Ideally, organizations should be striving for a culture in which every aspect of the workplace supports continuous individual, team, and whole organization learning. It should be a place where Individuals are learning how to help the organization achieve its strategic goals, where teams are learning how to help the organization achieve its strategic goals, and where the organization as a whole is learning how to achieve its strategic goals.
In this kind of culture, formal classroom training is superfluous. The most important learning occurs in the conversations that employees have with their supervisors and co-workers, in the conversations that teams have about team development and effectiveness, and in whole organization experiences with problem solving and planning. Learning occurs from the feedback and reflection around individual, team, and whole organization successes and failures. Learning occurs because of a performance management system that permeates every aspect of organizational life, not because of isolated instructor-based courses, workshops, and seminars.
Robert O. Brinkerhoff makes this point in his writing about measuring the contribution that training makes to learning and performance improvement. He argues that the isolation score, that indicator of how much training contributes to performance results, should be zero. He writes:
An isolation score of zero, on the other hand, seems to me to be the perfect solution: it means the organization has figured out a way to drive a desired performance improvement and resultant business result solely by manipulating the performance system, so there is no need for any training at all. Isn't this scenario exactly what the performance-oriented practitioners would seek? Training is always an expensive solution. If you can get to the desired business outcome without spending a dime on training - by just adjusting incentives, motivation, performance support, etc. - isn’t this what a thoughtful HRD leader should strive for?
The implication of striving for an “isolation score of zero” is that the whole organization owns learning, not just HR and the CLO, and when the organization needs performance improvement, training is not the first course of action. We have to change the way we think about learning and performance improvement, especially as people need to learn faster and achieve better results.
Unfortunately, it’s a very difficult mental model to change. In a recent post on ASTD’s Learning Circuits Blog, Connie Malamed asks, “What do you think the future role of the training professional will be?” She offers this model of future roles:
Malamed's model is an accurate representation of the current state of things but not where I think the field needs to go in the future. My model would not include “design and create courses.” My model would put “align learning with the strategic goals of the organization” at the center and “create a culture of learning throughout the organization” as the next key role. We have so many learning support options now, including just-in-time elearning (desktop and mobile), coaching, mentoring, simulations, on-demand video, experiential learning, internships, and on and on, that we rarely need to develop courses. Learning and development professionals need to be focused on performance results, not on training.