Learning and Development – Roles

20151104_145237In the last post we talked about the need to challenge the assumption of power creating certainty in the area of learning and development. By doing this we could interact differently about the default design of content focused events that create so much OUCH!

We also discussed using what is currently happening regarding learning at senior levels in organizations as a good source of information to challenge this assumption.

The next two posts will focus on the first of four roles that can be played by those of us who are accountable in some fashion for learning and development within an organization. These roles however need to be redefined from what we might expect them to be given the current way we tend to understand them. Regardless if you are the senior L&D person, an instructional designer, a learning co-coordinator, a facilitator or have some other accountability these roles are important.

The roles below are listed in what I think are the order of importance for having the greatest influence on interactions that can reduce the OUCH! in learning and development. In addition each role is accompanied by a mantra, or more accurately, a day to day intention, given the posts on strategy.

Interestingly, what tends to happen given the hidden nature of the assumption that power creates certainty in learning and development is that these roles get reversed. We are pushed toward, or find ourselves primarily in the role of, or supporting the role of facilitator. When this happens all the other roles are significantly constrained and their impact dramatically diminished. The facilitator role is important in learning and development. If that role is expected to deliver what the other roles need to do however, it will fail in this regard.

One key sign that you are in, or supporting the role of facilitator in your organization is that there is a proliferation of content in learning initiatives. By this I mean you are constantly looking for new content to deliver or make available, you are consistently talking about how to find time for more content delivery in your learning designs or that you are regularly looking for new and better experts and facilitators to create and/or deliver content.

If there is an abundance of learning content in your organization it is highly likely the facilitator role is primary. This will also mean there is likely a lot of OUCH! in your learning and development work. This can be altered by interacting differently; by considering the roles listed below.

Role Mantra


The designer role is exactly what it says; designing learning and development initiatives. The mantra, or day to day intention is ‘more interaction’. Because the left loop in the interaction model is so stable regarding learning design, it is hard to over emphasize the importance of this mantra. Often what happens when the roles above are reversed is that the design role becomes very narrow, focusing only on how to design a learning initiative where facilitation of content is the primary variable. The design concern becomes one of ‘how can we fit in another role play’ rather than ‘how can we best change patterns of behavior and interaction’.

Interaction Model

The design role we are focusing on is one that acknowledges (that knows!) behavior and interaction change occur over time, through multiple interactions and with a focus on context. That a new left loop is being created and the learning design needs to have as many opportunities for interaction as possible.

This is exactly what is designed at senior levels with executive coaching, mentoring and assessments followed by developmental feedback. The design difference is that for larger numbers this design has to be accomplished without the traditional one to one relationship. In addition, as we saw in the last post, the focus of senior level learning was on context not content. What this then means is that the two design cornerstones of content focused events are not nearly as important; experts and learning content. And to top it off, the event itself is no longer as important either.

This is the design role that takes the OUCH! out of learning and development.

Let’s take a little closer look at what is happening in executive coaching, mentoring and assessments followed by developmental feedback. This will help us build a better understanding of how the idea of these types of designs can work with larger numbers.

In the three learning processes above there are three key variables that affect the potential for behavior change:

  1. The participants active engagement in the process
  2. An extended time frame where multiple interactions occur
  3. The presence of a resource that plays the role of content and process ‘expert’

We will look at variable 1 in another post since although this variable may be the most important it is really not affected much by learning design!

Something interesting happens with the remaining 2 variables; a subtle and hidden impact of the assumption that power creates certainty. What happens is that the 3rd variable, the presence of an ‘expert’ (expertise is power), is seen as the key (really the only) design variable that is affecting behavior change. We know this to be the case by the sheer number of content or expert focused learning events that occur and the volume of content produced by experts and used by organizations. It also produces the cost problem associated with using these designs with larger groups. If the 2nd variable was seen as key we would be experiencing very, very different learning designs for larger numbers of people.

The design role noted above sees this 2nd variable as primary in affecting behavior change and thus the mantra, more interaction. The expert, or content is still important but seen as secondary.

This is a very significant shift in how we think about learning design and not an easy shift. Yet much like what so many of these posts have been shining a light on; this shift is really just a shift to what is already happening, not something new! The OUCH! in learning and development comes from the formal processes that have been designed by typical theory and way we understand organizations!

We know we learn through our interactions, we know it takes time to change, to build a new left loop. We know that exposure to learning content means nothing until it is applied in a context that is specific to us. We know that expertise is only important when we choose to make it important.

The next post will look at learning design that more closely fits what we know. Where there is less OUCH!

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. Do you have a ‘proliferation of content’ in your organization?
  2. How does learning occur in your organization for larger numbers of people?
  3. Do you have OUCH! in learning and development?







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