Could the training and development industry be broken too?

For the longest time the intelligentsia has highlighted the shortcomings of the traditional educational system. Beliefs range from “there’s a long way to go until we get there” to “it’s broken.” Thankfully, the academia isn’t short of committed educators who’re working their butts off to bridge the gap. I’m hopeful that we will get ‘there,’ sooner than never.

But I believe we’ve got a bigger challenge to deal with — the adult education industry, also called as the training/learning and development industry. It’s bloated and imbalanced. There’s shitload of junk out there. And a whole lot of coaches, trainers, and facilitators than people interested to get coached, trained, and facilitated!

Why? I don’t have a clue. Perhaps, it’s the lure of independence (being your own boss) and riches (the desire to be like that millionaire speaker and coach) that attracts so many people to this industry. But it’s about time that training and development professionals consider this question: what is education really for?

Superficial answers won’t cut it. They have to go deep and go beyond the obvious. Failing to do that will polarise the industry irreversibly. Because barring a few committed individuals and companies who’re focusing on developing skills, everyone else is clinging onto a formula that has become super predictable. Just log into your email, Facebook, or LinkedIn account and I can bet more than 50% of the messages are from superstar coaches and trainers who’re selling you a system to become just like them!

Is that valuable? Absolutely, for someone who’s seeking a shortcut and has money to burn. Would it work? Given that 95% of people drop out of online courses and almost 99% of the remaining participants struggle to implement, I am not too sure. But let’s not go there.

My rant is more around the idea of providing or adding value, which is literally non-existent in almost all training and development (including online) courses. A majority of these are carefully curated (read: safe) modules that are high on silly acronyms (VUCA, CRISES, PROBLEMS, SOLUTIONS, PEOPLE, ACNE and whatnot) that the providers know work, at least theoretically.

The success rate of these programs are unknown as they barely get measured. The sale is limited to a one-off (multiple, if lucky) session that will give the participants the right tools and knowledge to solve a business challenge. Or perhaps a webinar that’s being offered at a nominal rate or a high-ticket coaching or consulting gig.

Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s becoming way too predictable. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with selling your services but I believe as helping professionals the focus should be on providing value. And you do that by not just providing access to a pre-recorded online course or a live (or otherwise) webinar but going beyond that.

Continuing education isn’t about watching a bunch of videos or attending countless free live webinars and getting a certificate of participation. It’s about creating an opportunity and a platform to share, engage, collaborating, and expressing thoughts to clarify thinking. It’s not about consuming content, that’ll only (sorry for the pun), weigh things down!

And no, it doesn’t mean you have to have a Facebook group, though that’s a good start. The idea is to ensure that professionals create courses or offerings that promote community and collaboration through which powerful learning and change happen.

Education is about enrolment. A conscious choice to teach, connect, communicate, ideate, and challenge people to step out of their comfort zone. That requires the trainer/coach to become a teacher first and treat the clients like students. Now, that’s a mindset shift which just might change the dynamics of the entire industry! It’s also a risk — grown-ups don’t like to be taught but “trained.”

That said, it’s funny how powerful your offering/content becomes the moment you flip the model and start thinking like a teacher. The question changes from “what content should I share” to “how can I add value to my students and provide them an environment for experiential learning?”

This is precisely why I believe a community like Akimbo or Empowered Living or even the John Maxwell Team has more engaged people than others. There’s immense opportunity for leaders to cross communicate and engage with the fellow students.

I believe this new model needs to be embraced if we hope to change our culture, the way we learn as adults, the way we deliver, and succeed at large. It’s time to switch our roles to teachers and reevaluate what we offer to our students.

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