Saturday, March 27, 2004

Technology and training

New technologies are being used in T&D, but like most technologies they are used to a fraction of their true potential. I don't mean that the "obvious" and simplistic application of the technologies should be more widespread (heaven forbid), but that vastly more creative or intensive intelligent application of existing technologies is possible. "E-learning" on the whole is regarded as pretty dire not because of technology but because it is all too often invoked in an uninspired mundane or lazy fashion. We are awe-struck by new things, get slightly more familiar with them, then don't want to venture beyond that comfort zone. Look at e-mail or blogs: the technologies that deliver them are capable of much more sophisticated, friendly, user-focused communication, yet we are content to live with "this".

Mobile Internet access, particularly cell-phones, excite me. Anytime anywhere used to mean anytime you were at a computer linked by a dial-up modem to an ISP. Now it means while standing in line at the post office. What we DO with that connectedness is a blank slate. I have a personal interest in the use of the Internet as one of the tools to help economic development in Africa, a notoriously infrastructure-devoid part of the world. The 1990's concept of the Internet assumed desktop computers linked to landlines or cables, few of which exist in Africa. But cellphones are much more widespread and affordable. A "computer" is no longer a gray box on a desk -- it's a cellphone or something like it. And the Internet is not restricted by wires -- it's in the air around us. The implications for education, teacher training, teaching support, small business development and so on are significant.

In the context of learning, and using 'product' loosely, I'd say the exploitation of data-mining and search technologies is the most under-rated product today. Even in e- commerce it is not used anywhere near its potential. We mine lead and cast dull gray ingots. It is still a primary industry. We have the potential to know so much more about individuals and their interests or abilities and to respond much more acutely. Yet we continue to ask the wrong questions, aggregate the answers, and McDonaldize our deliverables.

Some of the most important skills a trainer can have today are the ability to transcend yourself and appreciate and respond to the contexts and concerns of others; the ability to rapidly unlearn or discard that with which you are comfortable; and the ability to learn or adopt or invent new things: concepts, attitudes, processes, methodologies, paradigms, cultures, contexts. Vital also are the judgment to know the difference between a fad of no real value and important new thinking, and the ability to appreciate that the fad often has a longer half-life than the significant evolution.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Values as a trainer?

I don't think your honesty and integrity as a trainer are bent by the profession you come from, though they may have a bearing on the profession you choose.

I have to say that in my experience some of the best trainers (and the most honest) are those with “real-world” experience outside of their training experience. Seasoned practitioners, subject matter experts, or those who have recently completed their own training, are often very astute, very learner-aware, very passionate, and very attuned to the context of their teaching.

I have spent twenty five years in training and development (in one way or another), but I am a marketing professional and always will be. I got into training largely I think by accident, out of a passion for the relevant subject matter and extreme irritation at the way it was a) taught by the training professionals and b) practiced by the practitioners. So I suspect there is lurking within this unassuming exterior a crusading evangelist somewhat obsessed with impacting actual real-world performance.

I first put on a trainer's hat while I was still an idealistic business student -- as head of AIESEC South Africa, I had a mission to improve the relevance and quality of business education in universities throughout the region. When I started a real job as a market research analyst/consultant with A.C. Nielsen, I found myself teaching my peers how to do a more valuable job for their clients, which led to me teaching analytical marketing to Nielsen clients like Unilever and Revlon, which led me to become education director for the South African Market Research Association and to found and run an industry certification program.. At the same time, my passion for doing my job -- sales and customer service -- got me into teaching my colleagues basic skills such as presentations, sales, and consulting. Some major OD work resulted from that, which got me transferred to running Nielsen's international management services center to replicate the work world-wide. Since then I have run my own training/consulting/OD businesses in various parts of the world, focusing mainly on sales, marketing, and technology.

All of which background poses the question: am I a trainer or a consultant? Or am I a salesperson, or a marketer, or a researcher, or an entrepreneur? And does it matter? I believe I approach my work with a level of customer- focus, diligence and integrity that is unusual among “training vendors” and my clients would agree. I think I was born and raised to be that way. But, if my lifetime in consultative selling has influenced me, it has amplified – not diminished – my integrity.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Boring PowerPoint? Blame not the tool.

It's not PowerPoint or the blue background that causes slumber, but badly structured, poorly communicated content that may in itself be of little value to the audience. Why we prefer to blame the tool rather than the presenter's inept use of it is beyond me.

We have all read (or partially read) many really badly written books, books with poorly structured content, books that are simply uninspired. But you don't hear people say that books are dull, or snicker about the narcotic effect of black text on white paper. Except perhaps in the context of e-learning where "page turner" has acquired a meaning quite the opposite of its meaning in a book context.