Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Pushing stuff into people: how NOT to do training, by Charlie Chaplin

I was reminded of this scene from Chaplin's film 'Modern Times' recently when discussing staff development.

Credit for seeing the feeding machine as a metaphor for (bad) training goes to John O'Donoghue, who played this clip during a conference at the University of Wolverhampton's Learning Lab in 2001. His point was that e-learning (as we called it back then) was being seen by managers as a way of avoiding the expense and lost time of sending staff away on training courses, just as the manager in this clip hopes to avoid the expense and lost time of his workers stopping for lunch. But if all e-learning does is try to push information into people, it's likely to be as ineffective and impractical as the feeding machine.

In this connection, the speech from the machine salesman given in the preceding scene (ironically delivered by gramophone record) is particularly interesting, because in 2001 it did sound precisely like the way in which e-learning was being sold.
Good morning, my friends. This record comes to you through the Sales Talk Transcription Company, Incorporated: your speaker, the Mechanical Salesman. May I take the pleasure of introducing Mr. J. Widdecombe Billows, the inventor of the Billows Feeding Machine, a practical device which automatically feeds your men while at work? Don't stop for lunch: be ahead of your competitor. The Billows Feeding Machine will eliminate the lunch hour, increase your production, and decrease your overhead. Allow us to point out some of the features of this wonderful machine: its beautiful, aerodynamic, streamlined body; its smoothness of action, made silent by our electro-porous metal ball bearings. Let us acquaint you with our automaton soup plate - its compressed-air blower, no breath necessary, no energy required to cool the soup. Notice the revolving plate with the automatic food pusher. Observe our counter-shaft, double-knee-action corn feeder, with its synchro-mesh transmission, which enables you to shift from high to low gear by the mere tip of the tongue. Then there is the hydro-compressed, sterilized mouth wiper: its factors of control insure against spots on the shirt front. These are but a few of the delightful features of the Billows Feeding Machine. Let us demonstrate with one of your workers, for actions speak louder than words. Remember, if you wish to keep ahead of your competitor, you cannot afford to ignore the importance of the Billows Feeding Machine.

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