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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Financial Investment

Should learning organizations make a financial investment in new forms of learning?

A fantastic comment by Bill Brantley on my post Metalearning:

Before you start defining metalearning, you need definitions for:

  1. formal learning
  2. informal learning
  3. social learning
  4. collaborative learning
  5. personal learning

that are more than just marketing buzzwords.

What is the difference between these five concepts? What are the strengths and weaknesses with each? How does one know when they are practicing one form or another?

Before you start shutting down training departments, hiring Chief Learning Officers, and coining an umbrella term for different learning methods, you need to establish what you are actually talking about and why it is preferred over other methods. And you need to back this up with some empirical data.

I would love to have a discussion with him because I think he's missing the point about the importance of metalearning and metacognition and their implications on learning organizations. 

Important Challenge

That said, he's expressing a really important challenge.  Before a learning organization recommends to make a financial investment in any of these methods, they really want to know:

  • What is it?
  • What will it cost and what's the expected return?

When you look at various training methods such as classroom instruction, virtual classroom, courseware, online reference, performance support tools, they all have fairly well understood size, shape, characteristics.  There's enough body of knowledge, history and expectation that you can safely propose financial investment by a learning organization in these methods.  Yes, your budget is being cut, but it's way safer to propose on-going financial investment in a tried and true method than it is to propose shifting budget to new methods. 

In Corporate Training, I suggested what might happen if you shifted budget right now without having a solid backup as wonderfully explained by Dilbert:


If we want to really change where learning organizations spend time and dollars, the key ingredient is to help get more concrete about these terms and to be concrete about financial investment proposals.

Not a Short Answer

I wish there were a set of business cases that we could point to that would exemplify what a VP Learning/CLO should be presenting to their executive team.  Why not?

It's partly that these kinds of solutions are highly fragmented.  Look at the breadth of Examples of eLearning 2.0.  Add to it all the investment that could go along with Tool Set and Work Literacy

What should a VP Learning / CLO present to the executive team?




NancySpindler said...

My viewpoint is from the inside of a large, global company with excess of 130,000 people worldwide. And my division. has no formal training department. We could use a VP of Learning/CLO. The major problem I see is that department heads do not recognize that part of the timetable on achieving their business objectives is the time for the people to learn new things or new ways of doing things. Traditionally Training Departments get tapped when someone recognizes a training need. This is a chicken & egg problem. Many problems are really training problems, but the department heads don’t recognize them as training problems. So the message of a CLO should include the education of the executive team on how to identify the barriers to their business objectives and how learning is a facet of those barriers.

Bill said...

"I would love to have a discussion with him because I think he's missing the point about the importance of metalearning and metacognition and their implications on learning organizations."

But, I agree that metalearning and metacognition are very important for learning organizations. I think that we are just beginning to learn how people actually learn. Neuroscience has made some intriguing findings but not enough yet to advise organizations on how to approach metalearning and metacognition.

Maybe I am being too cautious but I would like to see some more definite research in how the brain learns. And there should be more research on how elearning is affecting neuroplasticity. Yes, organizations should have CLOs and consider metalearning and metacognition but they should proceed carefully and with an experimental mindset.

Tony Karrer said...

Nancy - thanks for the comment.

I agree that there's little interest or willingness among business units to spending time on training as part of any change. And it's not something that I see turning around. The assumption is somewhat that people what/need the minimum and they will figure it out from there.

I agree with you that the role of a CLO is to help executives understand how they can impact business results. I'm not sure that translates to more training.

Tony Karrer said...

Bill - I'm not going to wait for additional information on how the brain learns. There's quite a bit already out there. And if you really mean learning at that level, there are quite a few people who say it hasn't changed at all.

Instead the questions are a bit above that level. What does it mean when you have all information and all people available to you online? How does this impact what and how you learn? How do the new tools impact this?

Things HAVE CHANGED. The winners will be the individuals and organizations who recognize the change and adapt.

Vic Uzumeri said...

People interested in this topic might be interested in a LinkedIn Q&A that took place about a year ago.

In this thread, hardcore industrial practitioners of 'Lean' chipped in their reasons for believing in the importance of training.

There are lots of powerful arguments, most of which tie directly to the bottom line.

FWIW, eLearning practitioners and advocates should stop trying to frame arguments for executives, HR, accounting, or finance. Instead, they should try to create allies among operations managers, quality managers, customer service managers and anyone else whose job is on the line to deliver quality goods or services to customers.