We are Professionals, Aren’t We?

Last year I was asked by Michael Allen–one of our industry's most influential creators and most successful entrepreneurs–to contribute a chapter to his first e-Learning Annual, which Pfeiffer had urged him to manage and edit.

Michael introduced my chapter as follows:

"In this article, one of the learning and performance field’s leading
visionaries looks back on his twenty-two years in the field with both love
and regret, while looking forward to the future by challenging all of us in
the field who see ourselves as learning-and-performance professionals.
Dr. Thalheimer’s challenge is simple. He asks every person in the field
to understand the forces that control their thinking and influence their
decision making. It’s as if the author wants to say: the unexamined
profession is not worth having."

I'm still thrilled to hear Sir Michael call me a visionary–though I'm sure he was talking about hallucinations of some sort. Because the article still resonates for me, I thought I'd share it with you.

Download We_Are_Professionals_by_Will_Thalheimer_

I encourage you to take a look at the whole book. Michael Allen’s 2008 e-Learning Annual does a great job covering the historic and institutional foundations of the learning-technology field–with chapters from more than 20 luminaries who have been at the heart of the learning field for a long time, including folks like Thiagi, David Merrill, Allison Rossett, and Greg Kearsley, and so many more.

Here are some of my conclusions in the chapter:

  1. Our graduate schools prepare
    technicians, not thoughtful
    scientist-practitioners who
    understand learning, think
    critically, and build wisdom over
  2. We don’t measure the outcome of
    our work in ways that enable us
    to build effective feedback loops
    and make improvements that will
    lead to better learning, on-the-job
    performance, and business results.
  3. The work pressures we face
    (for example, Internet-induced
    information overload and business
    demands for cheaper, faster
    results)—combined with our
    tendency toward professional
    arrogance—don’t predispose
    us to keep learning, to test our
    conjectures, to build a rich and
    complex knowledge base over time.
  4. Our trade associations, magazines,
    and conferences provide us
    with information that sells, not
    information that necessarily tells
    the truth of how we should better
    design our products and services.
  5. Our consultants and vendors are
    a large source of our information,
    and we tend to think uncritically
    about their offerings.
  6. Learning-and-performance
    research is not utilized when it
    might provide substantial benefits.
  7. Industry research is severely
    flawed, but we rely on it anyway.
  8. Contests, awards, and best-of lists
    grab our attention and distort
    our thinking about what is most

Okay, those were the list of our failures. I also add a list that begs for hope for our profession.

What do you think of our current practices?

Of our future?