The Biggest Myths in Learning and Development

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMSIn the early 1960s, philosopher Abraham Kaplan and psychologist Abraham Maslow independently described the idea that being in possession of  an instrument affects our perception. The idea, now commonly called the Law of the Instrument, is illustrated in the phrase  “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

It’s important to be aware of this law because it gives us a glimpse into how our perception of the world is shaped by our experiences and environments.

So what does all this have to do with learning and development?

My introduction to using computers for learning stems back 25 years to a course I took in university titled “Computers in Music.” I was immediately hooked and began creating simple computer programs to teach music theory. This led to a lifelong career in learning technology as a content developer, entrepreneur, consultant, analyst, and now technology provider. Having worked in the area of learning technology for so long has created certain assumptions. These are the learning and development myths to which I’ve subscribed that are currently being debunked from speaking with organizations daily.

If you’re reading this blog, you may be a learning professional with interests in online learning. You too, may believe the following learning and development myths:

  • MYTH ONE: Most organizations provide some type of training to their workforce

False. A large percentage of organizations I speak with provide no formal training. People join the firm and figure out what needs to be done by shadowing people and asking a lot of questions—likely by e-mail—CC-ing as many people as possible. Consequently, the number one learning tool for new employees is the company staff directory. “I see there’s a guy in the IT department named Mitch. He may know how I should do this task.”

Often, organizations I speak with are trying to address the challenges associated with this approach. It isn’t that they’re anti social or informal learning, it’s just that they’re trying to make the process easier for everyone. They also want to make sure people learn the right stuff instead of old bad habits that have been passed on over the years though we’ve-always-done-it-this-way mentoring.

  • MYTH TWO: Organizations that do provide training have embraced online learning

False. Of the organizations that do provide training to their workforce, a huge number—large and small—are still tackle learning and development the way organizations did decades ago: exclusively by having learners physically participate in face-to-face, classroom-based sessions, either on site or in another location.

If your organization has no formal learning and development initiatives, or if training still takes place exclusively in a classroom with an instructor, you should feel no shame. You’re not alone. Gurus and pundits may have us believing that the biggest challenges facing organizations today is how to migrate online learning to new devices or software platforms. The reality is that most organizations are just looking at how to get started in online learning in a way that produces good outcomes, painlessly.