A link on Twitter caught my eye this morning: "5 Hallmarks of Good Homework", Much of the content is applicable to L& D (make assignments relevant, have a purpose, that kind of thing). If you're interested in workplace learning I encourage you to take a look.
One item that struck me: "Our children are now expected to read 20 minutes a night and record such on their homework sheet. What parents are discovering (surprise) is that those kids who used to sit down and read for pleasure … are now setting the timer, choosing the easiest books, and stopping when the timer dings. … Reading has become a chore, like brushing your teeth."(Kohn, 2006, pp. 176–177)
We see this happen in the workplace all the time. For instance, "Diversity", "Harassment", and "Ethics" can be really interesting, engaging training topics if handled by good designers and facilitators. But nooooo, the HR Department takes over and loads the policy word-for-word onto 73 PowerPoint slides, no one in their right minds would want to sit through the oral recitation on it, and so HR... makes the training mandatory. If people don't want to sit through your program on their own accord, then there's something wrong with your program, not your learners. Making it mandatory does not send the message, "This is important", but, "This is so awful we have to put a gun to your head to make you attend." This topic becomes a chore and, worse yet, learners have had another bad "training" experience. What could be useful learning just becomes more work.
Another example: I used to belong to a vibrant,dynamic community of workplace trainers who gathered formally once a quarter, and informally at other times, with the stated goal of improving their practice. The meetings were fun and exciting, people brought new topics and activities to share, and many deep and lasting friendships evolved. Without fail, at every meeting, one or two people would show up and say something to the effect of "My boss made me come." Sometimes this was the boss's indirect cowardly way of telling the employee there was a performance problem; sometimes the person was sent to see if he/she could "get" something to bring back to the workplace. Either way, the person sent did not enjoy it, did not get much out of it, and saw the requirement to participate as extra work. (And PS: We didn't enjoy having them there, either.) You won't find many articles or discussions on the topic of communities of practice without someone asking how we can control and manage them, how we can make people participate, and when we should enroll our new hires in them. Here's the thing: You can't. See the bibliography in my dissertation for forty-eleven references that say that.
Katja Pastoors, in particular, offers research that speaks to the matter of voluntary v. forced learning. From my dissertation:
"Pastoors (2007) found that motivation to participate in bootlegged CoPs was high, that the bootlegged CoPs allowed for sharing of tacit knowledge and provided a welcome arena for those who shared common interests and “passions” (p. 29), and that those involved in bootlegged CoPs were willing to expend time and energy in its activities. The institutionalized CoP was, by contrast, viewed as the organization’s means of imposing additional workload and expecting work outside of regular working hours. Strict communication plans and procedures were viewed as inhibiting effective activity. By their own report, members felt no ownership of the institutionalized CoP."
The full Kohn citation is: Kohn, A. (2006). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Pastoors, K. (2007). Consultants: love-hate relationships with communities of practice, The Learning Organization 14 (1), 21-33.