Classroom learning has become increasingly viewed as an anachronistic method of helping people learn. It is said that it is of no benefit to the learner, a crutch for the ‘trainer’ and has no long term benefit. I prefer to see us, as a profession, increase our use of tools and investigate the most appropriate contexts for them, rather than completely dismiss them. I think we hold onto things too long, but then press delete too quickly. I completely understand people’s passion to progress the profession, but I remember learning in a classroom long ago something about babies and bathwater. The upcoming L&D Show will showcase some great progressive thinking, but I think it is important to make sure that we are increasing our toolkit rather than just substituting things in and out. So I had a think about classroom training and what it still offers. Should we be hitting delete?
I have definitely gained from experiences in the classroom. I have gained information, perspectives from other delegates and oh so many models and hours of PowerPoint watching. What is interesting is that of the things that I have gained in a classroom (I have a freakishly good memory and it has purposefully discarded a high percentage of those experiences) it would be fair to say that most of them could now be delivered through other channels or experiences.
An hour with a smartphone and a group of people talking in a cafe would probably have covered most of them off. A genuinely interactive online package with an effective FAQ would have covered most of the others off. Properly supported internal learning communities could have delivered almost everything I gained. Effectively curated content would have given me 80% of it. A MOOC would have delivered me content and expertise more fluidly. Twitter.
The one thing that classroom learning still does effectively is ringfence time. And time, to a degree, represents investment for many companies. It doesn’t necessarily indicate quality or care, but it does represent ringfenced investment. Those times that I was in a classroom with my blackberry switched off were times where I was properly focused on my own development and in sucking in knowledge. Also those times were a breather from the hectic pace of business life. A half or a whole day where I could hit pause.
So where does that leave my thoughts on classroom training? Well, broadly with the alternatives we now have available it seems a sticking plaster for organisations where the investment in learning comes in spurts and they are time poor. Like turning off your car for a bit to let it cool down because you forgot to keep it topped up with oil. In that position it makes sense to fill it up with oil, but if you can keep it topped up the whole time it is better for the engine. It’s a poor analogy but I’ve written so much of it now I’m going to stick with it.
All of the other ways of supporting learning are probably preferable – unless you are in an environment where you need to isolate people in an effort to help them learn. And in that environment the biggest block to ongoing learning is probably the culture. So does classroom learning still have a place?
It depends on how much you have faith that for your organisation’s ‘70:20:10‘ is in fact anywhere near that blend. If you are in fact not confident in day to day learning being supported then you probably need ringfenced classroom training – but only as long as your ambition is limited to developing people in protected environments and for a small percentage of their working lives. That might be due to budget or it might be down to resource. Or it might be because your people are so used to that format that you have conditioned them to feel most comfortable with learning in that space – and you don’t have the time or inclination to help them unlearn.
It’s a bit like having animals caged in a zoo for their own protection. We’d rather we didn’t have to – but in unique circumstances we need to intervene to protect. Where do you need to limit learning to a classroom? Where learning is endangered if you don’t. Just appreciate that in the same way caged animals aren’t fulfilling all they could be…