Education Week has just come out with a new report (dated 2006), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, showing that only 69.6% of U. S. children graduate from high school.

Yes, you should read that again. It is stunning that in the richest, most powerful country in the world, that we are failing so many of our citizens. I can only think that if the trend continues, the United States is doomed to second-tier status.

Here is a graph from the PowerPoint’s used to communicate the report:

National_graduation_rates_jpeg_6Looking at the rate by state is interesting as well. And, for you political junkies, you may get a real tingle by noticing the colors used on the map.


Chief Learning Officers providing advice on company location and recruitment strategies might want to take this into account. On the other hand, pretty pictures only tell part of the story. See below:


Comparisons to Other Countries

As Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times columnist, pointed out in a recent column, other countries, notably China, are rapidly improving their educational systems, and their children are significantly outperforming U. S. children in K-12 education.

You can access Kristof’s article here, but you have to be subscribed to the New York Times to read it (which isn’t a bad idea), so I offer the following excerpt from his column:

Last month, the Asia Society published an excellent report, "Math and Science Education in a Global Age: What the U.S. Can Learn from China." It notes that China educates 20 percent of the world’s students with 2 percent of the world’s education resources. And the report finds many potential lessons in China’s rigorous math and science programs.

Yet, there isn’t any magic to it. One reason Chinese students learn more math and science than Americans is that they work harder at it. They spend twice as many hours studying, in school and out, as Americans.

Chinese students, for example, must do several hours of homework each day during their summer vacation, which lasts just two months. In contrast, American students have to spend each September relearning what they forgot over the summer.

China’s government has developed a solid national curriculum, so that nearly all high school students study advanced biology and calculus. In contrast, only 13 percent of American high school pupils study calculus, and fewer than 18 percent take advanced biology.

What You Can Do as a U. S. Training and Development Professional

  1. You’ve probably already heard about the massive talent gap (based largely on baby-boomer retirements) that is coming. Combine that with the aforementioned information about graduation rates, and you should start panicking.
  2. Figure out how to do remedial education.
  3. Figure out how to hire non-Americans as well as Americans.
  4. Start advocating within your company for an organizational commitment to your local K-12 educational institutions.
  5. Start with your own kids. Throw away their TV’s and get them reading more and thinking more. Don’t assume web-surfing is learning.
  6. Take a vacation day and volunteer in your kid’s classroom.
  7. Become a big brother or big sister.
  8. Volunteer in your local schools. Take your experience as an instructional professional, and share what you know. Don’t be heavy handed, be heavy on love and empathy.
  9. Stop fighting local property taxes. School funding does matter.
  10. Advocate for smaller class sizes.
  11. Insist on excellent teaching.
  12. Run for school board. Take inspiration from Marc Rosenberg, e-learning guru, who ran for his local school board because he knows the value of good learning.

A 69.6% high-school graduation rate is simply unacceptable and unsustainable. This is not only bad for our global and corporate competitiveness, it’s bad for our democracy as well. Democracies only flourish when their citizens have access to information and know how to think about that information when they have it.

What the hell are we thinking?

Or more realistically, what the hell have we been thinking?

I’ve been suspicious of the wiki bandwagon for quite some time. An earlier piece I wrote summed up my concerns. Fortunately, someone else has come along and written more deeply and elegantly on the topic. Check out Jaron Lanier’s piece, DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism, published 5-30-2006 in The Edge an online publication.

Jaron Lanier’s piece points out several things:

  1. Sometimes the collective is wise. Sometimes it is stupid. Sometimes it is very stupid.
  2. We, as individuals, have difficulty knowing what’s good and what’s not good.
  3. There is very often a need for wise and knowledgable editors to filter messages.
  4. Google search results have a similar problem.
  5. Websites and blogs that aggregate info have a similar problem.
  6. Our democracies may be threatened by this collective stupification.

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Relating This to the Learning-and-Performance Field

My main concern with wiki’s is that information from real experts can be stupified to the mediocre averaging of above-average minds. I have a wiki design that overcomes this problem, but I need a generous funder to make it a reality. BIG HINT to you rich philanthropic types. SMILE.

