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What do our most popular blog posts say about our field—the learning field?

A few months ago (in the last half of 2018), I reached out to bloggers in the learning field to find out. This blog post includes the numbers, wit, and wisdom from these bloggers. In addition to me, there are 18 other bloggers who generously shared their most popular blog posts.

I’m thrilled with the cross section of bloggers who are included here. We’ve got mega-bloggers (people who get over 25,000 people coming to their homepage each year, we’ve got medium bloggers, and we’ve got folks with small but passionate audiences. We’ve got some of the biggest names in the learning field. We’ve got folks focused on workplace learning and folks focused on education. We’ve got about an even split between men and women. Most of all, we have a group of folks bold and generous enough to share the reality of their blogs.

My Observations From the Results

I highly encourage you to peruse the contributions below. Each blogger shares his/her most popular blog post—the post that gets the most yearly visits—and reflects on what makes it so popular. They also share their feelings about why they’re blogging in the first place.

Some of the most popular posts are short. Some are long. Some are personal, even intimate. Some recount research with cold steely precision. Some have a negative slant, raging against poor practices. Some have a positive slant, reveling in the wonder of learning and service to others.

So what makes for a popular blog post in the learning field? Well, we have a relatively small and certainly not-fully representative sample, but the most important thing seems to be providing people with information that is perceived as valuable and/or unique. Some characteristics that seem especially important:

  • Answering important questions—questions that often get asked.
  • Providing definitive or research-based information.
  • Debunking myths or arguing against common traditional practices.
  • Providing a list of information.
  • Providing links where readers can learn more.
  • Introducing a creative or unique concept or idea.
  • Focusing on a topic of current popular interest.
  • There is a visual element to the blog post.
  • The topic is one likely to be assigned by university professors.
  • Timeless topics, because over time they engender lots of links.
  • Topics that help people do their work better.

These are some of the lesson learned from my reflections. You will probably see other things in the list of most popular blog posts. Please add your observations and conclusions in the comments below.

The bloggers are listed in random order below.

What the Blog Posts Say about the Learning Field

Our sample of bloggers offer thoughtful reflections on the practice of learning and development. It seems readers are hungry for useful, validated, and unique information—as long as it is presented in ways that are pithy, straightforward, and powerful.

To me, as a research-to-practice guy, I’m encouraged by the interest in evidence-based information and the number of people searching for information on learning myths. I’m also delighted that none of the most popular blog posts are advocating silly or harmful fads. This could be a result of the kinds of people likely to respond to a call to action from me, someone known for a certain perspective and approach. On the other hand, I did ask people to share the call-to-action widely and we did get quite a broad range of bloggers.

The most popular blog posts also suggest that blog readers in the learning field are looking for information that they can use right away—that add value and help them do their work.

Our readers also want unique perspectives. Not the same old thing. Some of the most popular posts talked about humble leadership, training ghettos, being human on social media, and digital body language—topics so compelling that readers can’t help but engage.

What do you think the list of most popular blog posts say about the learning field? Respond below! I’d love to hear multiple perspectives on this.

I got interested in the popularity of different blog posts because one of my blog posts is ridiculously more popular than my blog itself, regularly getting more than three times more traffic than my home page!! I’ll give you my stats first, and then share each blogger’s responses one at a time—shared in a random order.

Will Thalheimer

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Will’s Blog (formerly Will At Work Learning)

Blog Address:

https://www.worklearning.com/wills-blog/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

My blog is designed to share research-based practical wisdom with the workplace learning field and news and research of importance to those who follow my work. Focuses more and more on learning evaluation.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://www.worklearning.com/2006/05/01/people_remember/

What is the title of this blog post?

People remember 10%, 20%…Oh Really?

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

34,135

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

9,994

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

The post debunks the myth that people remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, etc. These numbers have often been associated with the learning pyramid and Edgar Dale’s Cone. This was my original blog post from 2006 and has been updated over the years.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

The myth is so widely shared and so many people have taken responsibility to debunk this myth on their own blogs and websites that lots of traffic gets pointed to this post as it was among the first warnings posted on the internet.

Mike Taylor

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Ask. Learn. Share.

Blog Address:

https://mike-taylor.org/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Share useful things from the intersection of learning, design, and technology.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://mike-taylor.org/2011/06/10/21-questions-to-ask-before-designing-any-training-program/

What is the title of this blog post?

21 Questions to ask before Designing Any Training Program

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

2,244

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

7,254

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

This page is just a collection of the most recent posts.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

I think this is a very key foundational idea for how to get started on any learning-related project.

Andrew Jacobs

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Lost and Desperate.

Blog Address:

https://lostanddesperate.com/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Writing about learning in a way which helps me reflect and tries to move the industry forward.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://lostanddesperate.com/2014/03/14/50-big-ideas-to-change-l-and-d/

What is the title of this blog post?

50 BIG IDEAS TO CHANGE L AND D

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

151

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

1,097

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

There are lots of ways you can develop your L&D offer that just need you to think a bit bigger.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

It’s aspirational, it’s practical, it’s a bit evangelical.

Jo Cook

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Lightbulb Moment Blog

Blog Address:

https://lightbulbmoment.info

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Virtual classroom and webinars, but also learning and development more broadly.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://lightbulbmoment.info/2018/04/04/what-is-digital-body-language/

What is the title of this blog post?

What is Digital Body Language?

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

704

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

6,189

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

That there is an online equivalent of body language for when delivering virtual classrooms.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

It’s a new concept on an area where people don’t have much experience or confidence.

Ryan Tracey

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

E-Learning Provocateur

Blog Address:

https://ryan2point0.wordpress.com

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

To provoke deeper thinking about digital learning in the corporate sector.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://ryan2point0.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/taxonomy-of-learning-theories/

What is the title of this blog post?

