How to evaluate your self-development learning

This weekend, I attended a conference in a self-development model that I quite like.  Sitting in the chairs (instead of standing at the mike) gave me a chance to look at what people liked, what they wanted, and what they engaged with at the conference.

What I like about this model is that it encourages people to notice diversity: the big picture is a continual reminder that not everyone in the room thinks like you do and that's okay. What I didn't like about this particular experience was the emphasis on sorting everyone out so that they only really had to engage with people who were most likely to think like them.

No one was saying: come to this conference and be safe: no growth or change will happen here. And yet, the structure of the presentations allowed people to sort out some of what was true about themselves without asking them to stretch to accommodate other ways of thinking and without asking them to commit to actions that would create movement and growth.  I attended 5 sessions and came away without one action item.

If you think that the point of self-development is to make people more comfortable with who they are and what they think, then this works.  It seemed to work for many of the people in the room. They happily wore their labels and chattered about how their labels gave them permission to be exactly who they were.  It seemed to feel pretty good.

There's an element of good in that and when you are particularly tired or beaten up, it's not a bad thing to be reminded that you're okay as you are.  Safety can encourage people to explore, to stick their noses out of their safe tunnels for at least a quick sniff and a look around at the bigger world.

You're not a tree: you grow by moving
But I couldn't help but wonder - didn't the presenters want to do something more than reassure people that their preferences and limitations were tolerable? Didn't they want people to find out the kind of new information that would generate new actions and new possibilities?

Here's what I want when I am the trainer: new thought leading to new action.

I don't care so much whether people can repeat back what I have said or pass a multiple-choice test on techniques and concepts. I care that they move back into their real life and something has changed for them so that they can see new possibilities and take different actions than they would have taken before my training.

If the purpose of self-development training is for you to think or do something different, then the best time to evaluate it isn't at the end of the presentation: it's the moment when change takes root in action.


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