What Are We Learning and Developing?


The posts in this Learning and Development series so far have mostly focused on the process of learning. This post will look at the actual content of what is happening in that process; what is being learned.

You get a stable left loop in the interaction model through the process of numerous interactions.

Interaction Model

Interactions that over time establish a pattern that is similar in both content and process. In the post OUCH! What’s the Purpose of This? one of the points why I am doing this was noted as:

  • To illustrate that most organization theory and thus formal practice supports a drive for certainty as well as seeing the individual as a discrete and separate entity distinct from the contexts they experience; and that this theory does not match our experience.

In order for these things to exist as stable left loops it has to mean an awful lot of what we are learning and developing is this drive for certainty and that the individual is a discrete and separate entity distinct from the contexts they experience.

This type of learning content feeds the OUCH! in our organizations constantly. And it seems that over time, as this left loop has become more and more stable, we have an almost insatiable appetite for this learning content, perhaps better described as an addiction!

So when it comes right down to it the area of Learning and Development is really mired in a lot of OUCH! producing patterns! Not only does the process of how we typically understand L&D produce OUCH! so does the content we feed into that process! And of course that content then informs and further stabilizes our left loops in things like performance management and strategy.

As a brief example:

About 5 years ago I was on Twitter reading some tweets and came across one by a very well recognized organization guru. The tweet basically read that if you ‘pulled these 4 levers’ you would get the culture you wanted in your organization.

Normally after reading such a thing I would just go bang my head against the wall a few times and leave it alone but this time I actually tweeted back – So if we pull these levers we should get the culture we want? And if we don’t get it are we incompetent? I did not expect any kind of response but I actually got something back! The tweet said they were not sure about incompetent but you should get the culture you want if you pull those 4 levers.

So if not incompetent, what is it, if you don’t get the culture you want?!? Whatever you call it, there is a lot of OUCH! just waiting to happen.

This example illustrates one of the most common things to be avoided in learning content:

  • A step by step process that ensures you will get some result.

This type of learning content represents a drive for certainty and more specifically the assumption that power can create certainty.  That power may be positional power but more often with this type of learning content the power is subtly defined as the ‘correct’ execution of whatever steps are listed that will get you some result.

Any learning content that in some way or other ensures that by using that content effectively will produce some kind of a result is problematic.

It is important to be very diligent in looking for this connection in learning content to a drive for certainty.  Not only is it often subtle but our own stable left loop in assuming certainty can be produced by power can really constrain us in seeing the subtle links.

Given this, and although this may seem a little drastic, I think we are best to be highly skeptical of ANY learning content since so much current learning content is in some way connected to this drive for certainty.

Learning content that has a connection to a drive for certainty will typically have two common elements:

  1. There is a ‘correct’ way to apply this content.
  2. That correct application will produce a (desired) result.

When the desired result is not achieved these two things then create:

Blame, guilt or shame either directed at the learner (shame or guilt), the situation/people the content is applied to (blame) or the content itself (blame).

We can help ourselves be diligent and skeptical of learning content by asking ourselves if it has the two elements or the outcome listed above.

Learning content that positions and develops the individual as a discrete and separate entity distinct from the contexts they experience is in many ways a special version of the drive for certainty. I will be looking at this in a more focused way in the post series on Organization Development so will put it aside until then.

For now I would encourage us to take a very critical look at the learning content we have in our organizations through the lens of what is written above. It would be interesting to see some discussion on actual learning content and some debate on whether or not it is connected to the drive for certainty.

Comments, thoughts, examples, debate?

The next post will focus on learning content that stays away from this drive for certainty.



One Response

  1. Loved this post… I am still working my way through your blog and have not read posts chronologically or all yet but this one struck a chord for sure… I cannot count the number of times I heard the blame tone when leaders complete a pre-set combination of courses and are annotated “Completed Leadership Training”, check. As if, this on its own will enable the 1001 expectations and the leaders are working in vacuum.
    Also, the post about alternative ways for L&D to provide more relevance in content. Would love to read more… thank you for sharing Tom.

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