Taxonomy of Learning Theories

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

1,113

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

8,019

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

A brief overview of, and a proposed taxonomy for, key theories that apply to workplace learning.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

Because practitioners are confused by different theories and are uncertain as to how they apply to their role.

Wilfred Rubens

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

WilfredRubens.com over leren en ICT

Blog Address:

http://www.te-learning.nl/blog/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

I am very interested in how technology can enhance and facilitate learning. I use my blog to share information about technology enhanced learning.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

http://www.te-learning.nl/blog/voor-en-nadelen-gebruik-sociale-media-door-jongeren/

What is the title of this blog post?

Voor- en nadelen gebruik sociale media door jongeren

Translated into English by Google: Pros and cons of the use social media by young people

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

16,515

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

14,227

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

Overview of pro’s and con’s of the use of social media by young people. People who are currently arguing in favour of ‘ban the media’ are gradually putting themselves outside social reality. It is better to focus on sensible use, using the possibilities of social media. That is more effective than fighting against windmills.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

Actual for more than ten years. Content is appealing. Food for thought. Well indexed by search engines.

Julie Drybrough

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

fuchsia blue blog

Blog Address:

https://fuchsiablueblog.wordpress.com

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

I write about organisational learning/ change/ culture as I see them. I write vignettes about my consultancy work and observation pieces about our profession/ field. I try to get folk thinking more deeply or oddly about what they do.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://fuchsiablueblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/the-power-of-humble-leadership/

What is the title of this blog post?

The Power of Humble Leadership

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

208

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

2,852

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

Intro to fuchsia blue – about me etc

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

It’s the front-page when you hit the site, generally

Neil Von Heupt

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Divergent Learning

Blog Address:

https://divergentlearning.wordpress.com/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

I try to write things that will add value to those who might read them.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://divergentlearning.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/a-human-social-media-experiment/

What is the title of this blog post?

A human social media experiment

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

99

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

163

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

Being human on social media

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

It had two things going for it – a trip down memory lane via childhood books, and a curated list of L&D reading material. And it was quite visual, so I guess that’s three!

Brett Christensen

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Workplace Performance

Blog Address:

https://workplaceperformanceblog.wordpress.com/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Promote the science of performance improvement.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://workplaceperformanceblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/needs-assessment-or-needs-analysis/

What is the title of this blog post?

Needs Assessment or Needs Analysis

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

521

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

3,577

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

There is a difference between needs assessment and needs analysis.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

Because it’s a common question and I hope I am writing in a way that connects with everyone.

Dennis Callahan

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Learnstreaming

Blog Address:

http://learnstreaming.com/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Sharing my thoughts on workplace learning.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

http://learnstreaming.com/learning-means-believing-in-yourself/

What is the title of this blog post?

Learning Means Believing in Yourself

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

4,440

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

Not Sure

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

To learn, you need to have confidence in yourself, You can do it!

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

With so much change and uncertainty, you are always the constant. Trust and believe in yourself and you can grow.

Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

3-Star Learning Experiences

Blog Address:

https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Our blog aims to present learning professionals with evidence-informed ideas on how to make both the instructional and the learning experience more effective, efficient, and enjoyable. We discuss fads & fallacies, we try to find nuance, and we provide our readers with concrete ideas on how to design 3-star learning experiences based on the evidence out there!

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/no-feedback-no-learning/

What is the title of this blog post?

No Feedback, No Learning

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

5,761

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

13,583

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

This blog discusses why feedback is critical for learning as well as different types of feedback for learning and how they hurt or support learning.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

I think people realize that feedback is one of the most, if not the most important tools for supporting learning. Giving effective feedback has also been found to be one of the most powerful educational interventions to improve learning. Effective feedback positively affects learning outcomes and motivation to learn, and can help build accurate schema.

Christy Tucker

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Experiencing E-Learning

Blog Address:

https://christytucker.wordpress.com

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Mostly instructional design for elearning, especially scenarios for workplace learning.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://christytucker.wordpress.com/2007/05/26/what-does-an-instructional-designer-do/

What is the title of this blog post?

No Feedback, No Learning

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

32,246

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

7,141

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

It’s my explanation of what instructional designers do, as a response to all the times I have had to explain my work to others

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

It answers a question people genuinely have (what is instructional design). It used to rank better in search engine results, but has dropped because the post is now over 10 years old.

Donald H Taylor

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Donald H Taylor

Blog Address:

http://donaldhtaylor.co.uk/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Share my thoughts on learning and performance at work.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

http://donaldhtaylor.co.uk/are-you-in-the-training-ghetto/

What is the title of this blog post?

Are you in the Training Ghetto?

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

Not Sure

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

Not Sure

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

Many L&D departments run the risk of being sidelined as they fail to adapt to change at the same speed as the rest of the business.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

People recognise the issues involved, and can place themselves on the 2×2 grid I provide.

Matt Guyan

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Learn. Show. Repeat.

Blog Address:

http://www.mattguyan.com/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

To share what I’m learning as well as my thoughts about eLearning.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

http://www.mattguyan.com/letter-to-an-elearning-creator/

What is the title of this blog post?

Letter to an eLearning Creator

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

4,760

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

2,615

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

I was venting my frustration at many of the things that are wrong with eLearning!

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

People seemed to relate to it either as a developer or user.

Guy Wallace

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Pursuing Performance

Blog Address:

https://eppic.biz/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Share on the topics and tasks of performance-based ISD and Performance Improvement, and pay it forward, as my many mentors had done for me.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://eppic.biz/2012/03/26/the-big-5-in-human-personality-assessments-canoe/

What is the title of this blog post?

The Big 5 in Human Personality Assessments: CANOE

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

12,815

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

43,428

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

Sharing a valid approach to personality assessments: The Big Five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (common acronyms are OCEAN, NEOAC, or CANOE).

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

Those that become aware of the shortcoming of MBTI, DiSC, etc. in some uses within HR need something valid in its place.

