If you can't do, teach, so they say. In my experience, that's one of those glib truisms that has very little truth in it.
At least I don't believe it's true for the educators of the working world—people in corporate training and development. As a long-time editor of Training magazine, I've attended my share of training sessions, at conferences, workshops, forums and assorted learning experiences of all kinds. While I can't say they've been uniformly scintillating, I can say the quality of the instruction in most of them far exceeded what I experienced in my recent sojourn into higher education.
While I completed a couple of graduate courses, I paid a thankfully brief return visit to the hallowed halls of academe. I was astounded at what passed for instruction. Some professors seemed intent on squeezing every last drop of blood and breath and spirit out of their subjects. Too often classes, assignments and feedback were structured in ways that sucked the joy of learning and any possibility of discovery flat out of the experience.
This was not the generous knowledge sharing and intellectual inspiration I recalled from college days past. I was dismayed, and then disgusted. But when I analyzed the situation, I realized that a handful of outstanding professors had colored my recollections—I had remembered the wonderful and long forgotten the dull.
But more important, I was no longer a typical college student. I was an adult learner accustomed to directing my own learning, not a more or less empty vessel waiting for knowledge to be poured in. I was used to pursuing learning opportunities that were useful and helped me solve problems or build skills. I expected my knowledge and experience to be taken into account. I was impatient with instructors who lectured and "held forth," telling stories in which they starred or using far-fetched artificial "cases" to demonstrate points.
In fact, exposure to training built around adult learning principles and delivered by expert training professionals has spoiled me for lesser models. It's tough to swallow passive instructional methods and tolerate self-indulgent teachers when you have Malcolm Knowles's tenets of andragogy dancing in your head. I know there's plenty of room to improve workplace learning, but I've come to suspect that quite a few of you don't realize how good you are. When people who excel in their work surround you, it's easy to take their skills, knowledge and expertise for granted.
That's why I hope you'll pay particular attention to this issue. Here, we share the 2005 Training Top 100—our annual ranking of organizations committed to investing in their human assets. We want to celebrate their accomplishments and give you the chance to compare your efforts with theirs. This special issue includes expanded quantitative information about the Top 100 to give you more benchmarks than ever by which to measure your own organization's learning efforts.
But the numbers tell only part of the story. That's why we also zeroed in on the accomplishments of the top tier and told a bit more of their stories. We hope these profiles of the Top 10 companies will give you a better sense of their approach to learning, their accomplishments and their challenges.
Training Top 100 applicants describe their approach to several types of programs: succession planning, executive coaching, leadership development, first-line supervisor development, mentoring, job rotation, career counseling and job shadowing. We spotlight a number of these as "Best Practice Awards," and we also highlight this year's Outstanding Initiatives—formal programs or training interventions that companies have launched in the past 12 months. Both are innovative, unique or interesting programs undertaken by Top 100 companies that may serve as idea starters or yardsticks for your own training organization.
We honor the Training Top 100 at a gala event held in conjunction with the Training 2005 Conference and Expo in New Orleans. Along with several hundred representatives from these organizations, we spend an evening paying tribute to their commitment to workplace learning. But perhaps more significantly, many of these companies tell us they hold their own celebrations to recognize their training professionals and the contributions they make to their organizations.
As you read about this year's Training Top 100 companies, take a moment to compare your training efforts with theirs. But don't stop there. Recognize your efforts and celebrate your successes. I'll bet you've earned it.
Chris Lee is editor-in-chief of Training magazine.