Stu Neighbour

Learning Below the Line

There’s a story out of Rotorua in NZ that has lessons for the learning industry if we choose to go deep and follow real innovation.


The guts of it is that the river rafting company that relies on tourism (in the L&D biz that would be classrooms) sees the industry being seriously disrupted for the foreseeable future. So rather than close, they pivot but stay true to the deeper theme within the industry.

What I mean by that is that rather than run virtual rafting experiences or continue to try doing the same thing, but on a smaller scale, they’ve looked at the deeper themes of what tourism is about and run with that.

So, they identified the below the line theme of sustainability that tourism is aligned with and pivoted to that theme rather that stay above the line in the same industry. What did they do? They flipped to landscaping with the focus of building edible backyards.

Still using their experiences and skills but in a different way. A sustainable way. And when the tourists come back, they will be ready for them. If they choose to be there.

In the learning industry, the reactionary response to the changing circumstances appears to have been to convert classroom sessions into webinars. This will work for awhile but its still an above the line change. It’s still running a traditional way of learning, but on another medium.

And I get that need to stick with what you know but what I’m suggesting is as we satisfy short term client needs, the learning industry take this opportunity to influence below the surface for more long term gains. There may be less $ upfront and more faith required in a different process, but I know which of the choices are more fragile in the long term.

So, think less about the method of delivery. That’s above the line artifacts and not what where the real value is. Instead, let’s look at the deeper themes around accessibility, inspiration, safety and experimentation. For example, lets see L&D step in as the curator of learning and connector of shared experiences, enabling employees to be more autonomous and self-directed in their continuous learning journeys.

Let’s shift from the traditional focus on static stocks of knowledge (a course mindset) to consideration for information flows. Online content within the walls of an LMS (do not get me started) can be outdated pretty quickly. Like driving a new car off the yard.

Instead of simply replicating classroom experiences in an online environment, this is an opportunity to shift our thinking to consider a broad spectrum of alternatives. There will never be a better opportunity for tapping social tools like Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Zoom, etc to unlock the knowledge trapped within our organisations – especially as more and more people use these channels as their default way of communication going forward.

With the speed of today’s world and the shrinking shelf life of knowledge, we should be enabling our organisations by digging deeper into the rituals, beliefs and mental models that are guiding the organisation and its people every day.

That means doing more curating from experts. It means helping the experts learn efficient ways to share what they know. Because what is in their head is not easy for others to get into theirs. Let’s amplify the experts and make their message easier to learn and apply. Experience, as we have learnt through certain world leaders, doesn’t mean you can do the job. Or that you have useful knowledge to share. It’s just that you’ve done stuff before. You may have screwed it up every time but that’s still experience right? Instead, lets value those that are masters in their craft and turn their content into stories that engage the heart as well as the head.

Learning needs to look outside its vertical to see what others are doing. The important thing is to try new things… experiment, tinker, practice – call it what you will. Call it a ‘pilot’ – though for the next couple of years isn’t everything going to be one as we navigate through these transitional times?

The more learning looks for what is happening below the line in the organisations they are a part of, and goes to that place with intent and expertise, the better the outcome for the individuals that are trying to figure all this stuff out.

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