Connie Malamed

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

The eLearning Coach

Blog Address:

http://theelearningcoach.com

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

My focus is on designing learning experiences in the workplace to support adult learners and to help them improve their performance at work. I try to cover topics related to this, such as instructional design, cognitive psychology, visual design and multimedia, technology-based learning, etc.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/10-definitions-learning/

What is the title of this blog post?

10 Definitions of Learning

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

90,730

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

25,541

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

We all know that the human brain is immensely complex and still somewhat of a mystery. It follows then, that learning—a primary function of the brain—is understood in many different ways. Here are ten ways that learning can be described.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

I think the traffic is coming from any type of learning professional (IDers, teachers, professors, trainers) who are interested in the variety of ways to think about learning. They are trying to figure out what learning is or they have a philosophical interest. It could also be coming from students who need a definition for a paper they are writing.

Christopher Pappas

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

eLearning Industry

Blog Address:

https://elearningindustry.com

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

The best collection of eLearning articles, eLearning concepts, eLearning software, and eLearning resources.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

https://elearningindustry.com/the-20-best-learning-management-systems

What is the title of this blog post?

The 20 Best Learning Management Systems (2018 Update)

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

151,345

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

288,334

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

Choosing the right Learning Management System for the deployment of your eLearning courses might seem a daunting task. Care to find out about the best Learning Management Systems the eLearning industry has to offer? In this article, I’ll present a list of the 20 best Learning Management Systems for all needs and budgets.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

There are many organization that are looking to find or replace their Learning Management System. They are interested to read what eLearning Industry has to offer.

Michelle Ockers

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

It doesn’t have a name.

Blog Address:

http://michelleockers.com/blog/

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

(1) Thought leadership – opinions on role and future of L&D. Increasingly targeted at business leaders. (2) Daily dispatches – Narrating my work (term from Austin Kleon) http://michelleockers.com/daily-dispatches/.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

http://michelleockers.com/mo-blog/how-we-modernised-our-learning-and-development-model-mindset-and-capabilities/

What is the title of this blog post?

How We Modernised our Learning and Development Model, Mindset and Capabilities

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

Not Sure

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

Not Sure

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

Modernisation of L&D practices, mindset and capability.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

Case study. Tips.

Tracy Schiffmann

What is the name of your blog? (NOT YOUR URL)

Brain-Based and Trauma-Informed Teaching

Blog Address:

http://www.tracyschiffmann.com

What do you try to do in your blog? What’s your focus, goal, or slant?

Support teachers and trainers in working more effectively with trauma-impacted adult learners.

What is the URL of your most visited blog post?

http://tracy-schiffmann.squarespace.com/blog/2016/12/17/10-trauma-informed-classroom-strategies-for-navigating-behavior-emergencies

What is the title of this blog post?

10 Trauma-Informed Classroom Strategies for Navigating Classroom Behavior Emergencies

How many page views FOR THIS PARTICULAR BLOG POST in the last 12 MONTHS?

429

How many page views FOR YOUR BLOG’S HOME PAGE in the last 12 MONTHS?

66

What is the gist or main message of THIS blog post?

I introduce 10 practical strategies for responding to challenging classroom behavior that may be a result of trauma-impact. I then share a true story from my teaching experience and demonstrate how the strategies were used to respond to the upset adult learner.

Why do you think this post is so popular with your readers?

I have many readers who teach trauma-impacted adult learners in prisons, jails, community-based organizations, and community colleges. They see the impact of trauma on both behavior and on their student’s ability to learn. Institutionalized racism, natural disasters, bullying, childhood abuse, and even the current political climate are traumatizing.

My Year In Review 2018—Engineering the Future of Learning Evaluation

In 2018, I shattered my collarbone and lay wasting for several months, but still, I think I had one of my best years in terms of the contributions I was able to make. This will certainly sound like hubris, and surely it is, but I can’t help but think that 2018 may go down as one of the most important years in learning evaluation’s long history. At the end of this post, I will get to my failures and regrets, but first I’d like to share just how consequential this year was in my thinking and work in learning evaluation.

It started in January when I published a decisive piece of investigative journalism showing that Donald Kirkpatrick was NOT the originator of the four-level model; that another man, Raymond Katzell, has deserved that honor all along. In February, I published a new evaluation model, LTEM (The Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model)—intended to replace the weak and harmful Kirkpatrick-Katzell Four-Level Model. Already, doctoral students are studying LTEM and organizations around the world are using LTEM to build more effective learning-evaluation strategies.

Publishing these two groundbreaking efforts would have made a great year, but because I still have so much to learn about evaluation, I was very active in exploring our practices—looking for their strengths and weaknesses. I led two research efforts (one with the eLearning Guild and one with my own organization, Work-Learning Research). The Guild research surveyed people like you and your learning-professional colleagues on their general evaluation practices. The Work-Learning Research effort focused specifically on our experiences as practitioners in surveying our learners for their feedback.

Also in 2018, I compiled and published a list of 54 common mistakes that get made in learning evaluation. I wrote an article on how to think about our business stakeholders in learning evaluation. I wrote a post on one of the biggest lies in learning evaluation—how we fool ourselves into thinking that learner feedback gives us definitive data on learning transfer and organizational results. It does not! I created a replacement for the problematic Net Promoter Score. I shared my updated smile-sheet questions, improving those originally put forth in my award winning book, Performance-Focused Smile Sheets. You can access all these publications below.

In my 2018 keynotes, conference sessions, and workshops, I recounted our decades-long frustrations in learning evaluation. We are clearly not happy with what we’ve been able to do in terms of learning evaluation. There are two reasons for this. First, learning evaluation is very complex and difficult to accomplish—doubly so given our severe resource constraints in terms of both budget and time. Second, our learning-evaluation tools are mostly substandard—enabling us to create vanity metrics but not enabling us to capture data in ways that help us, as learning professionals, make our most important decisions.

