Are you an Agnostic or Principled Learning Professional?

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Synthesis:
As learning professionals, have we analyzed how our
approaches affect our learners and their specific learning and performance environments? Why does one choose to adhere to his/her present method? Are you an AGNOSTIC or PRINCIPLED Learning Professional? A deeper understanding of these professionals may hopefully lead you to an enlightened decision. Perhaps, the Agnostic is the unbounded innovator in us and the Principled is the traditionalist in us.
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As learning professionals, have we analyzed h
ow our approaches affect our learners and their specific learning and performance environments? Why does one choose to adhere to his/her present method? Are you an AGNOSTIC or PRINCIPLED Learning Professional? A deeper understanding of these professionals may hopefully lead you to an enlightened decision. Perhaps, the Agnostic is the unbounded innovator in us and the Principled is the traditionalist in us.


Image provided by eLearning Arts.

An executive I work with complained to me:

“This vendor is telling me to spend 200 hours in task analysis. Don’t they know that we pretty much know the tasks?”

“We have so many learning rituals that are irrelevant.” he continued.

“We should rid ourselves (trainers and learning professionals) of practices that appear to be based on sound principles but are actually impractical and apparently outdated thinking.”

As I attend conferences and meet clients and friends, I also keep my ears to the ground and listen to how learning professionals evolve or drastically change their approaches. I look for patterns that help deliver results, improve learning, drastically cut costs and increase speed of delivery. Moreover, I specifically look for something out of the ordinary that I can also learn from. In fact, I’d like to share some interesting differences between the Agnostic and Principled Learning professionals.

Before I share my observations, allow me to define some terms. An Agnostic is a learning professional that is passionate about immediate results. This practitioner uses learning principles and practices only if they serve the end results. The Principled learning professional is also results-focused, but strictly adheres to practices that have been proven and tested in the past. The differences basically lie in the mind set and outlook of these two specialists. These determine their inclinations towards being Agnostic or Principled.

Here are a few of my observations. For easier understanding, we shall refer to these learning professionals as either AGNOSTIC or PRINCIPLED from hereon.

ROI in training and learning

The Principled believes in exact, long-drawn and often, stringent systems of measurements and time-tested scientific methods. As a result, the ROI reports tend to be historical, like a financial accounting process. They tend to be less adventurous and adaptable in their approaches.

The Agnostic uses anecdotal data to gauge learning impacts. This allows for quick information gathering. Jeff Beck of Knowledge Advisors says that anecdotal data are valuable ROI measurements. They are faster to collect. They attribute a deep value to the link between rapid and applicable learnings to job performance. See my related blog – Proof of Direct Link between Learning and Performance.

Don’t bother tracking learning completion

I am familiar with a division within CISCO that does not bother to track learning or training completion. This is the work of an Agnostic. The Principled will insist on tracking completion because it is part of the delivery process.

In the case of CISCO, the change and demand for new content is rapid. Systems engineers need the knowledge in a matter of minutes. For example, there are hundreds of anti-virus and malware patches released each day that it does not make sense to track if the learner has completed the lesson. The ultimate test is how well they apply the ideas on the spot.

Train learners on the essentials and let them learn how to find solutions

One large online retailer I worked with, reduced their two weeks on-boarding training to two days. Initially, the Principled insisted that the 10-day on-boarding program should persist. However with 100,000 products, the Agnostic realized it was impossible to train or even begin to orient workers on all these, during on-boarding classes. As a result, workers’ orientation centered on the basic policies of the company and trained them on the usage of the Wiki Product and Customer Management System to find answers to questions and provide solutions.

Twitter that impacts immediate performance

Mark Oehlert, in one of his presentations on Social Media mentioned about how a company applied a Twitter-like application to help engineers deal with electrical transmission line emergency responses. Engineers found it faster to send a tweet to alert other engineers of problems in their area that would impact other aspects of the electrical grid. The Agnostic found a practical way to use Twitter. The Principled would have been stuck with the question-how do I apply Twitter to learning and training instead of asking “where can this tool impact the performance of people?”

Just-in-case and just-in-need training and learning – very costly impact

The Agnostic uses eLearning beyond its traditional definition – from just-in-case-knowledge to a just-in-need learning. Knowledge and skill requirements are changing so fast that the Agnostic focuses on immediate “working knowledge” rather than “full competency” training for ongoing learning on the job. The Principled continues to focus on compacting all knowledge in one training because of the fear that learners may miss the knowledge. Unfortunately, most learners can only retain so much in one sitting. Consequently, investments in long and elaborate courses are wasted. See related blog on How Much Training is Enough Training?

“They don’t know what they don’t know”

This is my favorite because it continues to be a training professional meme. It is so well-accepted that many use the statement without much thought.

I often hear “the Principled” say …

“If we don’t train learners on the content, they will be unable to do the job” or “learners cannot be trusted since they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Many of the “Principleds” adhere to the notion that people lack inherent wisdom to perform their jobs. The truth is, it’s pretty much the opposite.

Reversely, the Agnostics believe that the learners have a certain amount of experience, regardless of quantity and quality. Their approach aims to help the learners build on these experiences and connect them to the learning environment. This understanding of the learner’s wisdom is the foundation of social and informal learning. People can learn and contribute while they share with others. The job of this learning professional is to multiply this capacity. Please see Jay Cross on information learning.

Conclusion

Whether one is Agnostic or Principled is often a reflection of our growth process as learning professionals. We tend to be Principled when we stick to rituals from principles and practices we are accustomed to. In the process, we have ceased to question them or assess its efficiency especially in performance applications. The Agnostic is that part within ourselves that awakens to the realization that learning environments and its learners are evolving, sometimes faster than we can change our mind sets and outlook with a willingness to adapt better performance results.

Perhaps, the Agnostic is the unbounded innovator in us and the Principled is the traditionalist in us.

Related blog

Proof of Direct Link between Learning and Performance

How Much Training is Enough Training?

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

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