Employee training within spacious networks

Individual trainees are really complex aggregations of interests, contexts, relationships and paths. To simplify a trainee into an isolated person with an identified need to know the content provided by a SME (subject matter expert) is to invite disaster. When the full complexity of a trainee's world gets considered, it becomes obvious that instructional designers cannot do their job adequately and trainers are the wrong people to deliver the training.

Imagine a trainee is on a track that runs through the online, onsite or offsite training space. That track comes from their past experiences, current challenges and unmet needs. The track takes them to a place where they will find answers to the questions, solutions to their problems and processes to work through their challenges. The training is merely a station on that track where many get derailed by envisioning them as sitting still receiving expert content in a disconnected training space.

Imagine the trainee is also a web of interrelationships. Each trainee belongs to tribes which provide safety in numbers, require collusion with biased outlooks and expect members to honor their predecessors. Each also demonstrates loyalty to an inventory of good habits, success routines and work procedures which give them the reputation as a reliable cog in the machine. Each trainee also extends his/her reach into other lives, changeable situations and evolving opportunity spaces with personal insights, cultivated empathy and practiced experience which sets them up to make a difference to the others involved.

When all this complexity get taken into consideration, there's no obvious way to train the trainee. It becomes a mystery how employee training could even occur effectively. The situation poses more questions than answers to instructional designers or trainers. This array of recognized patterns rewards innocence, wonder and not-knowing instead of the usual incentives to be knowledgeable, professional and confident. The trainees have been accurately located in the space at the end of a process which begins several other processes. The trainees are functioning within a spacious network.

Another thing happens when all this complexity gets taken into consideration, we're looking through a lens which reveals how extremely dysfunctional conventional training appears. All that typical delivery of content, practice exercises and discussion groups has the inadvertent effect of:

  • dishonoring the tribes and appearing as the exact danger which their safety in numbers protects against
  • blocking progress on the track from where the trainees are coming from which would otherwise provide them with intrinsic motivation to be fully engaged, to get their questions answered and to make maximum use of the educational opportunity
  • providing the training at the wrong time, in the wrong place with the wrong people to co-create the understandings that could constitute "takeaway value"
  • disrupting the trainees ongoing relating, caring for others and finding ways to make a difference

It then becomes evident that this mismatch between the delivery of training and the actual complexity of the trainees occurs from relying on training procedures instead of learning processes, or as Harold Jarche phrased it memorably this week: it occurs from listening to the cookie cutter salesman.  Looking through this lens reveals that the SME, instructional designer and trainer are equally complex aggregations of interests, contexts, relationships and paths. There's no end to the complications which undermine reliable, consistent procedures. There's only processes that begin and end in wonder about what to question next, explore further and reflect upon more deeply.

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