Polarisers, Fundamentalism and Bathwater

Content is King. Face to face training is dead. eLearning will dominate. Social or fail. Context trumps all. My way is right, you need to adopt it.

The L&D world is creeping towards extremism, dare I use the “f” word – fundamentalism. In (perhaps) the desire for clickbait, people are adopting (or at least espousing) strong opinions about their topic of choice often at the exclusion or sometimes denigration of others who would dare to express or consider an alternate position or who may not have advanced to the position that others have.


Polarisation of opinion seems to be the new norm. You can be for this or against it. You’re new or you’re old. You will adopt this new (insert method, tool, technology, framework, process, terminology, acronym, hashtag) or you will be left behind, relegated to a cohort of recalcitrant, reluctant anachronisms.

Even if a particular position is right, surely we know enough about how people learn and what conditions are most favourable for development to recognise that calling people out of touch or positioning them as irrelevant isn’t going to help them move towards where we think they need to be. It may just serve to entrench them in their ways.

We’re beginning to acknowledge that children may learn different subjects at different rates (if you ignore standardised testing), could we not apply the same consideration to adults? Is it possible that others just haven’t seen the light, had the experience, read the book/blog that you have and that if we took the time to model and motivate we’d see a stronger profession as the result?

If our goal is the advancement of the profession then we may need to consider if our methods are working against us.

Earlier this year I heard a fairly high profile speaker sharing their latest Gestalt moment – that we needed not just to be creating content but designing learning experiences. The room responded to this idea well with affirmations and even scattered applause. Fortunately I managed to not work out loud at that point with a comment about rocket science. The idea was absolutely correct and I was glad to hear it had been (re) discovered and voiced, but it was also something that I learnt as a teacher 30+ years ago. Oh wait. Not sure that I can say that something from pedagogy applies in andragogy, they’re completely different fields or so I hear. Describing an age old concept as a breakthrough discovery only positions the describer as lacking depth of knowledge or arrogant and the experience listener disengages.


We stand on the shoulders of giants. Educational theorists, training practitioners, social experimenters, learning technologists. Our task is not to create the next iteration of Learning and Development ex nihilo but to build it with both the materials that we’ve inherited from those who’ve gone before us, and those they could never have imagined.

I learnt what has been a foundational concept for me from a philosophy tutorial a long time ago – Understanding and progressing the world is all about asking the right questions.

So here are my (sometimes rhetorical) questions, I’ll leave you to consider if they’re the right ones or not.

Who are the legends of our profession? What do we owe to them as we develop the next iteration of L&D?

Is it possible that we haven’t learnt everything about how people learn?

What are the elements of prior learning strategies and models that continue to have value?

Does a polarising position serve the long term interest of the profession?

Can a generalisation be more usefully replaced with a more accurate/fair/reasonable statement?

Is that new idea/theory/concept just a rebranding of an existing one?

Are there any babies in that bathwater you’re throwing out?


One thought on “Polarisers, Fundamentalism and Bathwater

  1. Neil, you’ve highlighted a sore point of mine: extremism.

    Everything is either a panacea or a fad (another “f” word).

    Ughh… why can’t we appreciate that perspective is everything. What might work for you might not work for me, or vice versa.


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