In 2019, I will continue my work in learning evaluation. I still have so much to unravel. If you see a bit of wisdom related to learning evaluation, please let me know.

Will’s Top Fifteen Publications for 2018

Let me provide a quick review of the top things I wrote this year:

  1. LTEM (The Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model)
    Although published by me in 2018, the model and accompanying 34-page report originated in work begun in 2016 and through the generous and brilliant feedback I received from Julie Dirksen, Clark Quinn, Roy Pollock, Adam Neaman, Yvon Dalat, Emma Weber, Scott Weersing, Mark Jenkins, Ingrid Guerra-Lopez, Rob Brinkerhoff, Trudy Mandeville, and Mike Rustici—as well as from attendees in the 2017 ISPI Design-Thinking conference and the 2018 Learning Technologies conference in London. LTEM is designed to replace the Kirkpatrick-Katzell Four-Level Model originally formulated in the 1950s. You can learn about the new model by clicking here.
  2. Raymond Katzell NOT Donald Kirkpatrick
    Raymond Katzell originated the Four-Level Model. Although Donald Kirkpatrick embraced accolades for the Four-Level Model, it turns out that Raymond Katzell was the true originator. I did an exhaustive investigation and offered a balanced interpretation of the facts. You can read the original piece by clicking here. Interestingly, none of our trade associations have reported on this finding. Why is that? LOL
  3. When Training Pollutes. Our Responsibility to Lessen the Environmental Damage of Training
    I wrote an article and placed it on LinkedIn and as far as I can tell, very few of us really want to think about this. But you can get started by reading the article (by clicking here).
  4. Fifty-Four Mistakes in Learning Evaluation
    Of course we as an industry make mistakes in learning evaluation, but who knew we made so many? I began compiling the list because I’d seen a good number of poor practices and false narratives about what is important in learning evaluation, but by the time I’d gotten my full list I was a bit dumbstruck by the magnitude of problem. I’ve come to believe that we are still in the dark ages of learning evaluation and we need a renaissance. This article will give you some targets for improvements. Click here to read it.
  5. New Research on Learning Evaluation — Conducted with The eLearning Guild
    The eLearning Guild and Dr. Jane Bozarth (the Guild’s Director of Research) asked me to lead a research effort to determine what practitioners in the learning/elearning field are thinking and doing in terms of learning evaluation. In a major report released about a month ago, we reveal findings on how people feel about the learning measurement they are able to do, the support they get from their organizations, and their feelings about their current level of evaluation competence. You can read a blog post I wrote highlighting one result from the report—that a full 40% of us are unhappy with what we are able to do in terms of learning evaluation. You can access the full report here (if you’re a Guild member) and an executive summary. Also, stay tuned to my blog or signup for my newsletter to see future posts about our findings.
  6. Current Practices in Gathering Learner Feedback
    We at Work-Learning Research, Inc. conducted a survey focused on gathering learner feedback (i.e., smile sheets, reaction forms, learner surveys) that spanned 2017 and 2018. Since the publication of my book, Performance-Focused Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking of a Dangerous Art Form, I’ve spent a ton of time helping organizations build more effective learner surveys and gauging common practices in the workplace learning field. This research survey continued that work. To read my exhaustive report, click here.
  7. One of the Biggest Lies in Learning Evaluation — Asking Learners about Level 3 and 4 (LTEM Tiers 7 and 8)
    This is big! One of the biggest lies in learning evaluation. It’s a lie we like to tell ourselves and a lie our learning-evaluation vendors like to tell us. If we ask our learners questions that relate to their job performance or the organizational impact of our learning programs we are NOT measuring at Kirkpatrick-Katzell Level 3 or 4 (or at LTEM Tiers 7 and 8), we are measuring at Level 1 and LTEM Tier 3. You can read this refutation here.
  8. Who Will Rule Our Conferences? Truth or Bad-Faith Vendors?
    What do you want from the trade organizations in the learning field? Probably “accurate information” is high on your list. But what happens when the information you get is biased and untrustworthy? Could. Never. Happen. Right? Read this article to see how bias might creep in.
  9. Snake Oil. The Story of Clark Stanley as Preface to Clark Quinn’s Excellent Book
    This was one of my favorite pieces of writing in 2018. Did I ever mention that I love writing and would consider giving this all up for a career as a writer? You’ve all heard of “snake oil” but if you don’t know where the term originated, you really ought to read this piece.
  10. Dealing with the Emotional Readiness of Our Learners — My Ski Accident Reflections
    I had a bad accident on the ski slopes in February this year and I got thinking about how our learners might not always be emotionally ready to learn. I don’t have answers in this piece, just reflections, which you can read about here.
  11. The Backfire Effect. Not the Big Worry We Thought it was (for Those Who Would Debunk Learning Myths)
    This article is for those interested in debunking and persuasion. The Backfire Effect was the finding that trying to persuade someone to stop believing a falsehood, might actually make them more inclined to believe the falsehood. The good news is that new research showed that this worry might be overblown. You can read more about this here (if you dare to be persuaded).
  12. Updated Smile-Sheet Questions for 2018
    I published a set of learner-survey questions in my 2016 book, and have been working with clients to use these questions and variations on these questions for over two years since then. I’ve learned a thing or two and so I published some improvements early last year. You can see those improvements here. And note, for 2019, I’ll be making additional improvements—so stay tuned! Remember, you can sign up to be notified of my news here.
  13. Replacement for NPS (The Net Promoter Score)
    NPS is all the rage. Still! Unfortunately, it’s a terribly bad question to include on a learner survey. The good news is that now there is an alternative, which you can see here.
  14. Neon Elephant Award for 2018 to Clark Quinn
    Every year, I give an award for a great research-to-practice contribution in the workplace learning field. This year’s winner is Clark Quinn. See why he won and check out his excellent resources here.
  15. New Debunker Club Website
    The Debunker Club is a group of people who have committed to debunking myths in the learning field and/or sharing research-based information. In 2018, working with a great team of volunteers, we revamped the Debunker Club website to help build a community of debunkers. We now have over 800 members from around the world. You can learn more about why The Debunker Club exists by clicking here. Also, feel free to join us!

