Thalheimer’s Top 10 List for 2008


Below I offer my Top 10 List for 2008, reprising my best work from the previous year.


Honorable Mentions

Before I get to the Top 10, there are some honorable mentions.

— Brown-Bag Learning Events. These are short webinars that I started running once or twice a month or so on various topics. I started these up this year as an experiment and they seem to be going really well. Come join me sometime!

— Graduate School Advice. I offered my advice on how to choose a graduate school and how to approach graduate school once you get in.

— Neon Elephant Award to Robert Brinkerhoff. Several years ago I started a once-a-year award to honor folks who are creating really beneficial innovations in our field.


My Top 10

10. Advice on the use of Personality Instruments. The training-and-development field relies too often on instruments (like the Myers-Briggs) that are not reliable or valid. I decided to put together a quick review of the research and suggest better alternatives.


9. On-the-job Learning. Too often, we in the learning-and-performance field forget that (1) learning happens on the job, (2) we can leverage and guide some of that learning, and (3) formal learning interventions can be specifically designed to support on-the-job learning. In this blog post, I shared results of a work-learning audit I conducted with a major retailer.


8. All Media Forced to be Sold for Cheap. Those of us in the learning-and-performance field need to stay attuned to the larger world and the technology-spaces we live in. This blog post noted how people’s expectations are changing about how much they are willing to pay for information. This has profound implications for our field.


7. Commenting on Learning 2.0. Learning 2.0—the practice of letting users generate and share information, knowledge, and personal asides—is here to stay. We learning professionals need to figure out how to make the best of it. I feel a special responsibility as a learning expert to bring insight to the tsunami. My best exploration on this issue involved designing two Learning 2.0 systems. I can’t share those designs here, but they provided a great learning experience for me to draw on in thinking about Learning 2.0.

I offered insights on how to evaluate learning 2.0 in an article for the eLearning Guild.

I’ve also begun to explore Twitter, which I’m finding intriguing but probably only useful for specific applications. I’m not done investigating, but the signal to noise ratio and the distraction problem may just be too hard to overcome.


6. New Measurement Job Aid and Smile-Sheet Design. In 2007, I wrote a research-to-practice report critiquing learning measurement practices because they often fail to understand learning fundamentals. I continue to follow-up on that work in an effort to move the field forward. For example, I’ve been teaching workshops on learning transfer and partnering with Roy Pollock of the Fort Hill Company in teaching workshops on measuring learning through the eLearning Guild. Within this month, Roy and I will be releasing a job aid on how to incorporate measurement into the learning-design process.

In June, I released a job aid on measurement best practices. The latest version of the job aid is available at the following link:

Also, this year, I began improving my own smile sheet practices, including using a better immediate smile sheet and a delayed smile sheet as well.


5. Situation-Based Learning Design. I have continued to refine my research-based conception, Situation-Based Learning Design, a learning-design conception that provides a potent alternative to our traditional topic-based instructional design. Although I don’t have a full write-up about this yet, I’ve been using this conception in my consulting and workshops—and learning professionals have found this conception extremely compelling. The following blog post hints at this a bit. The following link provides a job aid to introduce people on how situation-based learning design might work differently. I would recommend that organizations utilize this after taking a workshop. I’m not sure how well it will work without some background information.


4. Learning-to-Performance Responsibility Chart. For over 10 years I’ve been compiling research from the world’s preeminent refereed journals on learning, memory, and instruction. One of my lessons learned is that we need simple models (one’s that are research-based) that resonate with our stakeholders. I’ve also seen how the business side of our organizations don’t always understand how learning works or how they can help to support training and application. Given this need, I developed the Learning-to-Performance Responsibility Chart. Latest version is available here: The rationale behind this was discussed at this link:


3. Learning Landscape Model. I’ve been evolving this model for almost ten years. This year, I expanded it and have begun relating it to learning measurement. The Learning Landscape Model is a visual model that shows how learning becomes performance and creates results. It’s based on years of research and I have found it very helpful in (1) clarifying my own thoughts, in (2) helping other learning-and-performance professionals fully understand their roles/goals, and in (3) explaining training-and-development to business (non-learning) stakeholders. The following blog post offers two links, an annotated slide deck describing the model and the blog post that describes some of the thinking/research behind the model.


2. Feedback Report. I spent a long, long, long time compiling research from refereed journals on how to give learners feedback. This is a breakthrough report for a number of reasons. The research is messy and needs some enlightenment from the practice side, which I like to think I have provided. I offer suggestions to researchers on what they might be missing. The report is divided into two parts, one focusing on practice, one on research. Finally, I decided to give away the research report for free as an experiment, instead of selling it. Click the following link to get your own copy.


1. Making All Documents FREE!! Since about 2001, I’ve been selling my research-to-practice reports online. At the time, I figured that I was making an exhaustive effort in compiling the research and making it practical for learning professionals and that I ought to get some return on that effort. Moreover, I didn’t get a salary the way academic researchers do, and I needed to make a living just like everyone else. Well, that model never worked that well (I did the work, but the compensation was meager). I also sometimes felt a nagging pang of discomfort charging money for information—even with the value-add that I was providing. But the worst part by far was that this crucial information just wasn’t getting to that many people—where it needs to go so that it can make a difference in the lives of real learners and organizations.

So, starting a few months ago, I started giving it all away. My hope is that the research—and the valuable insights provided in its distillation—will get a much wider audience and have a greater impact on the field.

I’m still updating some documents, so stay tuned for further free research-to-practice reports in the next couple of months.

By the way, the experiment seems to be having an impact. I’ve gotten numerous requests to distribute documents in business organizations and academic institutions. Also, even in this terrible economy, organizations are requesting that I consult, lead workshops, or speak at their events. If your organization could benefit from my work, let me know. And feel free to distribute my documents as far and wide as you like.