They’re not learners, they’re people

They're not learners, they're people

They’re not learners, they’re people.

I don’t know if this has any value in stating but it’s something that’s been rolling around in my head for a while. I often hear people referred to as learners, or “my learners” when talking about the audience.

It seems odd to me to refer to people in a way that assumes the action that they will get from your creation. I can’t think of another industry that does the same. The most common term I hear for other industries is ‘user’.

User seems a better term to refer to people that will be using your course. To assume they’ll learn is a bit presumptuous and in most cases I’d argue just isn’t true. When was the last time you learned something from compliance training?

So, let’s start treating people as people, not learners. They aren’t learners unless they’re learning, which isn’t something we get to decide.

Once we stop referring to them as learners, it’s easy to realize they are people. They might not be interested in what we’re creating. If we find a course boring then they will too.

Just because it’s a course and they’re taking it doesn’t make them a learner. It means they’re required to take it and they’re using it for some other reason (access to application, compliance, meet somebody else’s requirement, etc.)

Recognize they’re people, they don’t want to take that compliance course. They find it as boring as you and I do, therefor let’s not waste their time. Let’s figure out what the least we can do for them is as a person, not a learner.

They're not learners, they're people

13 Comments

  1. Andy Machin on December 2, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Shall we stop calling our customers ‘customers’ too? They might not buy anything from us but we label them too. And should sports fans not be called ‘fans’ because they may not always be a fan of their team when they are not performing. At least we have stopped calling them ‘delegates’. Calling them learners does not imply that we do not treat them like people.

    • Nick Leffler on December 2, 2014 at 9:57 am

      Thanks Andy for stopping by my blog and commenting, I appreciate it.

      I think it’s a dangerous notion to assume success before being successful. Maybe people are refered to as customers before they’re actually customers, but the truth is they’re only potential customers, or people until they’ve bought something.

      Assuming they’re customers, or learners, or fans is jumping to conclusions that you’ve been successful before being so. Once a person has been categorized as a customer, learner, fan, it’s easier for the brain to shift into a mode of complacency. Not saying this is true for everyone, but it surely has happened in many Learning & Development departments. The audience is a captive audience, we don’t have to fight for their attention, they have to take it and they have to learn, therefor the fight is over.

      It doesn’t inherently mean we don’t treat them like people, but it helps to create a passive attitude when catering to people’s needs. They’re instead viewed as a consumers of what we have regardless of their actual state or interest or what they get from it.

      So, calling them a customer would be a mistake. You have to fight for that customer. You have to fight to help them learn, and you have to fight to keep them as a fan. Only the consuming person gets to decide if they’re a customer, or learner, or fan, not the L&D department.

      • Andy Machin on December 2, 2014 at 5:14 pm

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nick. I simply find the link between what we call our ‘users’and how we treat them somewhat tenuous. IMHO people who don’t really care about the learners will never care regardless of what we recommend that they call them, and those that do care will be equally unaffected by labels.

        • Nick Leffler on December 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm

          I agree that there will be those who care and those who do not. It is all in the state of mind though. If you have the state of mind of calling them learners, you’re more likely to find that they’re just a pawn in your creation. That’s not to mean there’s evil intent, but it is easier to fall prey to what you think “learners” want rather than actually connect with people and find out what they want.

          Thinking of them as people is more design thinking while thinking of them as learners is more one dimensional which doesn’t recognize the many dimensions of how people might approach training.

          So I’d say, they’re people which we have the hope that they’ll learn something, it’s training or a course, not learning.

          It may not seem important but it’s the small stuff that matters. That goes for words as much as it does for courses or classes.

          • Andy Machin on December 3, 2014 at 11:58 pm

            I have to say I couldn’t agree less with you on this one Nick. But it’s good to have the sharing of opinions.



          • Nick Leffler on December 4, 2014 at 8:57 am

            Absolutely Andy, I really appreciate the conversation.



          • YUDU Media on January 7, 2015 at 2:27 am

            It’s like ‘entrepreneurs’ who call themselves ‘entrepreneurs’ before they have really launched their business… surely that name only applies once there has been a success?

            I understand the sentiments of the post, but would still call someone in training a learner, it’s a form of optimism!



          • Nick Leffler on January 7, 2015 at 1:56 pm

            Thanks for chiming in! I don’t think entrepreneur and learner are comparable.

            Entrepreneur doesn’t mean success, it just means starting a business or organization. Anybody who does that is able to call themselves an entrepreneur whether the venture is big or small (a kid selling lemonade)

            Learner is not something we can put on somebody else. Sure we can call ourselves lifelong learners, loving to learn, etc but we can never put that label on someone else.

            I took my compliance “training” last month. id I learn something? No. Are the people that develop this “training” calling me a “learner”? Probably so, if not them then there’s somebody developing compliance stuff somewhere calling their minions that they force it upon their learners.

            So, it’s not really a form of optimism, it’s a form a misplaced importance. We as L&D professionals don’t get to determine if we have learners, we only get to decide if it’s something that really needs to be learned or not and then others get to decide if they will learn it.



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