Maybe I am overreacting, but lately it seems to me that “learning” is under attack. It seems to have fallen out of favor, pushed out of the way by performance support and short-form action lists. Learning is pitted as a race against the clock, limited to 18 minute talks, 140 character comments, 6 second videos, and ubiquitous bullet points (no more than seven).
With the demands of current work environments, it’s hard to find time for the deliberate learning that professionals know they need to be successful. They want to get what they need fast, and they want what they access to be short and sweet. There’s no time to delve into research on the topics that are important to their projects – no time to find and read books and articles that might prove helpful. Professionals look for the distilled versions of longer-form work if they look at all – they want the one-page version, the executive summary, or the top 10 tip list.
For many people, attending a lecture series or going to a conference seems out of the question – there’s little time, and little financial support. And even when they do get to go, conference sessions are usually scheduled for an hour or 75 minutes – hardly time to both deliver good content and facilitate exercises or discussion around it. Academic conferences are even more limiting – researchers try to summarize their studies in 15 minutes with just a few more minutes for questions and discussion jammed with several other papers which may or may not be related. There’s little time allocated in lecture halls or conference venues to talk about what participants got out of the experience, to hear what others learned.
In the corporate environment, time allocated for training and education is getting shorter and shorter. Many designers are not allowed to design week-long sessions or a series of programs with intense between-session activities and projects. Over the years, maximum training time has gone from weeks, to days, to hours, to minutes, to seconds. The hype around informal learning and performance support has too often made it seem like all learning happens seamlessly; we don’t need to set aside any time for it.
Professionals tell me they can’t imagine having the time to read blogs or check Twitter streams in order to learn, no less the time or patience to find the thought leaders who are saying interesting and important things in those venues. The social media that is supposed to be a way for great ideas to spread is often seen as another time-sucking burden better left to others who don’t have impossible deadlines to meet.
There’s no time for colleagues to go out to lunch and share their stories. And yet important insights often come from fortuitous discussions over a two-hour lunch – talking about other people’s issues often leads to breakthroughs on your own. Even beyond the lack of lunch breaks, many professionals hardly step away from their desks and their meetings to see what’s happening around them. Rather than risk having hallway conversations, they text or email one another (and those communications better be short and to the point!).
Learning takes time.
In a world where learning is critical, the scarcity of time for learning is a real problem.
Now before I get rebuttals from all those smart and dedicated advocates of just-in-time, just-enough learning and performance support, let me state unequivocally that there is indeed a time and place for short learning bursts. When I’m learning a software product, I don’t want to attend a week-long class. When I need a functionality I don’t know how to use, I’m grateful to be able to pause for a minute to call up a video, look up the directions, or ask a question on a user forum. When my equipment goes on the fritz, I’m grateful for the embedded performance support that walks me through the troubleshooting steps. I don’t need to know these things deeply, and I don’t need to retain them for a long time. It won’t matter if I look them up again the next time I have to perform the task; if I do it often enough, I’ll learn to do it without support eventually. This kind of support is a great advancement for learning.
And I’ll try to get ahead of rebuttals from all the smart and dedicated advocates for social media, too. I love blogging (duh!). I value what I learn from my Twitter feed (which is most often a reference to a longer-form work). I think social media provides access to experts and colleagues that would be near impossible for those of us who work in one-person operations, or who don’t have immediate colleagues who share our specialty or passions about the work. All good stuff!
I’m simply lamenting the lack of time – and to some degree, the lack of respect – for deep, hard-earned, intense, mind-blowing learning.
As learning professionals, we know full well the necessity for deep study, low risk but challenging practice sessions, lively discussion, detailed constructive feedback, and deep reflection for lasting, deep, transformative learning to occur. These things take time.
Can we advocate for dedicated time for learning? Can we stop pretending it can all be done in 10 minute chunks, 1-hour sessions, or quick Q&A on a discussion forum?