Push and Pull Learning

Learning should be self-directed. L&D departments should provide resources for people to access and then get out of the way. Allow your employees to access the resources they need, whenever they need them. Heck, most people find what they need just by doing a quick Google search.

Pull  Learning

The L&D department of the future is less about an army of instructional designers “pushing” training out to the masses and more about being nimble, responsive to needs, curating resources and putting them where people can find them while providing on-demand performance support.

It makes sense. A McKinsey study I like to cite from time to time says companies spend $100 billion (with a “b”!!!) each year on training initiatives around the world and only 25% of those initiatives actually show measurable results. With numbers like that, pushing training out is definitely wasteful. Professional development is something that should be “pulled” by employees when they need it.

“Learning Zealot” Mark Britz shared his organization’s experience creating more of a “pull” learning culture last week in an article entitled Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks. Author and all-around learning revolutionary Clark Quinn expanded upon the idea in a short post on his blog.

I like the idea of training and professional development that should be pulled. Mostly.

Why Push and Pull Learning are Needed

On the other hand, training and professional development programs aren’t necessarily all about the return on investment. They’re not always about whether people walk away immediately being able to do something new or differently or better.

Sometimes pushing a training program is necessary. Sometimes supervisors should require their employees to attend certain training programs. While the employees may not do anything right away with what they’ve learned, sometimes a seed is planted. Sometimes a new idea that a self-directed learner may never have thought to expose him or herself to will be presented.

Diversity training is a prime example of this. Sending employees to an industry conference or association’s annual meeting to gain exposure to new trends and technologies is another example. I could go on.

Self-aware, self-directed learners with an enlightened L&D department of the future and an effective manager is great. Maybe it’s even the ideal situation. Yet even the most self-aware, self-directed learner needs to be nudged into new and challenging directions in order to continue to grow. Supporting both push and pull learning may be critical to achieving your organizational goals.

Where does your organization stand on push and pull learning? What does the balance look like?

4 thoughts on “Push and Pull Learning

  1. Brian: As with many dichotomies, the push or pull one sets up a false, either-or choice that many of us learning zealots are prone to preach. In most of life, it’s not OR but AND that yields the most productive results. As a trainer with a core of knowledge about both training strategies and my subject matter, I struggle with how to encourage learners to discover new knowledge while making a judgement about what they need to know. I think that if we take seriously the notion that training is about how to help people do their jobs better while hopefully instilling an attitude of learning, service, and collaboration, we are bound to make choices about what must be pushed. I hope the way that we push helps people learn how to learn.

    • Thanks Paul. I agree on many fronts here. Yes, the push vs pull is a bit of a false dichotomy – any effective big picture training strategy should include both. And assuming the organizational culture that supports/encourages self-directed learning and assuming effective supervisors who help employees work on self-awareness around strengths/areas for development, then a “pull”-based strategy seems like it would be a more ideal strategy. AND it can’t be the whole strategy, there’s still room for “push”.

      I love what you’ve written when it comes to employing the “push” strategy: “I hope the way that we push helps people learn how to learn.” There’s an artform to pushing content, and if you’re gonna push, there needs to be more intention behind it than simply: “Hey, you! You’re gonna be attending this training tomorrow. Be sure to learn something!”

      • thanks, Brian. One of my colleagues, with whom I shared the post and my response, also weighed in on organizational factors that affect pushing, pulling, shoving, slamming, and dragging. Business needs often drive “philosophy.” In our organization, training is valued, but it is apple pie, not the main course. It’s seen as a good, but it is not seen as fully part of the fabric of quality sales and service, individual development, and, of course, the top and bottom lines of business.

      • Paul – that’s a great point. It seems that Business Needs + Organizational Culture will really dictate the learning orientation (how important an organization views “learning” as a key driver in its success).

        Instead of training as apple pie, I kind of like the metaphor of the learning function of an organization as the “Intel Inside” sticker on your computer. It may have a light, understated footprint, but it’s hugely important (even if the average employee doesn’t think about it very often). Even when pushing, shoving, slamming and dragging becomes necessary, it should really be the leadership or the manager (as opposed to the L&D function) who can frame the learning need for an individual in terms of how it could impact business results – tomorrow or some time in the future.

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