine.

The answer? None.

Hutchinson’s angle is that Newsweek is not only missing the boat, it may be in the wrong harbor. Meacham was trying to nag the students into becoming readers.

I think I understand Meacham’s frustration. In the world of organizational training and learning, we also have good people. We’re also frustrated. And, in many ways, our business as we’ve known it is tanking.

More than 30 years ago, Mager and Pipe wrote Analyzing Performance Problems and gave it the subtitle You Really Oughta Wanna. They were talking about performance problems — urging trainers and managers to look past “training” and see the larger performance system.

Yes, it’s a paddle.  And a pretty big creek.Results have been mixed, though you can hardly blame Mager and Pipe. Sometimes the combination of inertia (the way we’ve trained) and uncertainly (will another way work?) is a powerful barrier to progress.

Even our progress is a barrier. People can and do learn through well-designed courses… so why not seek out better versions of the tools we’ve had all along?

On the other hand, I think of Newsweek and Time as about as relevant as The Saturday Evening Post. Though I’m an avid reader, I get exactly two print magazines — and one’s an annual gift from my parents.

While I think of myself as an eager learner, I haven’t done much learning in formal settings in quite a while. The few cases I can think of in, say, the past 10 years, were essentially intro courses, like learning to use Flash. It was helpful to have a live instructor, and to follow a reasonably organized path through the basics.

But at least 90% of what I learned, I could have learned through a good tutorial combined with practice on my own — including maybe some struggle on my part to figure out what I’d done wrong.

I don’t know what the new world of learning within the organizations is going to look like. Many of them will continue in their hearts to believe in the butts in seats model (however pleasantly labeled). For others, the challenge may be creating and sharing a clear picture of what success on the job looks like — for all kinds of jobs — and then figuring out what tools and what actions best support that.

To paraphrase Hutchinson’s question, what if they launched an LMS and nobody came?

Paddle-in-the-creek photo by jajolll / jack.

2 thoughts on “Against the current at Newsweek

  1. Dave-

    One of the biggest disconnects I see in organizations is between learning/talent management systems, where competency-based training & development for individuals is the way the system (culture?) runs (and which organizations have invested a lot of time/money) and open systems/services/tools where collaborative group learning takes center stage over the individual.

    This, to me, this individual vs. group issues is a huge as getting over the handling of information in a command-and-control environment.

    However, if there were no disconnects, I’d have nothing to write about.

  2. You’re clearly onto something. The strain I see for organizations is how to connect individual/collaborative learning with organizational results. It’s a lot like Kirkpatrick’s level 4: easy to talk about, hard to demonstrate because of all the factors.

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