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Chris Mowles

Nice observations, Chris. The other things that are going on in any learning situation, in which we are helplessly social animals, is the possibility for feelings of incompetence, and hence shame, that arise when we are seriously grappling with something new. Most statements that begin courses seem to me about reassurance, about dampening down anxiety, whereas learning situations are intensely anxiety-provoking. So we could summise that such commitments at the beginning of courses are to foster stability rather than change, and in this sense they have some social function.

Chris Rodgers

Thanks, Chris.

You make an important point about the social function of outcome statements in reducing participants’ anxiety, whether this is in individual learning or organizational change. And it seems to me that this goes as much for those who produce them, as for those at whom they are aimed. I’ve made a similar point in the past to a client whose team are involved in developing an array of documents around the organization’s business strategy and plans. Their work similarly performs an important anxiety-reducing role for senior managers and members of the organization at large.

The problem for me, though, arises when those involved(managers, consultants, trainers or whatever) believe their own rhetoric, and the predictability and control that it appears to promise. The approach also panders to (and arises from) the obsessive focus on targets and measurement, which is now a taken-for-granted part of established management practice.

I guess I feel that it is mainly this latter consideration that motivates the use of such statements, rather than the felt need to provide some stability for people or to attend to their anxieties. But your comment has made me reflect on whether I’ve paid enough attention to these important social functions of the formal statements.

Cheers, Chris

Tom Gibbons

I very much like this article and would like to share the link with a client who is very, very stuck in learning as content driven events. I have sent them an older short blog I wrote (http://www.tms-americas.com/blog.cfm?id=386772164) and it would be helpful to have other sources as well to hopefully break through their petrified perception of 'training' (they have yet to use the word learning I think... :) I would also agree with Chris M. that learning is a social and interactive process which will always create some level of anxiety and finding a 'container' for that anxiety so it can be dealt with in a learning initiative is far more helpful I think than trying to manage it away. Thanks for a clear and concise article!

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