Wiki’s aren’t the only newtech fetish that exhibits the filtering problem. Blogs that simply compile messages from other blogs and web pages offer a prime exhibit. Jay Cross recently noted how the blogosphere was like an echo chamber, where the most prolific bloggers cite the most prolific bloggers into recursion ad absurdium. I see this echoing effect as a potential problem, dulling and twisting the voices of truly brilliant people and fully-vetted ideas.

I don’t want these compilers to stop. I like the material to sift through. But I do hope most people realize that there is very little nutrition left in sifted poop.

And we definitely need others to vet our work. For example, many great books that I read have acknowledgements aplenty for people who have provided feedback to the author(s).

My simple little point is that we need expertise too. We need filtering. We need wisdom. Some of that wisdom can come from the collective, but some must also come from people who have done the hard work of learning a knowledge discipline.


Go read Jaron Lanier’s piece, and the vetting it receives from the collective spectrum of people in The Edge’s readership.

Here is an example of e-learning for e-learning’s sake.

I think a table would have been much more valuable, and I’d like a search capability. Also, what if I want to know whether to buy an organic tomato or not?

The information may be good, but it’s hard to get to.

Will’s Note:

Original Post from 2006:

Let me propose a new taxonomy for learning objectives.

This taxonomy is needed to clear up the massive confusion we all have about the uses and benefits of learning objectives. I have tried to clarify this in the past in some of my conference presentations—but I have not been successful. When I get evaluation-sheet comments like, “Get real you idiot!” from more than a few people, I know I’ve missed the mark. SMILE

Because I don’t give up easily—and because learning objectives are so vitally important—I’m going to give this another try. Your feedback is welcome.

The premise I’m working from is simple. Instructional professionals use learning objectives for different purposes—even for different audiences. Learning objectives are used to guide the attention of the learner toward critical learning messages. Learning objectives are used to tell the learner what’s in the course. They are used by instructional designers to guide the design of the learning. They are used by evaluation designers to develop metrics and assessments.

Each use requires its own form of learning objective. Doesn’t it seem silly to use the exact same wording regardless of the use or intended audience? Do we provide doctors and patients with the exact same information about a particular prescription drug? Do designers of computer software require the same set of goal statements as users of that software? Do creators of films need to have the same set of objectives as movie goers?

Until recently I have argued that we ought to delineate between objectives for learners and objectives for designers. This was a good idea in principle, but it still left people confused because it didn’t cover all the uses of objectives. For example, learners can be presented with objectives to help guide their attention or to simply give them a sense of the on-the-job performance they’ll be expected to perform. Instructional designers can utilize objectives to guide the design process or to develop evaluations.

The New Taxonomy

  1. Focusing Objective
    A statement presented to learners before they encounter learning material—provided to help guide learner attention the most important aspects of that learning material.
  2. Performance Objective
    A statement presented to learners before they encounter learning material—provided to help learners get a quick understanding of the competencies they will be expected to learn.
  3. Instructional-Design Objective
    A statement developed by and for instructional designers to guide the design and development of learning and instruction.
  4. Instructional-Evaluation Objective
    A statement developed by and for program evaluators (or instructional designers) to guide the evaluation of instruction.

I made a conscious decision not to include a “table-of-contents objective” despite the widespread use of this method for presenting learners with objectives. I can’t decide whether this should be included. There’s no direct research on this (that I’ve encountered), but there may be some benefit for learners in having an outline of the coming learning material. Your comments welcome. I’m leaning toward including this notion into the taxonomy because it is a stategy that I’ve seen in use. Maybe I’ll call them “Content-Outlining Objectives” or “Outlining Objectives.”

One of the clear benefits of this taxonomy is that it separates Focusing Objectives from the other objectives. These objectives—those presented to learners to help focus their attention—have been researched with the greatest vigor. And the results of that research are clear:

  1. Focusing objectives guide learner attention to the information in subsequent learning material that has been targeted by objectives, but they also take attention away from the information not targeted by objectives.
  2. Similarly, focusing objectives improve learning for the targeted information and hurt learning for the information not targeted.
  3. Prequestions are as powerful in creating this focusing effect as learning objectives, and they may be more powerful.
  4. The wording of the focusing objective or prequestion must specifically mirror the wording in the learning material. General or abstract wording doesn’t cut it.
  5. Adding extra words, particularly words that specify the criteria of performance (ala Mager) will actually distract learners and hurt learning.