Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Corporate Responsibility, Possible Money Grabs, and the ROI of Tutoring: News Stirring Thought about Workplace Learning

  • Business owner Paul Downs wonders "Do I owe my employees a career path? Although he wants to retain employees and found that specialist workers are the most productive, he wonders what happens when workers "top out" on the career paths within his company.  He voices a concern that many employers feel--but concludes the value of supporting his workers outweighs the costs.  Read his thoughts at
  • Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd make 10 predictions about the future of training in a recent posting on ASTD's Learning Circuits.  Most of the post focuses on the of technology in the future of workplace learning.  But they present more of an enthusiastic rather than critical look at the technology. For example, they see 3-D applications as a low-cost alternative to labs, without addressing the sometimes considerable cost of developing the software-based simulations.  Similarly, they talk about the increasing role of mobile apps but fail to link it to the larger--and ongoing--conversation about supporting performance and transferring training, which is the real process by which these applications for mobile devices offer value to learning.

They also note the role that public policy plays in encouraging workplace learning, and talk about individual learning accounts that some jurisdictions are offering their taxpayers.  But once again, they fail to demonstrate critical thinking about these accounts.  Meister and Willyerd present the accounts as additional revenue sources for tuition for workplace learning.  Why should workers pay their own cash for training on proprietary skills and products that only benefit the employer, when they could invest those funds in a neutral third-party provider who would provide the worker with durable, transferable skills that would make the worker attractive to all employers?  
In terms of the future of trainers, Meister and Willyerd advocate for mostly clerical role: accrediting workers' skills, saying that workers won't necessarily demonstrate competency through courses but, rather, through on-the-job activities. Meister and Willyerd present that certification responsibility as an exciting role--and the primary viable option for trainers.  But they only partially describe exactly what that role is for trainers.  Reading between the lines, if this role is similar to the role that Meister saw for in-the-trenches trainers at corporate universities, one real possibility of this view is that primary role of in-the-trenches trainers under this vision is to serve as contract administrators and trainers of on-the-job coaches—kind of like a specialized purchasing team for training.  This is hardly the "strategic partner" who has a "seat at the corporate table"  view advocated by the trade press and actively explored by strategic HRD research and theory.
Read the full article at

  • Although, ostensibly about parents purchasing tutoring services for their children (a booming industry, which grew 5 percent last year, despite the recession and cuts to schools), Paul Sullivan’s exploration of the “returns” on such tutoring offers some glimpses into the challenges of tallying the ROI of training.   For example, some parents come to tutoring with unrealistic expectations—that the only successful outcome is acceptan999ce to an Ivy League school. I was also surprised by the fees that some of the Manhattan-based tutors charge—as high as 8 times the rate of many contract instructional designers and technical writers. Check out Sullivan’s analysis at Visited August 21, 2010.

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