Summary of “Learning in 3D”, Chapter 2


Challenging classroom captivation.

In this chapter the message is that we need to change learning soon. Three issues are identified: classroom captivation, a preoccupation with productivity and seven scary problems.
These issues when compounded are a serious threat, a disease, that if not addressed will eventually lead to the demise of enterprises.
Classroom captivation is a routinization trap, “the learning function becoming captive to its own limiting paradigms and marginalizing its value to the enterprise to the point own extinction.”
Learning function is traditionally tied to the Class paradigm. Class can be seen as a separate environment that stands apart from the rest of the organization. It’s a familiar space for trainers and learners. Class structures the way instruction is being offered and measured. The Class model doesn’t suffice because learning function can’t address the actual learning needs that are demanded. It is lacking behind.
(What is the educational status quo?)
The next issue is that learning in the enterprise is primarily focused on productivity. “The goal of productive learning is to get everybody in the organisation to regress to the mean of optimal productivity in performing work activity.” Trainers hold on to this Status Quo assuming “classroom is the optimal design for delivering learning.”

This approach is contrary to “generative learning that is centered on innovation and has a very different theoretical underpinning.” Here the focus is on growth, developing insight and understanding in a more relevant context. These properties are also the essential ingredients for businesses to survive and prosper in the webvolution era.
So the basic focus should shift from learning to do things we already know how to do, to collaborate in learning in order to gain new insights and develop new ideas and concepts.

(So what is keeping us / trainers from changing?)

Seven scary problems

There are seven scary problems we fail / have to address:

  1. The autonomous learner problem
  2. The timing problem
  3. The packaging problem
  4. The performance problem
  5. The routinization problem
  6. The transfer problem
  7. The value problem

The authors describe the problem and highlights the tactical and strategic perspectives.

The autonomous learner problem.

Has two core issues:
First the authors question where the need for learning arises. And how web technologies make it increasingly easy for people to become on demand learners. They argue that this need mainly comes from the work floor. You learn the most by doing the job. Usually learners get offered a formal classroom context learning solution to address their learning needs. Here a disparity occurs between what the learner needs and gets offered. The effort is placed in the area of least impact (because of the limiting impact classroom learning has). The strategic perspective is to recognize that leaving informal learning to chance is a big business risk.

Timing problem.

“Business is conducted at the speed of thought.” Two issues associated with work and learning. The sensitivity of the learning needed is at odds with the time it takes to produce formal learning programs. So if formal learning is incapable of timely addressing the learning needs, what strategic value does the central learning function provide?

Packaging problem.

2 core issues:

  1. “The format of a course is not aligned with the needs of today’s time starved workforce and courses tend to be organized around topics as opposed to tasks.”
  2. “Courses are organized around topics as opposed to tasks”, “People’s needs and motivation to learn emerges largely from their inability to complete a task in the work context.”
Procedures run counter to the needs that they serve. So the question is how to offer the right learning, at the right time in the right place? Where ever that may be.. Instant learning solution needed. Alvin Toffler: “any time any place educational parallel?”.

Performance problem

The reason why organizations don’t perform can only be attributed for a small part to their lack of knowledge or skill. Studies suggest that lack of skill and knowledge accounts for only 10 percent of enterprise performance issues.
So the question is how to reposition the value-add of learning around maximizing organization performance?
(Maybe learning is inappropriate solution for solving this issue?)

Routinization problem

Learning focused to much on optimization and speeding up production. This creates a vicious circle:

Transfer problem

Acting upon knowledge is different from knowing. 80 to 90 percent of investment in training programs fail to result in behavior change on the job. This pitfall has lead to a situation of self-imposed limits on learning transfer. A “Till here and no further mentality”.
Can the learning function develop interventions that improve, transfer, change behaviour, and impact performance?

Value problem

Misalignment between what executives expect from learning and what learning leaders believe they should be delivering.
Gain in efficiency doesn’t deliver any significant gain in revenue. So the question asked should be how to shift focus from return on learning investment for training throughput to return on value expected from stakeholders.

Compounded Marginalization

The educational status quo is no longer a tenable strategic alternative. Organizations must be ambidextrous / equally adept in using both formal and informal learning function. “They have to simultaneously anticipate and capitalize on growth opportunities while all the time optimizing the cost structure of the enterprise for maximum efficiency”

An extension is needed from productivity to growth in the performance perspective and from formal to informal in the learning perspective.

