Lots of industries have their hunting season.  Ours starts at midday on the first day of Learning Technologies.  We all grab our rifles, put on our tweed jacket and march downstairs to shoot some vendors, or myths, or anyone who mentions learning styles.


I'm declaring hunting season is over. I think we all get that Learning styles, NLP and all the other snake oil treatments don't have basis in evidence.  We all get that the vendors are years behind in their pedagogical (can't believe I used that word) outlook.  We know that we are the ones with better answers, better solutions to learning problems than people who are selling to their customers.  Note I said better, not right...  That horse is flogged.  It's dead.  We've beaten that drum enough.  Time to move on.  Nothing to see here.


(You know what people are called who go on and on about the same issue, proclaiming it loudly to the anyone who will listen ad nauseum.  They're called fanatics.)


We're also all guilty of this ourselves.  We still have ideas and concepts that aren't or can't really be grounded in evidence.  There's ideas around today that I predict we'll be distancing ourselves from as fast as we can in a few years time.  I frankly don't believe you if you tell me that you've never been taken in by the charms and warm embrace of a delicious sounding theory.  So maybe it's a fit of pique that's making us angry, like a lover spurned?


But here's the thing.  If you go to a vendor and explain to them gently (or not) that what they're selling is perpetuating myths and bad practice they have a rather good answer.  "It's what the customers want."  Another good answer is "We made £10 million last year, how much did you make?"


There's a few things here then that we need to consider.  


First, it's what the customers want.  To be more precise, it's what the customers think they want, not necessarily what they need.  Are we going to get all self righteous about businesses who provide a service that their customers will buy?  Really?  We've all bought into that particular myth. (If you don't believe me consider how many gadgets or tools you have that you don't need).  These myths sometimes provide a useful metaphor to help users understand something.  Sure, the vendors might be selling something that doesn't really do a job very well but often they're sincere (and sincerely wrong) and actually believe in what they're doing.  Sometimes they know it's not really effective but it's what the customer demands...


This leads me onto the next point.  They are grounded in commercial reality.  They are selling stuff people will buy.  And they buy it in spades.  We can moan that they're selling the wrong stuff, or misleading their customers or whatever, but they are making a fortune.  (I know, it's not about money, but there you go).


Where's this going? Well here's the important point. They (vendors, people "downstairs") might be years behind in the learning world.  But they're years AHEAD in the commercial world.  This makes me smile, because we're supposed to be the experts, the very best at affecting behavioural change but we can't change the most important thing of all.  


Where are the learning companies that do learning right?  Why don't you start one?  Yes, there are some, but can you name me 5?  How about 10?  How many vendors are the show?


So, learning people, next time we decide to bleat about myths, vendors and learning styles, maybe we should take a step back and consider what we're doing to affect a change in the minds of customers and senior people who make buying decisions.  Maybe we should start trying to ground ourselves in the commercial reality rather than the other-worldly, overly academic world of learning.


As usual, any viewpoints, ideas or anything at all expressed in the above article are mine alone and nothing whatsoever to do with my employer, their brand or their values. 

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Andy, it is such a pity this post sits here where it can't be seen by 'outsiders'.


Oh... and mine was a learning company that did things right. The thing is, the operative word is 'was'. Because, yes... the customers don't want 'right'. And because I could not, would not sell out on my integrity and go down the 'stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap' road.


But I think there is space between the 'overly academic' and the unethically misleading (because that's what it is).

Oh how I loved this post!  I totally agree with what Andy has been saying and have said it so myself (take a look at:  http://www.corollis.com/articles/learning-technologies/70-lets-kill...) and I do believe that some (but not all) vendors are throwing their wares at us hoping (knowing) that some will stick.


But unlike Andy, we are still sadly not all sophisticated buyers.  Whilst I’d agree that the general level of knowledge within the industry has risen over the years, there are still, and always will be, groups of less sophisticated buyers who are drawn in by the snake-oil sales people.


And here’s the rub – I agree with Andy that (generally) L&D folk are not at the forefront of commercial thinking, and perhaps they never will be, BUT unless they get better at it and fast and start asking better questions and demanding better solutions then they will always get the vendors they deserve!




hmmm - some good points Andy. But didn't "commercial reality" - the chasing of "what people will buy" - cause the collapse of the financial sector, which is now leading to the destruction of much of the public sector etc.?? I'm no anti-capitalist (honest!), but it surely isn't the time to be touting pure commercial imperatives as virtue. Following this line of thought, I guess it's also fine to flog weapons and pollutants to poor African countries, gas-guzzlers to anyone who will buy them...the "what people will buy" position, regardless of its effectiveness, value and increasingly, its moral worth, isn't an argument I'd really want in the learning space. My grasp of logic is rarely sound, but isn't the logical outcome of this that if the thing (learning product/service) is sellable, it's valuable?

Or have I missed the point (as usual!)? So...back to writing that good ol' e-learning course I was doing 5 mins ago...

Hi Patrick,


Good to hear from you again.  Don't think you're logic isn't sound, perhaps I'm just rubbish at making a point...


I think what I'm trying to say isn't that selling low quality learning is good, but that in the learning space we often don't seem that grounded in commercial reality.  The fact that the reality at the moment is allowing some eLearning vendors to produce rubbish and have people coming back for more is, actually, neither here nor there.  


The fact that we are unable, and maybe incapable of speaking to the right people in the right language to get our message across is the point that scares me most.


And our message is about learning, about how people learn and about how there isn't actually much use in an eLearning course if someone, or someone's behaviour doesn't change in some way after it (simplistically put, I know).  


I think that at the moment, to senior management and decision makers we actually come across as annoying whingers, people who are jealous of the success of eLearning companies and are trying to fight for our jobs (maybe).  


Speaking the language of commerce, the language of business is about knowing what works best for your audience.  If they like metrics, give them metrics.  If it's marketing, do it.  If it's sound and believable ROI, do that too.  Don't give them learning theory and why this or that is not going to be good...  Sadly, this is something that should be bread and butter to us, but isn't.


We also need to earn permission to do it the right way. That might be concessions in the short term.  However, if we are able to become a support to "them", maybe even a trusted partner (thanks Nigel), we have more scope to influence and ultimately help them make sensible buying, and learning, decisions.


Does that long winded reply make more sense?



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