The 7 deadly sins of learning and development

7 deadly sins of learning and development.

Are you breaking any of the 7 deadly sins of learning and development?

This article outlines some of the common traps that learning professionals fall into.

These sins don’t add value, or enhance our role as learning professionals.

Read though this list and reflect on your current practice.

Are you breaking any of the 7 deadly sins or learning and development? If so, there are plenty tips in this guide on how to stop, or signposts to other articles that can help.

Lets dive into the list…

Deadly sins 1-3
Deadly sins 1-3

1. Focusing on the learning intervention only

Learning professionals can fall into the trap of focussing on the learning intervention only and forgetting about the element that ensure it has the desired impact. For learning to be effective it needs:

  • To be evaluated effectively – this is always the part that gets forgotten about in my experience!
  • Consideration and a plan for how to transfer the learning onto the job – It doesn’t happen by magic, there does need to be a plan.
  • Manager buy in and engagement throughout – their support is essential for learning to be transferred onto the job
  • Stakeholder buy in – to drive through any required changes and hold employees accountable
  • To engage the learners up front – especially if it’s a course they’re being asked to attend/complete without any context (see deadly sin no. 4)

All of the above points are also required to make sure learning is a success, so to focus on the learning intervention only is short sighted in ensuring it has the maximum impact.  

2. Not scoping learning effectively up front with the stakeholder

How many times have you delivered something that’s not had the desired impact as it hasn’t been effectively scoped out up front? (I know I’ve been guilty of this too!)

The scoping meeting with the key stakeholders is essential to the success of any learning intervention. The scope needs to be crystal clear before any learning is designed or any decisions are made. There are some key consulting questions you can ask whilst scoping. Get the infographic in this post.

3. Believing that face to face training is the best way that people learn

This one seems like a hard nut to crack. Over on my Instagram account I recently polled my followers. In that small sample of learning professionals alone there was still a strong preference towards face to face learning over virtual. Times this by the industry and I’ll bet the figures remain the same.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything it’s that learning can absolutely still happen online and be equally as effective as in person. What is perhaps yet still to shift is the hearts and minds of learning professionals and stakeholders.

As learning professionals, we need to get out of the face to face first/ face to face is the best way to learn mindset. I’ve got a number of articles on virtual learning, to help you get comfortable delivering online and to help change your mindset.

Deadly sins 4 & 5
Deadly sins 4 and 5

4. Pushing out learning with zero context

Ah the deadly sin that frustrates learners around the world… You receive an invite to a course without any context other than the fact you need to attend/complete. You don’t understand why. But in order to comply you complete it anyway.

What sort of learning is going to be taken away from that experience? I’ll give you a hint, little to none. If as learners, we don’t understand why we’re being asked to complete or what’s in it for us then the likelihood of us buying into the learning or applying it on the job is minimal.

My biggest bug bare is learners being sent on learning programmes due to performance issues that they aren’t aware they have, nor is anyone going to tell them. The learning is utterly pointless and a waste of everyone’s time.

There is a simple way to stop falling into this deadly sins trap… Remember that learners need to understand why they’re learning, or why they’re on the course. So give them that context, or make sure that their manager does. Simple!

5. Creating content that has zero interaction

Another deadly sin of learning and development and personal bug bare of mine is learning with no interaction. Whether this is a webinar, e-learning course, ‘training’ or other. Learners need to be engaged and participating in learning for it to be effective.

I’ve had countless experiences of this, and it’s so frustrating. I can think of a fair few external webinars I’ve signed up for, managed about 10 minutes and left due to the lack of interaction. It’s just so hard to stay engaged and listen! Another example of this is those e-learning courses that are click and read… dull!

The learning pyramid, by the National training Laboratories illustrates the percentage of recall associated with different approaches to learning. As you can see, active participation results in a higher retention of learning.

The learning pyramid - National training laboratories
The learning pyramid – National training laboratories
Deadly sin 6 and 7

6. Not aligning learning projects with organisational performance needs

There should be clear alignment between learning projects and organisational performance. If the learning isn’t driving the business forward through improved individual, departmental or organisational performance what’s the point in doing it?

A survey by McKinsey found that only 25% of respondents believed that training measurably improved performance. If three quarters of learning isn’t having an impact, then L&D aren’t fully meeting the organisational needs.

By the same token, its important that learning evaluation is being completed to be able to assess if the learning is in fact, improving organisational performance.

The same McKinsey survey found that 50% of organisations don’t bother to keep track of participants’ feedback about training programs. Worse, only 30% use any other kind of metric.

If we’re only measuring learning by if learners ‘liked it’ then we aren’t going to improve organisational performance.

7. Becoming the L&D police

Learning in an organisation doesn’t need ‘policing’. Firstly, L&D don’t need to know about every bit of learning that happens and have a ‘record’ AKA signed attendance list of it.

Yes, it’s important to have records of learning but learning teams can often get sucked into tracking and analysing data that isn’t important and doesn’t add value. Learning happens every day and a lot of it the learning team won’t be able to capture and measure and that’s ok.

I once worked in an organisation that would spend countless time chasing signed delegate lists for how to use an IT system – if they’re using it well, that’s measure enough, we don’t need a delegate list to prove it.

Secondly spending our lives chasing people for not completing ‘mandatory’ learning. Especially if it’s the same interaction-less manual handling e-learning course they completed two years prior. Again, mandatory learning by nature is of course important, but learners need to understand why its mandatory and what’s in it for them. If they’ve got the context then it should take weeks of chasing to get completion.


After reading through the list are you breaking any of the 7 deadly sins of learning and development?

Don’t worry if you are, at times I’ve probably done all of the things on this list too, but the key thing is to reflect, learn and grow from mistakes.

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