Watching isn’t learning

The online learning & development and the professional coaching industry has gained a lot of attention and traction since the outbreak of COVID-19. Business leaders and workers alike have acknowledged the value of developing themselves and how it affects their long-term relationships with their organisations.

Sure, some will get fired anyway. But if you’re the kind who believes in investing in yourself by way of online courses and coaching, your perceived value goes through the roof compared to that other person who works hard.

That said, organisations have also come to realise how crucial professional coaching is for the wellbeing of its employees, particularly the front-line staff that’s on the ground dealing with its customers on a day-to-day basis.

Naturally, all this spike in interest has caused a lot of content creators to work towards and publish courses and educational modules aimed at enhancing the most trending skills in a given industry. That might sound great in theory, but I think we’ve got a problem — there’s way too much content for any person to decide which one should they be investing their time in, let alone consume everything that’s out there (which is impossible, to be honest).

My major gripe with all this content is that investing time to create or learn is a losing proposition since there’s always another program or course to compare it with. Mainly when most courses are topical, and hence, may not have a long shelf life.

The course creators lack an obsession to go deep and create artisan quality content that not everyone can afford, except those who care enough to do well in life. I know that’s restricting access to the masses, but what’s the point if they don’t even remember what courses (including yours) they went through in six months?

From a content consumption point of view, I’d encourage people to focus. Hence, they’re able to master something other than drool over the buffet or the entire Coursera or Udemy catalogue. Much of the appeal is due to the ease and access of these courses — enter in your credit card number, play the bunch of videos, and download the certificate from the “my courses” section.

That’s not learning. What’s the point of putting together many videos when you’re not making the learnings do the work? How do you know if your course has been successful? How are you measuring it? By the number of sign-ups and recommendations? Sure, they help validate that the course is helpful, but how do you know if what you’re teaching helps resolve day-to-day challenges?

Frankly, nobody’s measuring it. Nobody’s expected to either. But that doesn’t mean educators can’t do quality control checks at their end to validate the student’s understanding of the topic. I believe that’s critically important because if they understand the subject, they will apply it, and when they do, they will run into problems that will need further resolution. And that’s your opportunity to be of service and help them find a solution or reach a viable outcome.

I’m working on producing a course myself, but it’s an 18-month project involving rigorous research, planning, organisation, and commitment. And if you think I will want to watch my customers binge-watch the program like a Netflix special, they would be so wrong! If I invested time to put together a world-class program, I expect the students to be just as committed to learning. And yes, that means there will be assignments, grading, and yes, you might fail. All of that is okay because committing to something like that means you’re doing the work, not passively watching a video on a topic that interests you.

Unfortunately, going all-in isn’t something we do often these days. We’ve got to do more of it. That’s where authentic learning and mastery lies.

If you want to argue with me, fine, be my guest. But let me ask you, how much would you trust your family physician if they told you that they recently did an advanced paediatric course from Would you let her come anywhere close to your 3-year-old son?

Exactly my point. Watching isn’t learning. Doing the work is.

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