Monday, November 28
Clark Aldrich, in his insightful blog several months ago, said “As I work with organizations in developing e-learning, I am increasingly aware of dead elephants in the room, large reference points that we have to avoid because we can't wrap our minds around them.” He then went on to give several examples, where we talk about one thing (the traditional approaches and methods), and do not bring up the related Dead Elephants of e-learning (the new, innovative tools and techniques). Clark ended his post by asking readers “What are some other dead elephants?”
In the 10 comments that followed, Godfrey Parkin touched upon what I think is not only a dead elephant, but the huge rotting carcass of a Wooly Mammoth. He said “One very large elephant that nobody wants to talk about is the increasing marginalization (and ultimate demise) of centralized training, and its implications for training departments as we have known them."
That was the point of the Snake Oil post. Back then, when it was first published, it was a wake up call for those of us who worked in corporate training departments. Back then, a lot of people paid attention and responded.
As I understood the post, the purpose was to start a dialogue, to try and build a business case and discover a migration path from what Sam called “Snake Oil” – training that had been proven NOT to work - to new approaches that DO work (e.g. affective and cognitive learning, mentoring, collaboration, database-driven embedded and portable WIFI ‘performance’ systems, etc.). In Sam’s words, it was an opportunity for us to be “… rated on whether you save or make money (or both) for the company.”
Two years later, after the alarm was sounded, it seems as if many of us have not only gone back to sleep, we’re disappearing.
People left inside corporate training organizations are still selling Snake Oil. To quote a friend of mine, “This is professional suicide.” The new (now old in PC years) learning and knowledge transfer methods that the Snake Oil post listed are still not being discussed or widely adopted.
The reason I thought the Snake Oil post was so important – I remember forwarding it to almost everyone on my email contact list – was that it was a chance to bring the Dead Elephants to life and have them enter the room. By doing so, I thought we could move away from the old Snake Oil approach, and begin to employ and incorporate the more readily measurable methods and tools into our work. The net result would have been several years of providing corporate education that would have had a more visible impact upon performance and profitability.
Because we did not take the Snake Oil post either to heart or to work, that window of opportunity is lost. And the consequences are apparent.
I recently read some research about our industry by Ambient Insights that shows that we – corporate trainers - are gradually going away. We are moving from inside the corporation, where we might have had a tremendously valuable impact, especially in the Knowledge Economy, to the outside. In 2004, there were about 75,000 corporate training professionals in this country. The trends towards off-shoring, outsourcing, downsizing and capsizing indicate that by 2008 there will be about 45,000 of us left.
Most of us will be working for companies outside the corporation. As an outside vendor, our influence and impact upon corporate decision making, with regard to education and training, will be minimized. And if the trend continues, and we cannot break away from using Snake Oil, more than 75-80% of us by 2011 will be looking in from the outside, as we develop and deliver corporate training programs .
The upshot of all this is that 6 years from now, by 2012, only 20,000 of us (or less) will be working inside companies as part of a training department. As Godfrey Parkin said, we will be even more marginalized, our ideas for innovation and new approaches even more discounted, and our primary role will be as project managers of outsourced contracts. The majority of us will work for outside companies as low paid and/or contract workers. And becasue there will still be money in Snake Oil, that's probably what they will sell.
I had high hopes, when the original post was first published, that we could change direction. I knew that we were NOT on the right path every time I bent over backwards, using some clever new system, to try and prove an ROI for a training program. I was looking forward to a new and exciting dialogue about the different role we could play. I was envisioning a more rapid adoption of the innovative methods of learning that were surfacing as part of the Digital Revolution.
I had even hoped we could broaden our scope to learn what was going on outside the workplace, look at what was being done in the government, the military, Grades K to 12, and post-secondary schools. My goal back then was to reverse the trends, move away from just being ‘the training department’, jettison the canned Snake Oil approach, and move onto a better track that could help us become more valuable and valued by our companies.
And so, two years later, the infamous Snake Oil blog is posted once again. I still believe, despite the trends, that it’s not too late, that those of us inside the company can still change what we are proposing and doing, get away from what measurably does no good (Snake Oil), to what works better if not best. I look forward to 'walking the talk', using the newer and more collaborative technology of the wiki, to discuss the possibilities posited by the Snake Oil blog. As Andrew Williams wrote in his response, perhaps the original post can still be viewed as “an inflection point” in the history of this industry.
Posted by David Grebow at 3:23 PM