Disagreeing Out Loud


Doris and I have written a lot about “working out loud” – how learning is morphing in workplaces from individuals hoarding information to everyone sharing resources, processes, ideas, and expertise online and in the open in various blog posts (See this post on the benefits of working this way). One of the early proponents of working this way, that working and learning are one and the same, is Jane Hart. We have mentioned Jane Hart many times before in this blog (see our posts on her top 100 tool list for 2014 and 2015 for example) – she is a major influencer for us.

Jane Hart

Recently, she practiced what she preaches by “working out loud” and publishing her thoughts on the L&D (Learning and Development) field. In her blog, Learning in the Modern Workplace, she often talks about how the most relevant and satisfying learning happens informally and continuously, not in organized training. Her blog is widely regarded and followed, but usually does not create controversy. However, her post of November 12, 2015 entitled “The L&D World is Splitting in Two” created a firestorm of online activity in the L&D world of corporate trainers or purveyors of professional development opportunities, both from those who agreed with her points, and those who did not.

The comments on her blog range from “thank you for saying this” to those who vehemently oppose what she wrote. The beauty of the disagreement is the open, varied, and public discussion about her observations on the L&D field. Her post generated other blogs, twitter posts with hashtags, and even another blog by Jane to clarify the points she was trying to make.

What did she say that was so incendiary? That there are two definite camps of thought/practice: Traditionalists who “cling onto 20th century views of Training & Development” and “Modern Workplace Learning (MWL) practitioners who understand the realities of the new world of work, and that their own activities need to change to reflect this.

Here is how Hart defines traditionalists:class-377117_640

  • Relying on course structures using learning management systems
  • Using old structures and just fitting “new” ideas into them. For example, adding a discussion forum to an existing course structure
  • Imparting knowledge by using the “expert” model – the trainer is the focus of learning
  • Excluding the wisdom of the audience, who may be better informed or have other ways of looking at the issue. Social needs to be controlled, not encouraged
  • Ignoring the world has changed and informal learning is happening everywhere, is preferred by workers, and is more meaningful than formal training

Here is her definition of modern workplace learning practitioners:mpeg-160510_640

  • Creating short, just-in-time learning opportunities, especially socially shared video most often created by those doing the work
  •  Moving away from learning management systems in favor of tracking performance outcomes – what was the result of learning in increased job performance?
  • Supporting groups to find their own solutions to problems and training needs to get there
  • Working with managers to develop worker talent (this has already been recognized by the change in the name of the largest training organization – ATD. See our blog about why they changed their name)
  • Encouraging individual employee talent development so workers view and internalize continuous learning as crucial to their success
  • Enabling teams to use enterprise social platforms so sharing work processes, information, ideas, and solutions is easier and more productive

Those that agreed with Jane posted comments such as:

You nailed it! Great summary of where we are and where we are going…. Give people access to information to open up dialogues and change internal conversations. Help promote different ways to view and solve challenges as well as discover new opportunities. Megan Jackson

Those who did not hit the twittersphere immediately, and wrote their own blogs to express their points of disagreement with Hart. Two people in particular, who are well known to the field, responded strongly.

Will Thalheimer

Will Thalheimer apologized to Hart for his twitter tirade, and posted his opinion in his blog The Two-World Theory of Work Place Learning – Critiqued! His main points are that having such a dichotomy of traditionalists vs. modern practitioners is not productive, causes a schism in the field, is unproven, and the traditional methods that have been utilized historically can be very successful. Hart responded to his post, and also did a follow-up blog to clarify her points, Crossing the Mindset Chasm. She responded to him:

It’s a shame you misunderstand and misinterpret the points I was making.

To Hart, it is the difference between L&D directed learning, and workers accessing and/or co-creating learning that works for them. To her, this is a mindset change.

Clark Quinn tries to bring the two camps together using his blog, Learnlets. In his November 17 blog, Reconciling Two Worlds, he states:

Clark Quinn

I think Jane was trying to point in new directions, and I think the evidence is clear that L&D needs to change. I think healthy debate helps, we need to have opinions, even strong ones, hopefully without rancor or aspersions.  I don’t know quite why Jane’s post triggered such a backlash, but I hope we can come together to advance the field.

I find it thrilling, fascinating, and intriguing to see this disagreement so publicly and passionately discoursed. In the end, Hart raises the issue of the need for workplace training that reflects the workplace of today and tomorrow, Thalheimer enumerates on the positive aspects of traditional training, and Quinn presents the common ground between the two. Many others chimed in, and Hart keeps reiterating that the needs of workers determine the training that happens – and that includes traditional courses and seminars – but we as trainers need to support those needs, not dictate what they are.

I encourage you to read Hart’s two blogs, Thalheimer’s twitter posts and blog, and Quinn’s blog to get the depth of the controversy. Reading the comments by others adds to the discussion and learning. It is indeed a great example of the value of working out loud.

What do you think? What are your take-aways from this spirited exchange? Do you have other examples of disagreeing out loud that leads to new thinking and learning?

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