How do eLearning professionals get better at what they do? How do they become great?

Those are questions that scholars and business leaders have struggled to answer. Unfortunately, the world has continued to change, and many of the old answers have changed right along with it. What we have seen in recent years is a better-educated, dispersed workforce and management, and decentralization of the command and control functions. The old answers don't fit any more.

One answer comes from Dr. Atul Gawande. Many in the L&D community have read Dr. Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Gawande, a surgeon, speaker, and award-winning author, is also known for other books, videos, and magazine articles on business functions. Many of those media items apply to learning professionals, not just to surgeons. You will find an excellent video excerpt of his TED Talk, “Why everyone needs a coach” on YouTube. There is a much longer video that is also on point with this article, “Atul Gawande talks about how coaching can benefit professionals”. Both of these are well worth taking the time to view, but the first one is only about two minutes long.

Why does everyone need a coach?

To summarize “Why everyone needs a coach,” Dr. Gawande says there are two views about how professionals become great at what they do. The first view is that practitioners in medicine, law, science, and even veterinarians go to school, they practice, they learn, and then they graduate and go out in the world on their own. The second view comes from sports, where the saying is that you are never done getting better at what you do. Even the greatest players in sports need a coach. Dr. Gawande says that some people find this idea absurd for, not just athletes, but for other professions. (In other words, lifelong development is not just for trainers.) It occurs to me that trainers and those for whom they work largely agree with that position. “Expertise means not needing to be coached” is how Gawande states the view.

There is a weak point in that argument. Many professionals who come to practice through the second path, making it on their own means they will not recognize issues standing in their way. They may not know how to deal with those issues. After a while, those in L&D will stop improving unless they do what great sports coaches do—learn to become external eyes and ears for the players. By recognizing the fundamentals, they break the players’ actions down and communicate reality.

What should our motto be as learning professionals?

As Dr. Gawande says: “Everyone needs a coach: It’s not how great you are, it’s how great you’re going to be that really matters.” That applies to readers of this article and it also applies to the way those readers develop the learning professionals who report to them.

Find a coach at a Learning Guild conference—online or off. All it takes is to ask a speaker or another participant to be your coach. Be clear about your development objectives. You can also ask other participants and speakers for recommendations.

Make full use of Learning Guild conferences, beginning next week at Learning 2023: The Learning Leaders Conference if you already have tickets, and our biggest show this spring, Learning & HR Tech Solutions 2024 Conference and Expo April 23-25, 2024 in Orlando, Florida. Other opportunities are the six Learning Guild Online Conferences next year and the 2024 Learning Leaders Conferences (watch for announcements in your email and letter mail) here on Learning Solutions Magazine).