One of the key questions raised by the CIPD 2012 Learning and Talent Development Survey has been why so many favoured ideas in learning and development are so old. Among those cited have been Belbin’s Team Roles (1981), Honey & Mumford’s Learning Styles (1970s) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (1962). I could add Kirkpatrick’s four levels of learning evaluation, which dates from even earlier (1950s).
But better questions might be why so few theories stand the test of time, or why more recent theories are not so well regarded. The evidence suggests there are few popular theories in learning and development (L&D) that truly bear close scrutiny – at best many are useful constructs for opening debate about an issue, but no more.
Honey and Mumford’s learning styles theory, along with the competing theory of Colin Rose, has been widely discredited, at least in academic circles (see the range of sources here), yet remains popular.
Neuro Linguistic Programming is at best deeply flawed, if not downright fraudulent, at least in the opinion of respected commentator Donald Clark, and yet still has many vociferous adherents among L&D professionals.
And left-brain versus right-brain hocus pocus (for that’s all it is, really) is still given credence. I can’t work out whether James Brockett was kidding in his People Management blog of 13 April, when he considered left ear versus right ear (was his tongue in his cheek, at least?) What next – creative use of the left nostril?