[huge_it_slider id=”1″]There was a young man who wanted to learn music. He went to a music teacher and expressed his desire before him to learn music from him. The music teacher agreed to accept him as a student. The young man asked the teacher, “Guruji, how long will it take me to learn music.” The teacher replied, “My son, it will take you six years.” The young man was astonished. He said, “Guruji, I already know some music. So it should take much less time for me.” The teacher asked the young man to describe what he knows about music. The young man, with great pride and an animated face narrated what he knows about music and then asked the music teacher, “Guruji, now please tell me how long will it take.” Guruji replied in a calm voice,” 12 years.” The young man was infuriated. He shouted, “Guruji, are you kidding.” The teacher replied, “My son, whatever you know about music is wrong. So it will take you six years to unlearn and another six years to learn.”

This story illustrates how it is imperative for individuals, teams, organizations to learn and unlearn. This also underpins the fact that we may have to pay heavily for not unlearning at the right time. Philosopher Alof Tofler says: The illiterate of the 21st century are not the ones who cannot read or write but are the ones who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

To me, the role of the L&D professionals is to help people in their organizations with the process of learning, unlearning and relearning.  People need to learn individually as well as a team and as an organization. The organizations that learn faster than the competition can stay ahead of their competition. Changes such as increasing competition and evolving customer demands, slower economic growth, globalization, rising product innovation and the impact of advanced forms of information technology have put pressure on organizations to constantly innovate and invent. For example, in a global economy, customers demand and expect lower prices, faster deliveries and fewer defects. Evolving customer expectations and rising competition are the main drivers for strategic actions and innovation. Organizations, to be able to take these strategic actions need to have the right capabilities. This is where a function or group like L&D plays a key role.


What role can L&D teams play? How can they create maximum impact? Organizations spend billions of dollars every year on training and development. How effective these learning interventions are? Some research in this space suggests that people forget 90{8ead27c4518c0b10559874054ae3fda4d54ed4b9784c4144c679fdb93c45d0af} of what they learn in classroom before they go back to their job. Another research in this field suggests that people forget 77{8ead27c4518c0b10559874054ae3fda4d54ed4b9784c4144c679fdb93c45d0af} of what they learn after 6 days and almost 100{8ead27c4518c0b10559874054ae3fda4d54ed4b9784c4144c679fdb93c45d0af} of what they learnt after a month. So how can L&D create value in the face of such dismal statistics about learning retention? Well, the answer lies beyond training. L&D leaders need to think beyond training. The focus has to shift from class room training to action learning. Action Learning is about having employees learn by doing and practicing. Master Martial Artist, Bruce Lee said: I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. This accentuates the fact that real learning comes through practice and experience. Edgar Dale has proved though his research that if one attends only classroom training one’s learning retention is just about 5{8ead27c4518c0b10559874054ae3fda4d54ed4b9784c4144c679fdb93c45d0af}. However, if one applies the learning in a real situation right after training, learning retention can be as high as 90{8ead27c4518c0b10559874054ae3fda4d54ed4b9784c4144c679fdb93c45d0af}. However, the truth is that most organizations do not focus so much on experiential learning. L&D functions need to drive the paradigm shift. Organizations need to create an environment where experiential learning is feasible. Employees should be given opportunities to be part of projects, lead initiatives, do research, collaborate with industry bodies, write white papers, mentor their peers or a juniors and so on.


Now let’s step back for a moment and take a look at conventional training programs that organizations have been providing to their employees since times immemorial. Will they disappear? What about the mandatory training programs companies provide to the employees? Will they stay or disappear? Well, I would say that they would stay. It is primarily because human beings often act in an irrational manner. We all know that doing exercise every day is essential for a long healthy life. However, how many of us do exercise every day? We all know that training is essential for our development. However, how many would pursue training regularly unless we are asked to do. So while, we would see a lot of employee initiated, peer initiated learning interventions, mandatory trainings will never disappear. Some of these would always be there.


Surya Prakash Mohapatra

Workforce Learning Specialist, Author, Blogger and Speaker