 

My Final Reflections on 2018

I’m blessed to be supported by smart passionate clients and by some of the smartest friends and colleagues in the learning field. My Work-Learning Research practice turned 20 years old in 2018. Being a consultant—especially one who focuses on research-to-practice in the workplace learning field—is still a challenging yet emotionally rewarding endeavor. In 2018, I turned my attention almost fully to learning evaluation. You can read about my two-path evaluation approach here. One of my research surveys totally flopped this year. It was focused on the interface between us (as learning professionals) and our organizations’ senior leadership. I wanted to know if what we thought senior leadership wanted was what they actually wanted. Unfortunately, neither I nor any of the respondents could entice a senior leader to comment. Not one! If you or your organization has access to senior managers, I’d love to partner with you on this! Let me know. Indeed, this doesn’t even have to be research. If your CEO would be willing to trade his/her time letting me ask a few questions in exchange for my time answering questions about learning, elearning, learning evaluation, etc., I’d be freakin’ delighted! I failed this year in working out a deal with another evaluation-focused organization to merge our efforts. I was bummed about this failure as the synergies would have been great. I also failed in 2018 to cure myself of the tendency to miss important emails. If you ever can’t get in touch with me, try, try again! Thanks and apologies! I had a blast in 2018 speaking and keynoting at conferences—both big and small conferences. From doing variations on the Learning-Research Quiz Show (a rollicking good time) to talking about innovations in learning evaluation to presenting workshops on my learning-evaluation methods and the LTEM model. Good stuff, if a ton of work. Oh! I did fail again in 2018 turning my workshops into online workshops. I hope to do better in 2019. I also failed in 2018 in finishing up a research review of the training transfer research. I’m like 95% done, but still haven’t had a chance to finish.

2018 broke my body, made me unavailable for a couple of months, but overall, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year. 2019 looks promising too as I have plans to continue working on learning evaluation. It’s kind of interesting that we are still in the dark ages of learning evaluation. We as an industry, and me as a person, have a ton more to learn about learning evaluation. I plan to continue the journey. Please feel free to reach out and let me know what I can learn from you and your organization. And of course, because I need to pay the rent, let me say that I’d be delighted if you wanted me to help you or your organization. You can reach me through the Work-Learning Research contact form.

Thanks for reading and being interested in my work!!!

I read a brilliantly clear article today by Karen Hao from the MIT Technology Review. It explains what machine learning is and provides a very clear diagram, which I really like.

Now, I am not a machine learning expert, but I have a hypothesis that has a ton of face validity when I look in the mirror. My hypothesis is this:

Machine learning will return meaningful results to the extent that the data it uses is representative of the domain of interest.

A simple thought experiment will demonstrate my point. If a learning machine is given data about professional baseball in the United States from 1890 to 2000, it would learn all kinds of things, including the benefits of pulling the ball as a batter. Pulling the ball occurs when a right-handed batter hits the ball to left field or a left-handed batter hits the ball to right field. In the long history of baseball, many hitters benefited by trying to pull the ball because it produces a more natural swing and one that generates more power. Starting in the 2000s, with the advent of advanced analytics that show where each player is likely to hit the ball, a maneuver called “the shift” has been used more and more, and pulling the ball consistently has become a disadvantage. In the shift, players in the field migrate to positions where the batter is most likely to hit the ball, thus negating the power benefits of pulling the ball. Our learning machine would not know about the decreased benefits of pulling the ball because it would never have seen that data (the data from 2000 to now).

Machine Learning about Learning

I raise this point because of the creeping danger in the world of learning and education. My concern is relevant to all domains where it is difficult to collect data on the most meaningful factors and outcomes, but where it is easy to collect data on less meaningful factors and outcomes. In such cases, our learning machines will only have access to the data that is easy to collect and will not have access to the data that is difficult or impossible to collect. People using machine learning on inadequate data sets will certainly find some interesting relationships in the data, but they will have no way of knowing what they’re missing. The worst part is that they’ll report out some fanciful finding, we’ll all jump up and down in excitement and then make bad decisions based on the bad learning caused by the incomplete data.

In the learning field—where trainers, instructional designers, elearning developers, and teachers reside—we have learned a great deal about research-based methods of improving learning results, but we don’t know everything. And, many of the factors which we know work are not tracked in most big data sets. Do we track the spacing effect, the number of concepts repeated with attention-grabbing variation, the alignment between context cues present in learning materials compared with the cues that will be present in our learners’ future performance situations? Ha! Our large data sets certainly miss many of these causal factors.

Our large data sets also fail to capture the most important outcomes metrics. Indeed, as I have been regularly recounting for years now, typical learning measurements are often biased by measuring immediately at the end of learning (before memories fade), by measuring in the learning context (where contextual cues offer inauthentic hints or subconscious triggering of recall targets), and by measuring with tests of low-level knowledge (compared to more relevant skill-focused decision-making or task performances). We also overwhelmingly rely on learner feedback surveys, both in workplace learning and in higher education. Learner surveys—at least traditional ones—have been found virtually uncorrelated with learning results. To use these meaningless metrics as a primary dependent variable (or just a variable) in a machine-learning data set is complete malpractice.

So if our machine learning data sets have a poor handle on both the inputs and outputs to learning, how can we see machine learning interpretations of learning data as anything but a shiny new alchemy?

 

Measurement Illuminates Some Things But Leaves Others Hidden

In my learning-evaluation workshops, I often show this image.

The theme expressed in the picture is relevant to all types of evaluation, but it is especially relevant for machine learning.

