Of bingo and bandwagons!

Whilst at the recent CIPD Learning and Development Show [1] (13th & 14 May 2015), I fell into a game of Bulls**t Bingo.

For those unfamiliar with this favourite past-time of regular meeting/conference attendees everywhere, it involves identifying when the speakers use the currently popular buzzwords/phrases/acronyms during their session and highlighting these by quietly saying/tweeting “Bulls**t”. The winner being the person who manages to highlight the most used in a session.

In the past, favourite overused items included: Outside the Box, Unconference, Blue Sky Thinking, Empowerment, Adaptive Technology, etc (You will most likely have your own list).

The overused ones prevalent at this year’s show were: V.U.C.A. [2]; Narrative; Mindfullness; and that old(?) favourite GenY [3].

I imagine that I don’t need to explain any of the above to you, as they are so widespread throughout the learning and development/business world and as with most of their type, tend to be used as a shorthand to describe far larger subjects. In the context of having a quick conversation we rely on shorthand for many concepts and who am I to dismiss this nifty way of shortening the time you have to spend speaking to some people. However, it seems that every time a new one comes along, people rush to hang their hat on it and find (admittedly inventive) ways of taking a talk on one subject and wrapping it around the new ‘buzzword’ (or at the very least they insert it into the title).

Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not challenging the validity of these terms and their use (well, maybe some of them…see below), but the inclusion of them in every presentation/paper begins to smack of opportunism rather than trying to progress the world of LnD.

For example: several of the sessions at this year’s show included ‘Neuroscience’ in their title and purported to provide ways in which we can exploit this area of scientific endeavour to improve student/delegate/employee/[insert your term here] engagement and retention of learning. I sat in on one of these sessions and a contact visited another and we both came away with the same opinion: each session was written around one subject and then shoe-horned into Neuroscience, because that’s the current hot subject for LnD.

Whilst that type of bandwagon jumping is usually harmless in itself, there are some areas that we should probably be a bit more cautious in presenting as the ‘new and improved’ process for helping people learn. A prime example of this is Mindfullness which is being touted as an almost Barnumesque cure-all for a broad selection of issues (e.g. Depression, Anxiety, Obesity, etc) and now presented as the next thing in increasing engagement. The idea is simple, Mindfullness techniques are shown to help people focus better and boost their working memory, so why not use this principle to improve the concentration and retention of learners.

Who can argue with the logic of using this ’empirically evidenced’ technique to support learning? Well, now you mention it….

The problem with anything that receives 100% positive support and promotion is that eventually they are found to be either a little less than the claims or in some cases downright dangerous (e.g. take your pick from a myriad of diets, drugs, exercise regimes and financial schemes). And already the latter is potentially starting to happen with Mindfullness.

This is not an attack on Mindfullness; it is a proven supportive practice, used by professionals to help people with a broad selection of mental health issues. However, the key word here is ‘Professionals’. The people who developed and use this technique are schooled in not only applying supportive programmes, but also in recognising signs that the process being used may be having unwanted side effects.

A quick search on-line starts throwing up article after article talking about the potential dangers of using this method, which I as a mere Learning and Development professional feel fall outside of my scope of expertise. I have colleagues who are trained psychologists and even they feel uncomfortable about using this technique with groups of people and suggest that it should only be practiced by appropriately qualified individuals on a one-to-one basis.

Therefore, I do find it a little disconcerting when people who in the most part only have qualifications that say they can stand-up and present information, are being encouraged to use this potentially life-changing method with large groups of unsuspecting guinea pigs.

Maybe we should be allowing the bandwagon to go by and start following it at a safe distance? Then again, if we do that, I’m not sure what we would put on our bingo cards.

[1] Charted Institute of Personnel and Development – Learning and Development Show

[2] Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

[3] Generation Y (otherwise known as Millennials)

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