'Big Debate' at the Broadcasters Training Conference at BAFTA, and I thought, a good one. I, and Claire Paul, from BBC Academy were FOR the motion, Laura Overton of Towards Maturity and Craig Jones of Barclays Wealth, were against the motion.
Chaired by Maggie Philbin of Blue Peter fame, we took a vote, at the start and end, using red and green cards (very Blue Peterish I thought). Now I thought this was going to be a tough gig, telling an audience of trainers that training was its own worst enemy, but, surprisingly, the vote was on our side before we even started.
I started with some stats from the recent survey on L&D: 55% though L&D failing to deliver, less than 18% agree that L&D aligned with business, 46% doubt L&D can deliver. Pretty depressing stuff from 100 decision makers in the UKs top 500 companies by turnover.
I argued that training is mired in old, faddish theory; Bloom, Gagne, Maslow, Kirkpatrick – train the trainer courses are still full of old behaviourist theory (killed stone dead by Chomsky in 1959) trapping us in 50 year old theories that holds the industry back. We have a primitive and outdated taxonomy (Bloom), dull learning objectives at the start of courses (Gagne), a stupid coloured triangle theory of human nature (Maslow) and an evaluation method that is stuck in the world of happy sheets (Kirkpatrick).
In practice there’s far too much talking at people and phoney break-out groups. My heart sinks when we’re asked to form groups, choose a chair, felt-tip suggestions on a flip-chart sheet, feed back to group and blue tack them up on the wall (knowing full well that the promised ‘we’ll send the results to you later’ will never happen). Then there’s the phoney content; NLP, learning styles, life coaching (get a life not a coach – life is not a training programme), a flood of fuzzy nonsense. There’s too many ‘courses’ and most could be shortened, as they’re padded out to fit the timetabled slot.
Then there’s the flood of compliance programmes on equality, diversity and financial compliance. The one lesson we should have learnt from the recent banking crisis is that compliance training hasn’t worked. Neither has so-called ‘leadership’ training. We were led by a bunch of megalomaniac, solipsistic bankers who ignored ethics and compliance to fleece us, leading to real financial hardship for millions of people. Diversity training has also had its day. Frank Dobbins, of Harvard has shown in 708 companies that it had no measurable effect. It’s a dated idea that has had its day.
What’s more, our profession is represented by the CIPD, an organisation devoted to selling over-expensive courses to line the pockets of their senior management. Jackie Orme pocketed £407,000 last year, including a £57,000 bonus, having sacked over 40 staff and frozen bonuses in the organisation. And they deliver ‘Leadership’ training?
Training is also locked into a form of evaluation that guarantees that it won’t be taken seriously. Most evaluation is ‘after the event’ when it’s too late and revolves around happy sheets, with its crap sampling and irrelevant data. Few ever get near level 4, where the real action lies. Kill Kirkpatrick before he kills you.
Finally training has failed to embrace technology which cuts costs, frees training from the tyranny of time and location and is scalable.
Claire of BBC Academy took up the evaluation baton, and pointed out that she was not from a training background, and had failed to understand the obscure language of training and evaluation. For her it was a matter of credibility, and in that respect, training does itself no favours by being too distant from the business. It’s simple she said, evaluation is about convincing people, usually managers with budgets, that what you’ve been doing is worthwhile. It’s about decision making. Dump all that happy sheet nonsense and get on with evidence that has the necessary punch upstairs.
I’m not going to give a detailed account of Laura and Craig’s presentations, as I didn’t take detailed notes (as I had to prepare my second response). But generally, Laura argued that training departments had changed dramatically and that data from her own work had shown a maturity of thought and moved towards innovation that belied the idea of old fashioned delivery. She quoted a number of innovative projects, including some in the BBC that had moved well beyond the traditional picture painted by me in training.
Craig, Head of Diversity at Barclay’s Wealth, gave a stout defence of contemporary diversity training, explaining that his techniques really do work. When asked how he evaluated the training, replied that people had reported real benefits immediately after the training experiences, epiphanies if you like. (Happy-sheet time folks!)
All in the proposition
Debates like this get conferences off to a good start. They stimulate audiences into thinking about a specific issue, are interactive and tend to have more opportunities for questions (in this case after each of the four separate sessions), limit speaker’s time to less than 10 mins and produce votes showing the original position and swing.
The trick is to have clear propositions that allow definite FOR and AGAINST positions, free from fuzzy terms. The debate proposition must be challenging, honed down to something simple and not have any get outs, so that both sides can converge. You must also get participants that are up for the format and have some passion. Too many of these debates have weak and fuzzy motions that lead to the sides converging, defining what the motion means and having to constantly remind participants of what the motion actually says. But it's all good.
They can produce startlingly aggressive debates. When I spoke against Arc Sigman in Online Educa’s ‘Technology harms the minds of children’ it was close to cage fighting. However, I spoke for a motion this year ‘Universities are no longer fit for purpose’ to an audience of academics, and got surprisingly, strong support (and abuse). My ALT talk wasn’t formally a debate, but due to Twitter, turned into full blown bun fight.
Far too many conferences do the ‘same old, same old’. It’s all black canvas bags, name badges and endless talks. Debates rock the house a little, sometimes more than a little. It is with some trepidation, however, that I go to Berlin this year to support the motion ‘Public sector spending in e-learning is largely a waste of time and money’. Reason: the audience is almost entirely composed of public sector supported e-learning folks. I’m taking a portable bunker.
The whole debate should be available soon on YouTube.