When we review our smile-sheet data, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we have learned the truth about the success of our learning. When we see a beautiful data-visualized dashboard, we should not deceive ourselves and our organizations that what we see is all there is to see.

So it is with machine learning, especially in domains where the data is not all the data, where the data flawed, and where the boundaries on the full population of domain data are not known.

 

With Apologies to Karen Hao

I don’t know Karen, but I do love her diagram. It’s clear and makes some very cogent points—as does her accompanying article.

Here is her diagram, which you can see in the original at this URL.

Like measurement itself, I think the diagram illuminates some aspects of machine learning but fails to illuminate the danger of incomplete or unrepresentative data sets. So, I made a modification in the flow chart.

And yes, that seven-letter provocation is a new machine-learning term that arises from the data as I see it.

Corrective Feedback Welcome

As I said to start this invective, my hypothesis about machine learning and data is just that—a semi-educated hypothesis that deserves a review from people more knowledgeable than me about machine learning. So, what do you think machine learning gurus?

 

Karen Hao Responds

I’m so delighted! One day after I posted this, Karen Hao responded:

 

 

 

Just today I wrote an article on Training and Climate Change and what, if anything, we workplace learning professionals can do about it.

See and comment on LinkedIn where I published the article. Click to go there now.

One of my blog posts is much, much, much more popular than any of my other blog posts. It’s the blog post on the fake numbers on the learning pyramid sometimes associated with Edgar Dale’s Cone.

The disproportional popularity of this blog post has gone on for years and it fascinates me. It says something. I can’t be sure exactly what it says, but I have some good guesses.

This has me thinking. What if we all–bloggers in the learning industry–shared our most popular blog posts. Maybe this would say something about our industry.

Let’s try it!!

 

If You’ve Been Blogging in the Learning Industry for One Year or More,
Please Answer The Questions Below.

Or use this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/bigposts

 

Create your own user feedback survey

My research-and-consulting practice, Work-Learning Research, was 20 years old last Saturday. This has given me pause to reflect on where I’ve been and how learning research has involved in the past two decades.

Today, as I’m preparing a conference proposal for next year’s ISPI conference, I found an early proposal I put together for the Great Valley chapter of ISPI to speak at one of their monthly meetings back in 2002. I don’t remember whether they actually accepted my proposal, but here is an excerpt:

 

 

Interesting that even way back then, I had found and compiled research on retrieval practice, spacing, feedback, etc. from the scientific journals and the exhaustive labor of hundreds of academic researchers. I am still talking about these foundational learning principles even today—because they are fundamental and because research and practice continue to demonstrate their power. You can look at recent books and websites that are now celebrating these foundational learning factors (Make it Stick, Design for How People Learn, The Ingredients for Great Teaching, Learning Scientists website, etc.).

Feeling blessed today, as we here in the United States move into a weekend where we honor our workers, that I have been able to use my labor to advance these proven principles, uncovered first by brilliant academic researchers such as Bjork, Bahrick, Mayer, Ebbinghaus, Crowder, Sweller, van Merriënboer, Rothkopf, Runquist, Izawa, Smith, Roediger, Melton, Hintzman, Glenberg, Dempster, Estes, Eich, Ericsson, Davies, Garner, Chi, Godden, Baddeley, Hall, Hintzman, Herz, Karpicke, Butler, Kirschner, Clark, Kulhavy, Moreno, Pashler, Cepeda, and many others.

From these early beginnings, I created a listing of twelve foundational learning factors—factors that I have argued should be our first priority in creating great learning—reviewed here in this document.

Happy Labor Day everyone and special thanks to the researchers who continue to make my work possible—and enable learning professionals of all stripes to build increasingly effective learning!

If you’d like to leave a remembrance in regard to Work-Learning Research’s 20th anniversary, or just read my personal reflections about it, you can do that here.

 

You won’t believe what a vendor said about a speaker at a conference—when that speaker spoke the truth.

 

Conferences are big business in the workplace learning field.

Conferences make organizers a ton of money. That’s great because pulling off a good conference is not as easy as it looks. In addition to finding a venue and attracting people to come to your event, you also have to find speakers. Some speakers are well-known quantities, but others are unknown.

In the learning field, where we are inundated with fads, myths, and misconceptions; finding speakers who will convey the most helpful messages, and avoid harmful messages, is particularly difficult. Ideally, as attendees, we’d like to hear truth from our speakers rather than fluff and falsehoods.

On the other hand, vendors pay big money to exhibit their products and services at a conference. Their goal is connecting with attendees who are buyers or who can influence buyers. Even conferences that don’t have exhibit halls usually get money from vendors in one way or another.

So, conference owners have two groups of customers to keep happy: attendees and vendors. In an ideal world, both groups would want the most helpful messages to be conveyed. Truth would be a common goal. So for example, let’s say new research is done that shows that freep learning is better than traditional elearning. A speaker at a conference shares the news that freep learning is great. Vendors in the audience hear the news. What will they do?

  • Vendor A hires a handsome and brilliant research practitioner to verify the power of freep learning with the idea of moving forward quickly and providing this powerful new tool to their customers.
  • Vendor B jumps right in and starts building freep learning to ensure their customers get the benefits of this powerful new learning method.
  • Vendor C pulls the conference organizers aside and tells them, “If you ever use that speaker again, we will not be back; you will not get our money any more.”

Impossible you say!

Would never happen you think!

You’re right. Not enough vendors are hiring fadingly-good-lookingly brilliant research-to-practice experts!

Here’s a true story from a conference that took place within the last year or so.

Clark Quinn spoke about learning myths and misconceptions during his session, describing the findings from his wonderful book. Later when he read his conference evaluations he found the following comment among the more admiring testimonials:

“Not cool to debunk some tools that exhibitors pay a lot of money to sell at [this conference] only to hear from a presenter at the conference that in his opinion should be debunked. Why would I want to be an exhibitor at a conference that debunks my products? I will not exhibit again if this speaker speaks at [conference name]” (emphasis added).

