Are We Losing Critical Thinking in Training?

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We all know corporations are moving at the speed of light nowadays. They're asking a lot from employees: salaries are stagnant, budgets are at bare minimum and work is more complex. In light of this, training organizations are shouldering a heavy burden in helping to support workers that are more in need of up-to-date information than ever before. And, to add fuel to the fire, many training functions are also seeing reduced budgets and staff while being asked to do more.

Guess what? I wrote the paragraph above in 1998. You might think I wrote it just this week. But, after going through some of my past writing, I realized while everything has changed, little has really changed in how we support our workforce.

As we propel forward in the new "social economy" (or whatever the marketers are calling it now), I wanted to pause and reflect on what the typical worker really is in need of. Sure, we need to hammer them over the head with product knowledge, details of service offerings, how to improve customer relationship skills, technical specifications for the ever-expanding product line, and oh yeah, we can't forget those "up-sell skills" so that "everyone is selling". That alone is enough to scare off any "knowledge worker" from even wanting to take training.

On top of all that, we now are being told that innovation and creativity is what matters. That is what will separate the good from the chaff. Not only do we need a workforce literate and fluent in all things Acme Corp does, we also need them to be creative and innovative. Gotta fend off the coming robots that will take over the rote work.

Facing this is daunting for a regular training group. How do you train someone to be "innovative" and/or "creative"? What if you just have a workforce souped up with automatons (or worse, re-hires that came back at a senior level with a top salary)? At best, you've got about 20% of the workforce that can be labeled "high performing". And, at the end of the day, you're judged on smiley sheet responses to boring eLearning. Oh, no one knows what we go through do they?

However, as I sat here perusing yet another MOOC I signed up for, I got to thinking about how we training groupies have fallen into a bit of a malaise. I mean, this MOOC makes me want to puke — it's all text, long and scrolling, full of context-free links and happy-face smileys from the "professor", and low-quality videos of talking heads in dim light with bad sound and too much "organic" hipster effects to try and distract me from the simple fact that this is an iPhone video. I'm sorry, regardless of what you think, your audience is NOT OK with crapware that you produce on your own cause you can Google a 5-step process for "shooting movie-quality videos with iPhone 5". They're just not good. I don't care if you are Einstein on crack, giving us the answers to the mystery of the universe… if I can't see you or hear you, I won't "engage".

And, oh, by the way, if you're paying a consultant to help you with your "learning strategy" and they bring in white papers slathered with the word "engage", can you do me a favor? Can you fire them? Right now. I'll wait. Pick up the phone, and call them now. Better yet, just text them. It's quicker, and much more "personal".

Anyway, I digress. I hate MOOCs. Why? I don't know. Maybe because they're the "chocolate maple with truffle-infused vodka squirts" flavor of the month. I've started a few of them. I haven't finished any of em. And, yeah, it's cool that my cohort includes people from Bolivia, Chicago, Paris and wherever. Woo-hoo. Still, I'm faceless in a sea of cohortness, and I have yet to learn anything.

What I'm thinking is… through all the mush of jargon, through all the "new educational paradigms" that have been created, through the onslaught of crazy trends like social learning, mobile learning, gamification, immersive learning, the Cloud, experiential design, and whatever else is floating around out there, through all this, we've kind of lost our way. We're in the Dark Ages of Training now, just because a tech company designed a shiny bling-ding object that can magically waste our time, all the time, and has up-ended everything we used to love about what we never were real effective at: talking to each other about stuff. Debating. Hammering through ideas. Being told, face to face, that you're wrong. Convincing your colleague that he or she should step back and "try this" … and then showing them. Sure, you've got "collaborative platforms" where people can "share ideas". The thing is. No one really is sharing. They're talking at you. Not with you. They're earning their "achievements". They're leveling up. Or collecting badges. Or whatever little tchotchke you're offering them just to log-in for a few minutes so you can get your "measurable LMS results".

What I think is causing us to stagnate in the Dark Ages of Training is a lack of critical thinking. Whatever happened to critical thinking? I remember when I was a young lad, I was told if I went to school, learned new skills and played by the rules, I'd have a good job with a living wage. Well, I quickly learned to stop relying on promises. However, I remember in school having discussions with the teacher and other students about topics at hand. We dialogued. We debated. We questioned the teacher, and each other. I always felt I learned the most when I could engage (yeah, there's that awful word again… maybe I should find another one) in a free-form and guided discussion on the topic. Not just a teacher (or facilitator) lecturing at me. But sharing with me.

All through the years, the guvmint has told us we need to be fostering critical thinking skills. Not just in K-12 and in college. But also in the workplace. On the job. What, really are "critical thinking skills"? Well, for a start, here's what I think a good definition is:

"Critical thinking skills can be defined as the ability to exercise sound reasoning and analytical thinking, using knowledge, facts and data to resolve workplace issues." [From:]

Why do they matter? Well, if you think about a more "creative" and "innovative" workforce, you are going to need to help people to think fast on their feet, make decisions, and more importantly learn how to problem-solve and delegate. And, we may be delegating to robots soon enough. Analysis, problem-solving and analytical thinking.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? It's really not that difficult to grasp. But what you have to ask yourself is a bit more difficult: what are you doing to ensure the workforce you support has the necessary critical thinking skills to help the business stay competitive in its marketplace? You're creating some more "mobile learning" or spending thousands on a "social platform"? Or a MOOC. Yeah, that's it. I've got a MOOC to sell you. Before I puke.

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