Our Reason for Being (1998-Present)

Work-Learning Research Mission

Work-Learning Research, founded by Will Thalheimer in 1998, works in the learning-and-performance field, bringing research knowledge to practice and practicality to research.

We help instructional designers, e-learning developers, trainers, and performance consultants develop a practical understanding of the human learning system and utilize research-based knowledge to build effective learning-and-performance solutions.

We help learning executives and business leaders with workplace-learning strategy and guidance, supporting their efforts to reimagine and reskill their learning organizations, and saving their organizations money and time by helping their teams avoid the learning fads and mythologies that permeate the learning field.

Our central objective is to improve learning-and-performance practice by bridging the chasm between practitioners and researchers. We provide instructional designers, trainers, performance consultants, and other practitioners with research-based knowledge that they can trust to be practical and effective. We also work with researchers to promote the development of a viable body of applied research.

Why is Evidence-Based Practice Needed?

For too long, the training and performance fields have jumped from one fad to another—from the “pellet-reinforced” programmed learning technologies to the “the-learner-knows-everything” adult learning theory; from the “put-the-handcuffs-on-me-please” instructional-systems-design methodology to the “this-will-sound-really-impressive” neuro-linguistic programming. The list goes on and on.

What’s sad is that most (though not all) of these fads have something valuable to offer. So why do we swing from one to another? Because we have no anchor that grounds us, no firm footing from which to make a stand about what works and what doesn’t.

Work-Learning Research was founded to provide the field with a clear understanding of the human learning system; to energize researchers to create a practical body of knowledge; to motivate practitioners to demand verifiable, research-based information to guide their design decisions.

Only when each and every one of us have this understanding—the vital mental models of how learning works to produce performance—only then will we find our footing. Only then will we be able to deflect the fads, separate effective ideas from marketing claims, and provide our learners with the best possible learning and performance experiences.

Will’s Vision

Will envisions a learning-and-performance field where well-respected professionals apply their deep understanding of human learning to issues of productivity, innovation, management, personal development, and social responsibility.

  • Learning events will be more than twice as effective as they are today.
  • Practitioners will hold themselves accountable by measuring their results and continually improving their instructional efforts.
  • Researchers will do more applied work and will compile their results into useful, practical, and readable prose.
  • The field will have a common body of knowledge required of all its participants.
  • Discussions of what works will be productive and evidence-based, pushing the field forward instead of bouncing it from one fad to another.
  • Researchers and practitioners will learn from each other. The field will include a large cadre of research-practitioners.
  • Salaries for practitioners will double.
  • Researchers who focus on applied work will be honored within the academy.

What Can You Do?

If you believe in this mission too, here’s some ideas for what you can do:

  • Stay abreast of the research, reading research translations of the type provided by Will Thalheimer, Ruth Clark, Patti Shank, Julie Dirksen, Clark Quinn, Karl Kapp, Mirjam Neelen, and others…
  • Evaluate your own learning interventions (or have someone else evaluate them). Do this in a way that recognizes the importance of testing meaningful decision making after a realistic delay, and ensuring comparable conditions. Be skeptical of case studies and other anecdotal evidence.
  • Question “new” learning methods. Be skeptical yet open.
  • If you buy learning products or services, demand from the vendors some validation that their offerings actually will produce learning benefits.
  • Stay in touch. Consider hiring Will Thalheimer as a speaker, consultant, evaluator.