This story was recounted by Clark and captured by Jane Bozarth in an article on the myth of learning styles she wrote as the head of research for the eLearning Guild. Note that the conference in question was NOT an eLearning Guild conference.

What can we do?

Corruption is everywhere. Buyer beware! As adults, we know this! We know politicians lie (some more than others!!). We know that we have to take steps not to be ripped off. We get three estimates when we need a new roof. We ask for personal references. We look at the video replay. We read TripAdvisor reviews. We look for iron-clad guarantees that we can return products we purchased.

We don’t get flustered or worried, we take precautions. In the learning field, you can do the following:

  • Look for conference organizers who regularly include research-based sessions (scientific research NOT opinion research).
  • Look for the conferences that host the great research-to-practice gurus. People like Patti Shank, Julie Dirksen, Clark Quinn, Mirjam Neelen, Ruth Clark, Karl Kapp, Jane Bozarth, Dick Clark, Paul Kirschner, and others.
  • Look for conferences that do NOT have sessions—or have fewer sessions—that propagate common myths and misinformation (learning styles, the learning pyramid, MBTI, DISC, millennials learn differently, people only use 10% of their brains, only 10% of learning transfers, neuroscience as a panacea, people have the attention span of a goldfish, etc.).
  • If you want to look into Will’s Forbidden Future, you might look for the following:
    • conferences and/or trade organizations that have hired a content trustee, someone with a research background to promote valid information and cull bad information.
    • conferences that point speakers to a list of learning myths to avoid.
    • conferences that evaluate sessions based on the quality of the content.

Being exposed to false information isn’t just bad for us as professionals. It’s also bad for our organizations. Think of all the wasted effort—the toil, the time, the money—that was flushed down the toilet trying to redesign all our learning to meet the so-called learning-styles approach. Egads! If you need to persuade your management about the danger of learning myths you might try this.

In a previous blog post, I talked about what we can do as attendees of conferences to avoid learning bad information. That’s good reading as well. Check it out here.

Who Will Rule Our Conferences? Truth or Bad-Faith Vendors?

That’s a damn good question!

 

 

I use a toothbrush that has a design that research shows maximizes the benefits of brushing. It spins, and spinning is better than oscillations. It also has a timer, telling me when I’ve brushed for two minutes. Ever since a hockey stick broke up my mouth when I was twenty, I’ve been sensitive about the health of my teeth.

But what the heck does this have to so with learning and development? Well, let’s see.

Maybe my toothbrush is a performance-support exemplar. Maybe no training is needed. I didn’t read any instructions. I just used it. The design is intuitive. There’s an obvious button that turns it on, an obvious place to put toothpaste (on the bristles), and it’s obvious that the bristles should be placed against the teeth. So, the tool itself seems like it needs no training.

But I’m not so sure. Let’s do a thought experiment. If I give a spinning toothbrush to a person who’s never brushed their teeth, would they use it correctly? Would they use it at all? Doubtful!

What is needed to encourage or enable good tooth-brushing?

  • People probably need something to compel them to brush, perhaps knowledge that brushing prevents dental calamities like tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath—and may even prevent cognitive decline as in Alzheimer’s. Training may help motivate action.
  • People will probably be more likely to brush if they know other people are brushing. Tons of behavioral economics studies have shown that people are very attuned to social comparisons. Again, training may help motivate action. Interestingly, people may be more likely to brush with a spinning toothbrush if others around them are also brushing with spinning toothbrushes. Training coworkers (or in this case other family members) may also help motivate action.
  • People will probably brush more effectively if they know to brush all their teeth, and to brush near their gums as well—not just the biting surfaces of their teeth. Training may provide this critical knowledge.
  • People will probably brush more effectively if they are set up—probably if they set themselves up—to be triggered by environmental cues. For example, tooth-brushing is often most effectively triggered when people brush right after breakfast and right before they go to bed. Training people to set up situation-action triggering may increase later follow through.
  • People will probably brush more effectively if they know that they should brush for two minutes or so rather than just brushing quickly. Training may provide this critical knowledge. Note, of course, that the toothbrush’s two-minute timer may act to support this behavior. Training and performance support can work together to enable effective behavior.
  • People will be more likely to use an effective toothbrush if the cost of the toothbrush is reasonable given the benefits. The costs of people’s tools will affect their use.
  • People will be more likely to use a toothbrush if the design is intuitive and easy to use. The design of tools will affect their use.

I’m probably missing some things in the list above, but it should suffice to show the complex interplay between our workplace tools/practices/solutions and training and prompting mechanisms (i.e., performance support and the like).

But what insights, or dare we say wisdom, can we glean from these reflections? How about these for starters:

  • We could provide excellent training, but if our tools/practices/solutions are poorly designed they won’t get used.
  • We could provide excellent training, but if our tools/practices/solutions are too expensive they won’t get used.
  • Let’s not forget the importance of prior knowledge. Most of us know the basics of tooth brushing. It would waste time, and be boring, to repeat that in a training. The key is to know, to really know, not just guess, what our learners know—and compare that to what they really need to know.
  • Even when we seem to have a perfectly intuitive, well-designed tool/practice/solution let’s not assume that no training is needed. There might be knowledge or motivational gaps that need to be bridged (yes, the pun was intended! SMILE). There might be situation-action triggering sets that can be set up. There might be reminders that would be useful to maintain motivation and compel correct technique.
  • Learning should not be separated from design of tools/practices/solutions. We can support better designs by reminding the designers and developers of these objects/procedures that training can’t fix a bad design. Better yet, we can work hand in hand involved in prototyping the tool/training bundle to enable the most pertinent feedback during the design process itself.
  • Training isn’t just about knowledge, it’s also about motivation.
  • Motivation isn’t just the responsibility of training. Motivation is an affordance of the tools/practices/solutions themselves, it is borne in the social environment, it is subject to organizational influence, particularly through managers and peers.
  • Training shouldn’t be thought of as a one-time event. Reminders may be valuable as well, particularly around the motivational aspects (for simple tasks), and to support remembering (for tasks that are easily forgotten or misunderstood).

