After years steeped in the debates of elearning vs classroom and 2.0 vs formal training, I had my first experience in years of a two-day classroom course. In consultancy skills.
On one level, it ticked all the boxes for the kind of cliches writers like Donald Clark rail against – icebreakers, breakout groups filling flipcharts, lots of handouts, references to learning styles, and a big dose of NLP.
Was it so awful? Would I have learned this stuff better by other means? A large amount of it was conceptual and theoretical – models and structures. Yes I could have picked these up easily from blogs. But what I would have lost was the trainer's stories. The trainer was an experienced business consultant with a wealth of anecdotes illustrating and supporting the conceptual stuff. These were delived both in a planned way and in response to the group's questions (and, I must say, in a pleasant and engaging way). So that was a plus. Another was that this trainer made absolutely minimal use of Powerpoint and the flipchart – the main engine of the course was conversation, sitting at the table. That was also good.
As for the NLP stuff, I'm less convinced. There are two issues: the 'truth' and quality of NLP itself, and its place in this kind of course. After the course I re-read Donald Clark's rant against it, and the responses of its supporters in the comments. I have to say Donald was the more convincing. Having come across some of its techniques in other places, I tend to think now that as a 'science' it's a pseudo-science, as a body of 'techniques' it's over-sold, but it does encompass some general observations about human communication which aren't original or unique to it, but can shed some light or give some confidence in certain situations. Maybe. I'll try it and see, aware of the risk of self-fulfilling prophecy. On the plus side, Derren Brown uses it (although he rails against its cultists), on the minus side I've seen more than one 'Master Practitioner' whose communication skills were poor and whose arrogance was high. The fact that it was in this course backs up Donald's claim that HR is the last refuge of pseudoscience; take out the NLP and you had a one-day course on consultancy models; take out the consultancy and you had a one-day generic course on NLP in one-to-one interviews. The trainer didn't make any claims to scientific backing, but she didn't present it as controversial or challenged either.
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So in conclusion the conversation was good, the story approach was good, the NLP while it may have been fun was no more than fun. At the end I offered to set up a forum for the participants to discuss our followup, action points and how we're using what we've picked up. This was greeted with enthusiasm by the delegates, all HR people, who seemed to think it was terribly clever. They seemed gobsmacked that I write a blog, and even more so when I declared that everything I'd learned for the last few years in my professional life was from blogs! Hmmmm …