Bear-ly Learning

Distracting, superficial, isolating. If we don’t watch it, that may be a future trend in learning. We are quickly moving to shorter and shorter learning events, driven by ever-increasing work demands and shrinking time to acquire new knowledge and abilities. Yet, over-relying on technology and shrinking time devoted to genuine learning will soon pass the point of diminishing returns.

We need to trim time away from work to only relevant and productive topics. But we lose something of larger value when boiling learning down to bite-size learning crumbs.

Let me use a sports analogy to explain:

Imagine the Chicago Cubs announce in 2020 they will apply the latest corporate learning innovations for spring training. All practice and spring training games at the Mesa, Ariz., facility will be canceled as the franchise rolls out the latest EA Sports Baseball LMS with Moneyball big data integration 2.0.

Players will practice at home, using the latest video game console technology. Coaches, also working from home, will assign daily Wii/Xbox game skill batting, fielding and pitching drills for individual players. Coaches will tweet feedback and instructional tips as well as broadcast biweekly PowerPoint skill position instructions. A secure Cubs YouTube channel will be uploaded with how-to videos for additional player development resources.

To build team spirit critical to high performance, virtual teaming technology will be applied. Each player will have a unique Facebook page to share with teammates to post daily thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes. A players-only site will allow participants to post confidential comments on coaching staff, fans and media.

To simulate competitive conditions, weekly games via social gaming technology will be utilized. For a subscription fee, fans can log into the game site to follow the action and buy virtual hot dogs and spring training e-memorabilia. After each game, players will remain logged in, digitally signing virtual hats, balls and game-day programs for fans. At the end of spring training, a final roster will be posted on the main Cubs site, so players can find out if they made the cut for opening day.

The Cubs’ general manager expects numerous benefits from this new approach. First, huge productivity gains will be realized by eliminating travel and living expenses to the spring training location.

Second, players can enjoy the comfort and flexibility of staying at home. Given the very busy lives of professional athletes today, players will be excited to schedule their spring training obligations around other commitments.

Third, coaches will appreciate similar flexibility in their work day and well as the ease of using tweets to deliver critical feedback rather than in person. Posting online roster cuts will keep the atmosphere positive and avoid any clubhouse drama.

How do you think the 2020 Cubs will fare with all this advanced learning innovation? Most likely, much of the tangibles and intangibles needed for building winning performance will be lost. I would describe the new learning approach for this future team as well as the risky trend in corporate training today as:

Distracting: Players need to be removed from their home distractions to focus during spring training. Office workers need the same respite periodically to disengage from the daily fray, reflect and regain perspective for real development.

Superficial: The virtual nature of online sports training seems silly. Skills training needs to be a hands-on, total immersion environment that truly tests and expands talent. Likewise, working professionals lose out when cutting development time short, which creates the appearance of learning but is nothing more than a cursory skimming rather than meaningful development that sticks.

Isolating: Teamwork is the hallmark of championship performers where positive chemistry is born with shoulder-to-shoulder efforts together, not through digital posting. Corporate teams need to build relationships, which are best created in face-to-face learning venues.

In the near future, I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on the EA Sports Baseball LMS for fun and games. But for real-world winning performance, learning programs need to be grounded in focus, quality and connectedness. It’s worth the investment today and tomorrow.