A side effect of the attempt to simplify - in the interests of marketing (that is to communicate) - an idea, is that we obscure the truth - which is after all obscure at best, and whose plain articulation may seem to verge on the mystical.

So perhaps this is the place for that: a graveyard if you like, a place to speak to future generations. A place to use language both plain and obscure.

So with the weight of marketing lifted, let's talk about learning.

The essence of cognition is concern, and hence learning is primarily affective in nature.

All creatures that can learn are necessarily capable of feeling; this is the common cognitive root shared between human and primitive life.

Over the last few months I’ve been looking at some of the challenges ahead for L&D; new skills that L&D professionals might need, a shift from courses to resources, and the importance of design thinking. But this falls short of an organisational blueprint, so I thought it might be useful to pull this thinking together into a single (simplified) diagram.

The present is the enemy of the future.

Predicting the future is tough - not because it is hard to describe progress, but because convention battles progress and the outcome is rarely certain: it was decades before the Theory of Evolution became widely accepted and today there are still people who have yet to do so. For the same reason Gibson remarked “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” (if by future we mean ‘progress’).

Here’s a funny thing: when you ask people what kind of learning they think is most effective they say ‘classroom training’. Even millennials.

There’s a chance that evidence-based HR could actually be worse for organisations that non-evidence based HR (or just plain ‘HR’).

People tend to forget that evidence can support the right theory, the wrong theory, both or neither. There is plenty of evidence, for example, that the earth is flat. Don’t believe me? Here’s a ruler – go check for yourself. Critics will object that this is the ‘wrong kind of evidence’ – which is rather my point.

When talking to organisations about learning they tend to say things that sound like:

‘We’d like to provide a better learning experience but we implemented [insert LMS here]’


‘We’d like to do something like that, but we’re not very advanced’

It always feels to me as though these conversations miss the point: no technology will deliver a great learning experience by itself – and in fact you can deliver a great learning experience with no technology.

With thanks to Lumesse Learning who hosted the talk, and PA Consulting who I work for.

There are two senses in which learning is dead: the more superficial sense - 'education is dead' - in which a bunch of more or less dysfunctional practices are coming to an end, and the second more profound sense in which learning as an activity is draining from our future like water down a plughole.

Why is education on the way out and what is to be done about it? It's on the way out (whether we mean public or corporate) because we mistakenly thought learning was knowledge-transfer.

When was the last time you repeated something over and over in order to keep it in your head?

I do this a couple of times a week on average - and for a very specific reason: when I dial into a conference I have to hold the pin code in my head while I switch from outlook to the number pad on the iPhone. It's very annoying. I do it because the information is - roughly speaking - garbage. A long number is the kind of thing that doesn't have any affective significance for us.

I walk into work one day and a colleague says ‘That tie doesn’t go with that shirt.’ I learn something, and my behaviour changes. Was that comment ‘learning content’?

The point, of course, is that there is no such thing as learning content – micro or otherwise. There is just learning and content: we learn, and whether or not a piece of content helps us to learn, helps us not to learn, or is merely useless depends entirely on the context.