Has L&D become its own worst enemy?

I was reading Ryan’s blog post on Face time in online learning, this morning and it got me thinking about how sometimes I feel that as L&D professionals we have shot ourselves in foot so to speak in terms of our relevance to organisations.

I was responding to a comment from Con, about the fact that often organisation and management balk at the costs associated with face to face delivery or having an informal meetup of participants and i started to think that perhaps in our rush to embrace and to ‘sell’ online learning to the business, a lot of time on the grounds that it is more cost-effective than face-to-face delivery, that we may have made a rod for our own backs when we wanted or needed to include face-to=face components.

It goes a little deeper than that however, and I think back to LearnX and some of the conversations I had there and a particular presentation by Saul Carliner when he said 70:20:10 is not an investment strategy. (as most of you know I am not a 70:20:10 believer, there is no rigorous evidence to back up the numbers.  Yes a lot of learning is informal but putting numbers around it when there is nothing by anecdotal evidence to substantiate it casts us all in a bad light.)  Even though it isn’t an investment strategy it is often ‘sold’ that way, even if the selling of it is unintentional.  If you talk to the business about 70% of all workplace learning being informal and that we need to invest in technology to ensure our staff access to this avenue of learning. promote it, link it to our talent management and retention and development strategies then it starts to sound like it is an investment strategy.  The problem is that I am not sure I know too many organisations who are going to increase their learning budgets by 70% to incorporate informal learning, in fact i think it is probably going to come from the L&D budgets that are already there, which will have an impact of course on our ability to delivery the formal training that the organisation needs.

Hmm, perhaps if we move all of that formal training online and not worry about face-to-face then we can free up budgets to increase our staffs access to informal learning, and there we have it we have shot ourselves in the foot again.

I see it everywhere the more I think about it, formal qualifications through the VET sector are devalued because we chase funding for their delivery to make them free or heavily subsidised for staff and the organisation and then when the organisation wants to have staff do a qualification that is not funded they choke when they see the price tag.  Other training reduced to online only because of the cost savings associated with delivery, (and don’t get me wrong online delivery can certainly be a huge cost saving) where having even a half day of face-to-face time would greatly improve the outcomes for staff and the organisation.

Now I am not suggestion that everything go back to face-to-face and L&D should get massive increases in budgets (although that would be nice wouldn’t it) what I am saying is that if we spend all of our time talking about the next big thing, the new way of learning.  If all we talk about is how cost-effective online delivery is and how informal learning is the way of the future, can we really than be surprised when the business turns back to us and replaces the L&D unit with free mooc’s from the cheapest provider.


About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

9 Responses to Has L&D become its own worst enemy?

  1. Josh Zlatkin says:

    Great points! I think most people are just trying to figure out how to make the “new way of learning” a reality because I know for myself I don’t have access to a huge budget for learning.

  2. Leo Salazar says:

    Arguing for e-learning budget by focusing on cost savings violates the #1 rule of sales negotiations: never give anything away for free. Doing so cheapens your product or service and paints you into a corner you can’t get out of.

    Your overriding argument should be added value. If you’re able to save some costs by also adding value, that’s great, but it should not be a main argument. Always strive for effectiveness before looking for efficiencies. E-learning should be implemented because it makes for more effective learning, not because you can get it cheap.

  3. Ryan Tracey says:

    Excellent argument, Paul. It points to the extremism of human nature – either something’s the best thing since sliced bread, or it’s the devil incarnate and must be avoided at all costs. Of course, everything has its place. As L&D professionals, we should make more of an effort to work out what that “place” is.

  4. Hey Paul – loved the post and it hit a raw nerve with me. You are on the money with your last comment – the last thing we need is to be replaced / overtaken by a MOOC (sorry Ryan ;)). Also well done in referring to Saul’s comments – his take on 70:20:10 was so delightfully put and I got the sense that others in the room felt the same way – have we been sold a dud? We all love fads and trying new things and I think we should continue to innovate and improve but at the end of the day we all know that the best learning occurs when we talk to each other – Face Time or virtually – now if I could only develop an evaluation model to effectively measure that, then I would be a millionaire! Keep punching buddy!

    • pauldrasmussen says:

      Thanks for the support Con. One of the things I have been thinking about for a while now is how we might evaluate the value of informal in real, robust terms. I have seen a number of models around participation rates, retention, engagement etc, but none of them are satisfying for me in terms of the outputs and certainly nothing I would take to a board meeting to justify investment. If oyu have any ideas I would love to hear them.

  5. Pingback: Has L&D become its own worst enemy? | eLear...

  6. Amy Boleszny says:

    As a veteran of VET, I have been saddened over the years at the way everything has been turned into lowest common denominator and that learning has been devalued. Yes, a lot of learning does take place informally in what was derided in TAFE as ‘sittting by Nellie’. That is valuable learning. That is how I got to be so smart. However, the world got smarter and Nellie, the mentor of my first forty working years, failed to know everything. Investing in my own learning became essential, something that people are shying away from today.
    That is the key word her – invest. One of my former colleagues won that argument because he proved that plant was not the biggest investment. The best investment was in the people who make the machines work.
    I know that giving people learning for free devalues it in the mind of the consumer. It never ceases to amaze me that a small business owner will pay $15,000 plus to a business consultant, fresh from University with a marketing degree who has never run a business, rather than $4,500 to get the same input by way of a Certificate IV from someone who has.
    It also amazes me that an individual and their employer will pay thousands to FIFO seminars by overseas ‘gurus’ on leadership or whatever the latest fad is, but not invest in home-grown real skills or corporate knowledge training.
    MOOC and OLL are not the be all and end all of learning. There are many things that do require face-to-face input, group interactions and a program for knowledge management.
    Even ‘sitting by Nellie’ is not ‘free’ learning. Nellie has to take time off from her duties to mentor the fledgling. The fledgling has to stop doing whatever he or she is doing to sit and talk to Nellie. I have the same argument on time costs with people who believe that DIY learning support materials are ‘free’, when as a commercial publisher I know it actually costs $10,000 or more per unit to develop that ‘free’ resource. I am yet to cost my development of e-learning, but the time costs of this look to be that initial 10 grand plus conversion costs to change the design plus technical costs to package it electronically. Even a ‘free’ platform like Moodle looks like a 30 grand per unit investment in time alone.
    Compare that with the cost to an enterprise of putting one facilitator in a room for a number of employees to bring them up to speed and up to date.
    Nothing will improve unless one does a cost-benefit analysis on all modes of training to prove to the bean counters that quality does not cost – it pays.
    How much is one hour of Nellie’s time added to the mentoree’s time? How much is the time cost in salary terms to have an employee undertake the online learning + the cost of developing that learning program? How much does it cost to put 12 employees in a mini seminar for a couple of hours a month? Or 30, or to go the whole hog and run a staff conference for 50-70 and get some real happening thangs going with fringe benefits (like team building and group work) for a couple of days?
    Learning must be sold on more than costs: like everything else one sells, it must be sold on benefits. To do this we need to be quite clear on the tangible and intangible benefits of having a learning organisation – and some facts and figures on how this adds to productivity and improves the bottom line.

    • pauldrasmussen says:


      One of the things I always used to find amusing, is that (when I used to be a consultant) organisations were more than happy to pay us very large sums of money to provide them with consulting services which in essence relied on them actually implementing the solutions we suggested but were horrified at the idea of spending even $1500 on a piece of ‘training.’ Something I learnt a long time ago is that your point of difference in the market should never be price alone. That will drive you out of business quicker than look.

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