Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community
I appreciate the efforts of the Canadian Council on Learning to look at workplace learning. However, I wish they had hired somebody who is, you know, in learning, rather than a policy wonk, to write the report. I will be quite critical, and I'm sorry about this, but reports like this really bother me, as they exhibit a policy agenda, but no particular committment toward learning.

Why does this matter? Well, look at this: "Participation rates in employer-sponsored training and firms' spending per employee have remained virtually the same in recent years." Maybe so. But what I (and others like me) am trying to do in my work is to lower costs and reduce the need for formal training. By these measures, any success I have will look like a failure. But that's not right, is it?

Or how about this: "Training works best when linked to a firm's priorities and business plan and integrated with overall management practices and firm culture." Well what is the evidence for that? What counts as 'best' in this conext - actual benefit for trainees? Or merely some sort of measurable ROI?

And again: "A 'co-financing' approach, involving firms, individuals and governments seems most effective." Effective by whose measure? I am in favour of government funding learner needs, but shouldn't the learner - and not his or her employer - be determining learning and career priorities? Or does the author cling to the (unjustified) view that employers take into account their employees' long-term career prospects when planning training? Sure, everybody stresses "partnership" - but this is an easy result to get if you ask everybody involved but the learner.

I'll say this bluntly: the way to improve learning in Canada isn't to give corporations even more money than they already have. It is to spend money on learners directly, and to allow learners - not their employers - make learning decisions. That's the best way to ensure the money isn't simply wasted on short-term company-specific profit-centred rote learning.

Indeed, one wonders, when the author was calculating employer investment in learning, whether he considered taxes paid by companies. Probably not. But if employers won't invest in learning (that benefits learners), a tax increase to fund this work would certainly increase their contribution. Even though it won't show up at all in the OECD statistics. Of course, it wouldn't...

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jun 17, 2021 4:33 p.m.