The death of classroom learning: What got us here won’t get them there
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The death of classroom learning: What got us here won’t get them there

As the headline suggests, this week I will be talking about how classroom learning is obsolete, inefficient and no longer delivers results.

First, let’s take a look at the reality of leadership in Thailand. It is clear that we are standing at the crossroads with the Asean Economic Community looming just around the corner, being both an opportunity and a threat to Thai leaders in the public and private spheres alike. The critical problem lies in the fact that Thai organisations don’t have enough next-generation leaders to meet future demand. Furthermore, the current leadership development methods are not producing good enough leaders fast enough.

In short, we are all struggling to find more talents — the better ones to be exact — in a much shorter period of time, and from a much smaller pool. These talents must be ready with not only fundamental capabilities but with new capabilities as well.

To make things worse, the leadership concepts that we have always used in developing leaders are no longer applicable given the constantly changing condition of the business landscape.

One of the most frequently recurring themes in my conversations with many executives and leaders is the substantial loss of investment in people development and/or time spent in the typical classroom training courses. The complaint I keep hearing is that the people who undergo classroom learning often fail to improve their performance on the job and can barely deliver the desired commercial benefits.

Essentially, it’s not that these courses are inherently poor, or that they were not communicated properly. But I think the problem lies in the simple fact of life that there is only so much you can achieve in a period of “training”. Workplace habits and behaviours are difficult to change within the short time available for a training course, and any new habits learned in the classroom tend not to last in the longer term.

Let’s imagine this: after a busy week back at work after training, most of that valuable knowledge and the good intentions engendered by the training evaporate gradually, if not immediately.

However, don’t lose hope just yet; there are still a number of easy ways to overcome this obstacle to developing leaders in a meaningful and lasting way.

Initially, we need to realise that people learn and remember differently, but psychologists have found that one of the most powerful ways to aid retention is to transfer information as part of a story. The more vividly a mental picture is linked to the knowledge supplied, the more a person is engaged emotionally, which makes it easier to stimulate the desired outcome.

In short, one-way lecturing is dead. We can’t just follow a script and expect people to take it all in. It needs to be provided as a metaphor to truly embed itself in the person’s behaviour. Storytelling is an art, but it is easy to develop with a little practice.

Moreover, when people have different levels of learning ability, why waste time putting everyone into a classroom to study course content when they can do it at home, at a pace that is comfortable for them, online and anytime they want. Through online learning, participants can choose to listen to topics they want to study, repeat the material if they don’t understand it at first, and at the speed they wish.

In essence, the future of leadership development not only requires a shift in mindset, but also a transformation in approach to enhance speed, outcomes and effectiveness. In other words, it should be a development method that focuses on building capability — not just competence. As well, it must encourage application — not just absorption of knowledge or skill. This is an ongoing process — not just an event-based approach. Most importantly, the content provided must be tailored to the context of your organisation — not just the broad leadership concepts that people could search online and read.

Now, picture yourself learning with this new method and compare it to traditional classroom training. Which one do you think will deliver results faster and more effectively? Which one do you think is more interesting?

Of course, it would be sad to say goodbye to classroom training but considering the return on investment factor as well as the speed of today’s business, I’d say that “flipping the classroom” should offer us a more promising future in developing next-generation leaders. As the old saying goes: “What got us here, won’t get them there”.


Arinya Talerngsri is Group Managing Director at APMGroup, Thailand’s leading Organisational and People Development Consultancy. For more information, e-mail or visit For daily updates, visit

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