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Designing Learning in the Ivory Tower

I remember early on in my career having a session with a bunch of other trainers talking about a piece of training we were putting together. There were all manner of ideas flowing around. We talked about the content we would cover, the agenda for the day, the activities we would include and how the world would be a wonderful place once we’d rolled it out.

Nowadays, I look back at this approach and cringe. A turning point for me was the question the L&D Manager at the time asked us. She said, ‘When is the last time you spent some time out on the floor listening in to calls with some of the teams?’

We worked in a department in a large technical support contact centre for a national internet service provider. This manager is one that I still hold in high regards as being amongst the people that have most influenced my development. I knew her well and we had a great working relationship as did the rest of the team. We trusted her.

I’m saying this because in some settings, a question of that nature could be received as being a telling off, or one of those school teacher type questions that whichever way you answered, you were in for it. I’ve come across people in my working life that use these sorts of questions to show people up and publicly chastise them for something they’ve got wrong.

But this manager was not like that. Her reason for asking those awkward questions was to make you think, to question, to learn, to grow and develop and to be better at what you do.

The honest answer to that question is none of us were spending time in that way, on the coal-face, with real people, doing the real job, in the real world and with real challenges. Instead, we co-created learning solutions in an ivory tower setting, behind closed doors without any thought to those that were consuming the material. Material that we were deciding was right for them.

It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t that we didn’t care. It wasn’t that we had our heads too far up our bottoms to think that we knew it all and our ideas and only ours were the thing. None of that. Instead, it was just our naivety and inexperience that meant we just hadn’t thought of that approach.

No wonder I cringe nowadays. Fancy that? Designing and solution without consulting those that will use it? Fancy never doing a single piece of evaluation to figure out how it’s working out? Silly when you think about it isn’t it?

Nowadays, we hear the word ‘business partner’ used to describe the relationship between L&D and the rest. In our Learning and Development programmes at DPG, we talk lots about having a collaborative relationship with everyone in the business and the skills associated with being a great business partner.

In the work I do here, I feel quite privileged to having the opportunity to be connected to those learning on our programmes and I know others in the team here feel the same way. Of course, there is the obvious customer feedback and statistics that give us a clue on how things are landing. But having the DPG Community on our side allows us to build a stronger, more insightful relationship. It helps us to encourage discussions and narrative.

We’re very well connected here and don’t sit in ivory towers.

How do you ensure learning functions are well connected to the real world? I’m interested.

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