RANT: 4 disheartening hand raise fails

McKayla Maroney dissatisfied face

I call upon the universally-recognized symbol for dissatisfaction above (former U.S. Olympic Gymnast McKayla Maroney) to express my inner discontent with a few recent presentation experiences!

I have noticed a few alarming industry trends when asking presentation audiences for their insight. When speaking at industry and corporate events, I throw out standard “who here has …” questions related to my topics. Recently, rather than the 30 – 40% positive responses I expected, almost no hands have been going up for a few specific questions. It could just be those particular audiences, right? That’s what I thought at first too. So I started asking the same questions more often as I traveled from event to event, audience to audience. Same response levels. In fact, these limited hands have stayed consistent for the past 6 – 8 months.

So what questions have I been asking, and what may these tepid responses mean for the future of L&D?


Who here can explain what Snapchat does?

I’ve pretty much given up on asking about real Snapchat use with L&D audiences. Put simply, L&D pros don’t use Snapchat. But I don’t really care about USE. I want to know how well we UNDERSTAND Snapchat as an industry – hence the question. I’ve found that we don’t use it OR understand it.

Why is this important? Snapchat is one of the fastest growing social networks EVER and has already surpassed Twitter in daily active users. No, I don’t expect “Snapchat for Learning” to become a thing. However, I firmly believe Snapchat (along with a few other prevailing social platforms) is influencing people’s everyday information sharing and consumption habits. After all, the people flocking to Snapchat are the same people we’re trying to support on the job. L&D must remain aware of evolving behaviors – and the technology that enables them – to build and deliver the best-possible learning opportunities.

Want to improve your understanding of Snapchat? 

  1. Download the Snapchat mobile app.
  2. Sign up.
  3. Find a few friends/peers who are active users and try it out.
  4. Check out the Stories feature to gain a new understanding for online shared experience.
  5. Read My quick take on Snapchat.

Science of Learning

Who here is leveraging what we know about the science of learning in your work?

And we wonder why people don’t like training! How can we do our best to help people learn if we don’t understand how people learn? Admittedly, we don’t know very much about how the brain really works. At the same time, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to take advantage of practices that have been proven effective as related to the science of learning. Even more disheartening is that fact that many of these ideas aren’t new by any means. Here are a few examples with SUPER simplified explanations:

  • Spaced repetition: the more often you are exposed to information, the more likely you are to retain it
  • Retrieval practice: pulling information out of your head to answer a question or apply it strengthens retention more than studying
  • Confidence-based assessment: asking someone how confident they are in their knowledge causes an emotional response that strengthens retention.

To drive real change and business value, L&D must design solutions that align to the way we really learn. My mantra is “people first, employees second.” We can throw as much content at our employees as we want, but they can only handle as much as their natural capacity permits.

Want to dig deeper into the science of learning? Check out these books:

Adaptive Tech

Who here is using adaptive technology to better personalize learning experiences?

Yes, this is a newer topic. No, there aren’t that many truly adaptive learning technologies in the corporate space (cough Axonify cough). That said, my shock comes less from the lack of current adoption and more from the number of people who have no idea what I’m talking about. Adaptive technology is our opportunity to provide an employee with the content they NEED when and where they need it based on PROVEN knowledge and performance gaps. I’m not a fan of “holy grail” concepts when it comes to L&D, but this is pretty darn close.

Adaptive learning is supported by several other prevailing themes that L&D pros should also be watching, including machine learning and AI. Building and delivering content is about to become a much smaller part of our roles. L&D pros must become skilled in strategically selecting and deploying learning and performance technology to solve business problems. You may not have to write algorithms, but you better understand how they work.

Here’s a quick article to help you get started with your exploration of adaptive learning.

Business Goals

Who here can tell me the most important problem your business is trying to solve right now?

This is the BIG one – the question fail that pushed me to write this post. There’s simply no excuse for ignorance when it comes to your organization’s goals. I don’t care what your role or current project assignment may be. L&D pros are part of the business and MUST know what’s going on in the day-to-day operation. Otherwise, I’d question your value to the organization when budget season rolls around too.

There are plenty of ways for L&D pros to improve their awareness of the businesses we support. Before we get tactical, we must become empathetic. Its not enough for us to reach our L&D objectives. If the business fails, we fail. Therefore, we must FEEL the day-to-day realities of the people we support and build our strategies to ensure we are there when they need us. Now, on the tactical side …

  • Go to meetings that have nothing to do with L&D. Is a key stakeholder leading an all-hands meeting. You should be there.
  • Do your homework. You may be a hired-gun L&D pro with no experience in this business. Ask questions. You don’t have to become an expert (that’s why we have SMEs), but you should know enough to be dangerous.
  • Read financial reports. They are chock-full of objectives and high-level strategy that should influence your L&D work.
  • Get out of your office. Move as physically close to “the business” as possible. If you are able, dedicate some time to performing the roles you support. Otherwise, spend time around the people who do the job every day to gain insight into their context.

How would you have answered these questions if you were in my audiences? Would you have raised your hand? Do you think I’m right to be alarmed at these limited responses? What other trends are you seeing that may threaten the continued viability of L&D?

RANT: 4 disheartening hand raise fails

by JD Dillon time to read: 5 min