Thoughts (OK Rant) on this Month’s Big Question

A colleague of mine, Michael Carter, has a great rule. Any time he hears someone’s name more than three times in the space of a week he immediately picks up the phone and calls that person. I have always enjoyed the sporadic calls from Michael where he lets me know where my name popped up and what prompted his call.

In a strange way, a very similar meme is prompting me to write about this month’s big question. A few days ago I was asked to put in my .02 on the age-old debate on informal learning for a piece in CLO magazine. Then I see that Tony K and Karl brought this topic up as this month’s Big Question. Finally, today I was on a call with Andrew Paradise from ASTD Research today as they are gearing up for a new survey on – you guessed it – informal learning ; )

I many ways, my position (or commiseration) with respect to informal learning has not changed since the last go round on this subject. Only this time, I am a bit more fed up with our profession’s Ivory Tower approach. What is our RESPONSIBILITY for supporting the long tail in learning? Pause for a moment to examine our own language people! What was the buggy whip manufacturer’s responsibility for supporting the non-horse drawn carriage? Are we so self-absorbed in our own hubris that we actually believe we have a choice here. If so, how is it that we have become so deluded and how can we quickly pull our heads out of the sand?

To set the record straight, there is NOTHING informal about a person faced with the realization that they do not have the capability to engage in the very work activity that is required of them to satisfy their company or keep their job. And yet, here we sit in the Ivory Tower of our corporate schoolhouse, declaring the desperate efforts that these overworked and overstressed employees take upon themselves to learn what they can get the job done as being beneath us. Why? Because it is informal. Is it true that we are CHOOSING not to help these good folks because of semantics? If so, come on people! WAKE UP! If not, lets face our fears now and get on with our job of helping develop talent that drives sustainable competitive advantage for the organizaitons that we serve. Whether out of ignorance or fear, the time for inaction is over.

Are we so paralyzed by the classroom as THE only paradigm for learning that we have blinded ourselves to the very real possibility that, as Bill Joy would say, the future does not need us? Information in context is increasingly trumping instruction out of context and if we don’t wake up we are destined to go the way of the dinosaur.

Many of us have lamented how Google is our biggest competitor. This is because Google is often the only lifeline that these good folks have when the work environment surfaces a deficiency in their ability to add value or get their job done.

At least Google provides them with something. How does our profession respond to these teachable moments? Trick question or sad answer: We don’t. Why? Because we claim that the long-tail/informational tools that these desperate souls invoke to quell their survival anxiety is not our RESPONSIBILITY.

We have become increasingly addled by ADDIE, lured by LMSs, and enchanted by e-learning, all the while loosing sight of what matters most: The CLIENT. The poor sap out there in the infoglut feeling increasingly pressured by a world that is more confusing today than it was yesterday. The very same people who joined the company with the vigor and spark of a Supernova who have been now reduced to broken-down lumps of coal. What are we doing to help these poor people at their biggest moment of need?…… ANYONE? ….. I thought so. This is precisely what the client hears from us at their most acute moment of need. A big fat NOTHING. The sound of silence is worst at the greatest moment of need: That teachable moment where learning anxiety has finally trumped survival anxiety. And, our response is to remain silent. We are the king of mum precisely when our expertise is most needed by those that we are supposed to serve. Where is the sanity in this?

Instead of heeding the pleas of our clients, we sit in our Ivory Towers pondering whether or not we – the wonderfully talented learning professionals that we are – hould take RESPONSIBILITY for informal learning.

In another Big Question rant I have already discussed how the status-quo for formal learning is rapidly approaching extinction by painting itself into an increasingly irrelevant corner of our business. You can read that rant here.

In the meantime, I’d suggest we quickly get over ourselves and our hang ups about our responsibilities. We need to get back to basics and start focusing on what matters most: The CLIENT who desperately needs our help in figuring out to stay vital, vibrant and relevant in an increasingly uncertain world.

The glory days of learners as CAPTIVES in CLASSROOMS are over. The web has set them free. If we don’t start to take action soon it may be us who end up being captive to our own limiting paradigms as we continue to marginalize our value to the enterprise to the point of our own extinction.

Thanks for bringing this up Karl and Tony. I feel better now. Got all this off my chest yet again.
I wonder if it will make a lick of difference this time. It has not done so in the past.

The skeptic in me thinks not but I do feel better for having had the chance to vent. Long live the blogosphere ; )O

Leave a comment


  1. Great rant!

  2. Wow, I want to hear you on stage expressing this. Or maybe a podcast. But don’t you think that e-learning professionals suffer from the same problem as “the poor sap out there in the infoglut feeling increasingly pressured by a world that is more confusing today than it was yesterday”? Or should I speak for myself?

  1. Learning Pulse | Xyleme Learning Blog

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