Move From Training To Learning, And Never Go Back

Have you ever heard of the role of Chief Training Officer? Not yet? Well, you won’t hear it anytime soon either.

No self-respecting C-level officer of even a moderately-sized organisation would be caught dead wearing this title.

For good reason: most companies want to be seen to be on the leading, if not bleeding edge of Human Resource trends. Not the one being left behind.

As more and more strategic decisions are made in the C-suite, new specialist roles are created to align an organisation’s goals with its operations. Thus, after the ultimate title of CEO (Chief Executive Officer), comes the COO (Chief Operating Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and then CIO (Chief Information Officer).

For a very long time, the C-suite of many companies, both small and large have viewed training as a cost. A nice to have rather than a must have. It became a trend for any and all training decisions to be made at the Training Manager level, to fulfill employee training days requirements, to meet the quota.

How do you tell when an organisation views it this way? Simple. Any organisation that asks you if you can do training for them in December because they want to finish up their budget, is probably one that lacks the foresight and planning to ensure that training is effective. It’s just money to give away.

Another clue is when they ask you to provide team building services, and they quietly slip in, “Can it just be lots of fun? We don’t want it to be too heavy on the talking”. They’re not looking for training. They just want to holiday on the shareholders’ investment. This is a company with no vision.

Here is the danger. If you have a client who is like this, when the chips are down, the first thing they will dump is services. All services. That includes you, the training provider. You are a cost. So, cost-cutting means cutting you out.

Rise of the CLO

The good news is, if your client has formally instituted its newest C-level role, the Chief Learning Officer (CLO), you can certainly bet that they don’t view training as a cost. They view it as an investment. And investments must be planned, protected, measured and returned.

When any organisation establishes this role, it takes on a fundamental shift in thinking as well. The old concept of Training comes from the idea of Human Resources. Tagging a human being as a resource implies that if you can’t generate money for the company, you are therefore not a resource and must be trained or ejected.

An issue arises when the concept of training is introduced. Training was originally executed to impart knowledge and skills to operational employees who required to know exactly how to follow a standard operating procedure. It was, in essence, an exercise in forcing compliance by carrot or stick.

The ones who subjected to it, were retained. Those who questioned it, were removed. It was the trainer’s way or the highway. It was a military regime in making money and it worked, because the blue collar workers needed the jobs and were used to being told what to do anyway.

The professionals never actually needed training because they had graduated from business or law schools into middle-management apprenticeship. This was pretty much the norm for English and American vocational education up until the turn of the 21 century.

From control to collaboration

Then, from out of the blue, Americans began to take notice of a worrying trend. The Japanese were getting better. At a lot of things. So, western management gurus began to wonder what the secret sauce was. It was something they had never seen before.

Where American management philosophy takes decisions out of the worker’s hands and provide orders down through the chain, the Japanese workers were actually suggesting improvements upwards. Buzzwords like Kaizen, 5 Whys, TQM flooded the collective management consciousness.

But to work like the Japanese, they had to fundamentally change the way they did business and treated their employees. No longer could they drive people to perform. No longer could they control. They had to help develop them and provide the means for them to grow.

Thus, the culture of control became the culture of collaboration. And training, that stuffy, one-way street of imparting skills, took a back seat to a bigger, higher concept: Learning.

Academic and professional debates burned on whether one was a subset of the other with many schools of thought being born and dying out almost as quickly. But there was no denying it. More and more firms became convinced that this was the way to go. Training departments morphed into Learning departments.

Train vs Learn

Here’s where the debate gets interesting. If you were to attend training, would you say you were doing all the work or was the trainer doing it? Well, if training is you sitting on a chair for eight hours scribbling notes, yawning and later storing your binder of materials in your cubicle shelf next to many, never-again opened training binders, the answer is, you did nothing.

But if you were engaged by everything the trainers said or did, and ended up saying more than them, contributing your own opinions and experience to the discussion and if everyone, even the trainers themselves, came out of it learning from each other, then congratulations. That was a learning session, not a training one.

The argument for adopting the paradigm of learning vs training is simple. Training is an event. It’s a series of events. It’s organised by someone else to tell you exactly what they want you to know, and ensuring you stick to doing what you know.

Learning, on the other hand, isn’t an event. It is a fully engaging process of organic and personal experience and one that happens automatically, without any control from the trainer. It is enjoyable, desirable, lifelong and goes far beyond the classroom. Epiphanies never come through training, which are only meant to elicit a specific response. They come only when all the pieces of the puzzle are in place.

Since Learning is more far-reaching, it just makes sense that training, an event, be a subset of the whole learning experience. This is why companies are racing each other to shift their approach, and the names of their departments. So, CLOs run learning organisations, in which there are learning & development departments, in which there are, possibly still, training units.

The next problem is then, how do we give up control of the learning process to the learners and still get the change of behaviour and compliance desired? The answer lies in empowering the learners to accept that on their own.

It is said, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Human beings can be far more stubborn than horses. Just telling them the benefits of a training session isn’t enough to make them believe in something, nor is telling them the detriment of not paying attention in class.

The trainers themselves must undergo a paradigm shift. They must go from Tell to Sell. As every salesman knows, the final decision to believe, buy-in and champion lies with the buyer, the learner and the woman they proposed to.

As such, trainers can no longer afford to browbeat their learners into believing everything they say. Nor can they preach from the pulpit and expect people to practice it.

Trainers must move from being trainer-oriented to being learner-oriented, which means, doing everything necessary to engage them on a peer level, understand what they need and give it to them, at the same time, fulfilling the objectives of the training in the first place.

When a learner decides to become aware of what you teach, is willing to try it out and accepts the benefits of it, that is when retention increases. All because they decided to retain it. All because, instead of training them, you facilitated their learning.

Trainer vs Learning Facilitator

The corollary of that is now what do we call the trainer? A coach? An instructor? This is a choice that every training certification, association and company faces today. What do we call these people? The global trend is moving faster, and if they remain steadfast in insistence, they might get run over.

Well, to each his own choice. In Malaysia, however, about 800 (as of January 2015) people have already made that choice. They are part of a growing community called the PLF Family, a gathering of like-minded, learner-oriented individuals who don’t control the learning process as trainers do, but facilitate it, enabling people to be independent and responsible for their own development. We call them Professional Learning Facilitators (PLF).

Granted, the concept of learner-orientation and focus isn’t new, but the development of a multiskilled, highly responsive and adaptable facilitator of learning is. As part of their development, PLFs are run through a gamut of possible learning scenarios while dealing with difficult audiences and getting the best learning out of them, all the while keeping their eye on the learning objectives that the client requires.

Since 2011, the PLF certification program has seen huge success in developing brand new talent and converting even the most experienced of trainers to this new approach. PLFs from every walk of life have attended and been certified to deliver learning programs of all types to all ages, all sections of society and all educational and professional levels.

Does this mean that training is discarded for good? Far from it, training still exists as a useful approach in delivering exact information. But understanding whether the learner can apply it under varying conditions and whether they fathom where their role sits in the larger organisation, that takes learning facilitation to suss out.

If all other arguments fail, this should convince you. Imagine that you meet the CLO of your client. Would you prefer to introduce yourself as a Trainer or as a peer who shares an approach and function with them?

“Pleasure to meet you. I’m Nadzrin and I’m a Professional Learning Facilitator”

I don’t know about you, but it sure sounds good to me.