Big losses in opportunity space:

Big loss 1) Until now learning function has rejected informal learning. Together with the

autonomous learner problem, the timing and packaging problem that are not being addressed by learning function, this accounts for a 80 percent de-selection of addressable opportunity space for learning.
Big loss 2) De-selection of 90 percent of the addressable opportunity space for performance
2 different performance predicaments:
  1. At individual level, learning itself has only jurisdiction over 10 percent of the enterprise performance issues where the root-cause is due to lack of knowledge or skill
  2. Preoccupation with productivity maintains the status quo for both function itself and enterprise it serves by focusing on productive learning over generative learning.

Preoccupation with productivity drives most activity within training function

The compounding effect of rejecting informal learning and being preoccupied with productivity is: that you merely increase the efficiency with which you train poorly.

How must learning function reinvent itself to add strategic value for the digital enterprise?
  • Focusing on networked generative learning approaches would be a significant first step.

Learning to behave in the context kingdom

The net has enabled people with unprecedented capabilities. Capabilities that change the way we work and do things. This has profound impact on the enterprise as well, disrupting business models. So change is an absolute necessity.
“The enterprise that is able to network tap into resource nodes to address a surfaced need within another part of the network will be able to conduct business successfully.”
“Within this networked ecosystem humans create meaningful context within which content can be consumed and digested to create new value”. (Just as we are doing now…) In the past content was king now context is the kingdom.
People learn in meaningful context, context is changing, becoming much broader and more accessible..

“How would our concept of learning in organisations change if learning professionals began to view themselves as facilitators of generative learning?”

“The pre-eminent challenge .. is the ability to allow enterprise to coalesce its capabilities around unanticipated market opportunity.”

We need to learn to change, to unlearn old strategies and become familiar with the new reality..

Learning to change

Business has changed, the requirements have changed as a result of dynamic market economics. This implies that a wholesale redefinition of how learning adds value to organizations is required.
  • “Successful learning function of the webvolution era will be the ones that learn how to blend people, processes, and technology to drive collective insight and intuition.”
  • Enterprise work structures have to be revisited. Work processes will need to be redesigned to cultivate learning.
  • Change the way they think and act on what is known and what needs to be known in order to innovate change and win.

A shift to a mode of learning is necessary where we share knowledge of tasks that are new and different


Generative Learning: a style of organizational learning that encourages experimentation, risk-taking, openness, and system-wide thinking. Organizations have successfully used this style of learning to transform themselves in the face of technological, social, and market change. Adaptive learning is a contrasting approach to organizational learning.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amir Elion
    May 03, 2010 @ 12:39:37

    Hi Jans,
    Thanks for a great summary.
    This chapter was quite challenging. It addressed many of the issues that preoccupy me regarding learning function and its role in current and future context.
    I agree with their points on informal learning and the need to focus there and found the suggestion to focus on geenrative learning rather than productivity a refreshing approach. Although in my experience, sometimes the business managers are actually the ones demanding a focus on productivity (“Train our people to be productive as fast as you can”) and our position is to make them consider long term development.

    As I started to read chapter 3, I am still skeptical of the logical leap the authors later make in suggesting 3D immersive learning is the answer to the 7 scary problems. There are quite a number of other solutions such as mentoring, rapid-elearning, other web 2.0 learning tools, etc. I guess we’ll have to wait for chapter 3 to further discuss this criticism…


  2. devries
    May 03, 2010 @ 15:21:06

    Hi Amir,

    This chapter has a high information density. I still have to get to grips with the numbers presented. Somehow they seem to be a bit one dimensional.

    About your remarks: it isn’t called a routinization trap for nothing. It’s a trap.. We tend to reiterate the things we do the way we know how to do them best. The authors point out that in terms of gain that strategy is failing.

    Unfortunately I am not a prophet, but I am also very interested to see how this broken paradigm wil be fixed. I agree with Lawrence O’Connor that context is a key in defining effective ‘immersion’ along with narrative,meaning & story.

    I don’t know / understand the place of 3D in this context yet. For me it’s merely another space you can enter. Meaningful context comes when in this space things happen that help learning function.


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