Late September and the autumn mists roll in, leaves start to change and the cycle progresses through another stage.  For many of us in Learning and Development, that cycle turns towards another World of Learning Conference (WOLCE).  I sat with the organisers a few weeks ago and collectively we worked out that I’d attended 19 of the previous 22 events.  I’ve been exhibitor, speaker, session chair and conference attender.  Each year I meet people I only ever see at WOLCE.

For the second year running I’ll be chairing the conference, a process of planning and engagement with the WOLCE team which started as the screens, stands and seminar rooms were being dismantled 12 months ago.

As with other years I expect to see a wide range of offers by those providing training and learning services.  Some will be fads and bandwagons.  Over recent times I’ve seen all sorts of technology bandwagons come and go – adopted by some, rejected by most and ultimately overtaken by the next big thing.  I’ve also seen much trumpeted breakthroughs in learning theories – from pseudo-science to solid insights.  Some have genuine merit, others are like the mists swirling outside my window – soon to evaporate when the late September sun provides illumination.

The approaches which have genuine merit tend to a certain rootedness.  They are based on something tangible.  They recognise that some things don’t change, that evolution takes millennia and that we learn pretty much as we did when humans first walked upright on the savannah.  We may seem more sophisticated but certain truths hold good:

  • We learn from each other
  • We need to practise and we respond to feedback
  • We want a clear reason to adopt new knowledge and change our opinions and behaviours
  • Above all, we need evidence that what we are asked to believe is right; that what we are asked to do will work.

Evidence seems to be the biggest differentiator when comparing things that will help with things that are hype.  Knowing what makes one person skilled and effective compared to those who are merely OK is pretty fundamental to changing performance.  It is the bedrock of effective training and learning.

It will be impossible for me (or anyone else) to attend all the presentations at this year’s WOLCE.  I’ll be involved in many, introducing speakers and managing the questions from the floor.  But as well as being master of ceremonies I’ll also be a learner.  And like all learners I’ll be asking questions.  Where is the evidence? How do you know this works? Can this approach be transferred to my work and my challenges?

I’ll be looking for robust research.  I’ll be looking for case studies of substance.  I’ll be seeking solutions which are built on solid foundations.  I’ll be asking for evidence.  If you’re attending WOLCE, benchmarking what you do with a similar organisation or considering a new supplier for your training and learning needs, I hope you’ll do the same.

In workplace learning, the initiatives that work have a sound evidence base.  The fads will appear as bright as the autumn leaves, but like those leaves, fade and fall in a matter of weeks.

Robin Hoyle is the writer of Informal Learning in Organizations and Complete Training both published by Kogan Page.  He is the Chair of the World of Learning Conference at the NEC on September 29thand 30th 2015. Robin has worked with Huthwaite International on a number of projects since 1999 and is currently working in conjunction with Huthwaite exploring how learning technologies can support lasting behavioural change.