Was Robbie or Gary the best singer?

For many years, trade magazines have devoted their August (or July/ August) editions to features on ‘training’ or ‘learning and development’ (L&D). The traditional rationale is that ‘real’ advertisers don’t advertise in that edition of the magazine because readers are on holiday. So that’s the edition of the magazine that doesn’t get read. Consequently, to salve the magazine’s conscience about not considering L&D at any other time of the year – and to make the industry that the magazine serves appear to have a soft, human side – it cynically devotes a few pages to L&D issues in August.


True to tradition, HR Director magazine has recently published its forward features for the August 2012 edition – and ‘learning through technology’ is, again, on the list. Interestingly, the published synopsis, inviting relevant feature proposals, says:


We are still in a mess, and any “people spend” has to be physical, visible, impactful and above all popular – like the new yukka plants in the canteen! The problem with IT stuff is, it’s kind of expensive, takes ages to set up, takes even longer for people to take on board and use properly – if at all – and isn’t very tactile or pretty. And so it is that learning through technology splits opinion like, who’s the best singer in Take That, Robbie or Gary? On the face of it, it all makes perfect sense to pipe learning through modern means of communication, it should be cheaper, convenient and empowering, and so right up there with the most obvious and natural IT applications. But learning through technology, well into the 21st century, epitomises the proverbial little girl with the proverbial little curl – when it’s good, it’s hugely enabling and when its bad, it stinks. There’s certainly no lack of options and partnerships out there, but how do HR directors avoid a potentially devastating blind-taste, guessing game?’


Comment: There speaks a ‘real’ businessperson: peddling the sort of opinion about learning technology that’s been prevalent anywhere other than among learning technology professionals for at least the last 20 years.


Anyone who has a soft spot in her/ his heart for learning technology should be more than a little concerned about this. Maybe s/he should also feel hurt and even betrayed that a magazine representing views of those as close to the learning technology profession as the HR world should be so dismissive of, and disparaging about, it.


In the cold hard light of day, though, these jaundiced journalistic comments illustrate that, despite its earnestness, the learning technology sector has failed to make its case for being taken seriously by the wider business world. If it couldn’t make that case during the so-called ‘boom’ years, it’s got a much tougher job to do so during these years of budget cutting austerity.


It’s too easy to be wise after the event and say that, in the good times, those in the learning technology industry were too concerned for themselves – and for their own success compared with their competitors – to collectively invest in promoting their industry as a whole (for example, as making a tangible, measurable contribution to business performance via knowledge and skills development). Now that budgets for L&D are not so ample or easy to tap – and learning technology has to compete strenuously with every other form of L&D for these meagre budgets – few learning technology vendors/ distributors are in a position to do anything to counter the swelling tide of ambivalence and indifference they’re experiencing from the wider business community.