No Employee Left Behind

I had an interesting – if not somewhat depressing – conversation with my six-year-old’s teacher the other day. This woman is in her sixties, and has been teaching perhaps longer than I’ve been alive. My daughter simply adores her, and I think she does a fantastic job at reaching the kids. That’s what made the discussion rather sad.

She was describing to me how one day the county sent an observer to watch her class. The teacher went about her day, touching on all the curriculum points, and the students were happy and attentive. After school, the observer took her aside and told her that she was doing a wonderful job, but they would like to see her reading from the curriculum book more. There is too much deviation.

I won’t forget the look on her face as she was recounting the conversation with the observer. I can only describe it as defeated. Here is an educator who has spent most of her life shaping young minds, and now she is forced to follow strict guidelines and requirements, with very little wiggle room to meet individual needs.

I am sure that the educational leaders in my school system understand that children learn in different ways and at different speeds, but in the name of pragmatism, budget cuts, and “results” the children are given a one-size-fits-all approach where the teachers are often are simply expected to be delivery vessels for the curriculum, and not encouraged to treat children differently based on their own talents and learning styles.

After lamenting the state of my children’s education system, I began thinking about the state of training and development today. We all understand that people learn in different ways, but do we put that into practice? For all the theory about learning that exists, are we still building one-size-fits-all strategies and forcing everyone to go along? Just because we are no longer children does not mean we don’t all have individual learning preferences and needs.

If you haven’t already, take a look at some of the theories behind the way people learn. There is Fleming’s VARK learning profile, which can determine if you are a visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic learner. David Kolb has an inventory to determine if you are a converger, diverger, assimilator or accommodator. Anthony Gregorc  developed a learning model that looks perceptual qualities (concrete and abstract) an ordering abilities (random and sequential). The list goes on and on and even delves into assessments such as Myers-Briggs and Hogan.

With all of this information available, how is it that – for the most part – we treat the workforce as one singular entity? Granted, things are changing. The latest trend is to move learning out of the classroom, and allow learners to work at their own pace and on their own schedule. However, is this because it is beneficial to the learner? Or just because companies like to save money and can do so by discouraging face to face training?

However, advances in technology are truly a game changer for corporate education. Although advances in technology can be overwhelming, they also allow an organization to meet individual learner needs and be innovative without going back to a one-on-one apprenticeship model. Although the classroom is still the best form of training for many content areas, the advantages of online synchronous and asynchronous training are also well established. Each progression of learning technology and modalities brings us closer to delivering a unique learner experience.

But how does this new frontier of social and mobile learning really make a difference? I say “new” only because organizations are still wrestling with how to leverage these new technologies for learning. Social media technologies represent an opportunity to capture the way people collaborate and learn in their real lives. These methods of interaction – sharing information, commenting on subjects, making recommendations, etc. – have been going on since people could communicate. Technology now allows an organization to facilitate these interactions, formalize them, and incorporate them into the learning platform.

Mobile technology does the same thing. People are already practically living their lives through their smartphones, one survey found that Android users spend almost an hour a day using their phones. Why not deliver learning in a method with which learners are already quite comfortable? We have been waiting ages for a way to deliver chunks of relevant content to the right people at the right time, and mobile technology now makes this possible.

Learning technology vendors in today’s market recognize the value of these technologies and what they represent for the evolution of learning. In most cases you can end up with what is essentially one solution that is capable of meeting the needs of any group of learners you can create within your organization. Your company can make sure that there is “No Employee Left Behind.”

As a practical example of the technology needs of the emerging workforce, I recently had a discussion with my nine-year-old’s teacher as well. My daughter has to complete a certain amount of reading each week, and encouraging her to complete her reading has become a struggle. I began letting her read her books on a Kindle, and her reading has since been exceeding the requirements. I did check with the teacher to be sure it was okay to use the Kindle for in-class reading, but once I showed her the ability to highlight passages of interest and make notes, she was sold. While I would be the first to decry the death of the printed book, I no longer have to fight with my daughter to finish her reading.

David Wentworth

Brandon Hall Group

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