There’s nothing wrong with awards per se – they can be great in the right circumstances, but learn-ing and development is not an appropriate context.
Nevertheless, they seem to be increasing exponentially. There are National Training Awards, World of Learning Awards, IT Training Awards and the Berkshire Apprenticeship Awards – and many more besides. In this context, enough is more than enough.
Awards work well in a competitive environment, whether it be sporting, artistic or commercial.
Take the Oscars. A billion people worldwide watch the awards ceremony. People, moved by movies, enjoy the glamorous fashion extravaganza, try and second-guess the judging panel and cringe at the gushing acceptance speeches.
Competition clearly works well in sport, which is awash with prizes and cups. Of course they say “It’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part”. Maybe, but nothing can beat the buzz of coming first, as we may soon rediscover if our boys lift the World Cup in Germany this summer.
But for every winner there are many losers, and at the World Cup, all bar one team will lose. Maybe that’s why marathons have become popular because, in part, it is the triumph of endurance that counts, while the winning is incidental.
I think education and learning and development awards are counterproductive because developing people as individuals and team members is neither light entertainment, nor a competitive activity.
The point of learning and development is to empower individuals, their organisations and communities. Every step along the way is as valid as any other. It is vital to acknowledge and reward each person’s growth for its own merit. To have a panel decide what is best or better disempowers those involved.
This whole discussion takes me back to school sports and prize days. For the pupils who win the key prizes year after year, the winning boosts their already substantial sense of self.
But what of the ones that remain excluded from the ‘school Oscars’ and never win the ‘school World Cup’? I can tell you that it falls to their parents to dig deep and boost their youngsters’ flagging self-esteem in the face of the school’s non-acknowledgement.
These school events do not work well for the children as a whole because, although these are sporting and awarding events, they are fundamentally within an educational context. And education is meant to uplift all who participate at all times. Isn’t that what good coaching does?
If there was an award for bad ideas, then awards for educational excellence would gain a special prize of their own.
Let’s find other ways to acknowledge and reward every learner for every step that they take.
Stephen Citron is chairman of the Informatology Learning and Development Forum, a not-for-profit body that runs conferences and other projects www.informatology.com