One final note. We might also train people to use the time when they are engaged in automated tasks—tooth-brushing for example—to reflect on important aspects of their lives, gaining from the learning that might occur or the thoughts that may enable future learning. And adding a little fun into mundane tasks. Smile for the tiny nooks and crannies of our lives that may illuminate our thinking!

 

I included this piece in my newsletter this morning (which you can sign up for here) and it seemed to really resonate with people, so I’m including it here.

I’ve always had a high tolerance for pain, but breaking my collarbone at the end of February really sent me crashing down a mountain. Lying in bed, I got thinking about the emotional side of workplace performance. I don’t have brilliant insights here, just maybe some thoughts that will get you thinking.

Skiing with my family in Vermont, it had been a very good week. My wife and I, skiing together on our next-to-last day on the mountain, went to look for the kids who told us they’d be skiing in the terrain park (where the jumps are). My wife skied down first, then I went. There was a little jump, about a foot high, of the kind I’d jumped many times. But this time would be different.

As I sailed over the jump — slowly because I’m wary of going too fast and flying too far — I looked down and saw, NOT snow, but stairs. WTF? Every other time I took a small jump there was snow on the other side. Not metal stairs. Not dry metal stairs. In mid-air my thought was, “okay, just stay calm, you’ll ski over the stairs back to snow.” Alas, what happened was that I came crashing down on my left shoulder, collarbone splintering into five or six pieces, and lay 20 feet down the hill. I knew right away that things were bad. I knew that my life would be upended for weeks or months. I knew that miserable times lay ahead.

I got up quickly. I was in shock and knew it. I looked up the mountain back at the jump. Freakin’ stairs!! What they hell were they doing there? I was rip-roaring mad! One of my skis was still on the stairs. The dry surface must have grabbed it, preventing me from skiing further down the slope. I retrieved my ski. A few people skied by me. My wife was long gone down the mountain. I was in shock and I was mad as hell and I couldn’t think straight, but I knew I shouldn’t sit down so I just stood there for five or ten minutes in a daze. Finally someone asked if I was okay, and I yelled crazy loud for the whole damn mountain to hear, “NO!” He was nice, said he’d contact the ski patrol.

I’ll spare you the details of the long road to recovery — a recovery not yet complete — but the notable events are that I had badly broken my collarbone, badly sprained my right thumb and mildly sprained my left thumb, couldn’t button my shirts or pants for a while, had to lie in bed in one position or the pain would be too great, watched a ton of Netflix (I highly recommend Seven Seconds!), couldn’t do my work, couldn’t help around the house, got surgery on my collarbone, got pneumonia, went to physical therapy, etc… Enough!

Feeling completely useless, I couldn’t help reflect on the emotional side of learning, development, and workplace performance in general. In L&D, we tend to be helping people who are able to learn and take actions — but maybe not all the people we touch are emotionally present and able. Some are certainly dealing with family crises, personal insecurities, previous job setbacks, and the like. Are we doing enough for them?

I’m not a person prone to depression, but I was clearly down for the count. My ability to do meaningful work was nil. At first it was the pain and the opiates. Later it was the knowledge that I just couldn’t get much work done, that I was unable to keep up with promises I’d made, that I was falling behind. I knew, intellectually, that I just had to wait it out — and this was a great comfort. But still, my inability to think and to work reminded me that as a learning professional I ought to be more empathetic with learners who may be suffering as well.

Usually, dealing with emotional issues of an employee falls to the employee and his or her manager. I used to be a leadership trainer and I don’t remember preparing my learners for how to deal with direct reports who might be emotionally unready to fully engage with work. Fortunately today we are willing to talk about individual differences, but I think we might be forgetting the roller-coaster ride of being human, that we may differ in our emotional readiness on any given day. Managers/supervisors rightly are the best resource for dealing with such issues, but we in L&D might have a role to play as well.

I don’t have answers here. I wish I did. Probably it begins with empathy. We also can help more when we know our learners more — and when we can look them in the eyes. This is tricky business though. We’re not qualified to be therapists and simple solutions like being nice and kind and keeping things positive is not always the answer. We know from the research that challenging people with realistic decision-making challenges is very beneficial. Giving honest feedback on poor performance is beneficial.

We should probably avoid scolding and punishment and reprimands. Competition has been shown to harmful in at least some learning situations. Leaderboards may make emotional issues worse, and generally the limited research suggests they aren’t very useful anyway. But these negative actions are rarely invoked, so we have to look deeper.

I wish I had more wisdom about this. I wish there was research-based evidence I could draw on. I wish I could say more than just be human, empathetic, understanding.

Now that I’m aware of this, I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open to learning more about how we as learning professionals can design learning interventions to be more sensitive to the ups and downs of our fellow travelers.

If you’ve got good ideas, please send them my way or use the LinkedIn Post generated from this to join the discussion.

Conferences can be beautiful things—helping us learn, building relationships that help us grow and bring us joy, prompting us to see patterns in our industry we might miss otherwise, helping us set our agenda for what we need to learn more fully.

 

Conferences can be ugly things—teaching us myths, reinforcing our misconceptions, connecting us to people who steer us toward misinformation, echo chambers of bad thinking, a vendor-infested shark tank that can lead us to buy stuff that’s not that helpful or is actually harmful, pushing us to set our learning agenda on topics that distract us from what’s really important.

Given this dual reality, your job as a conference attendee is to be smart and skeptical, and work to validate your learning. In the Training Maximizers model, the first goal is ensuring our learning interventions are built from a base of “valid, credible content.” In conferences, where we curate our own learning, we have to be sure we are imbibing the good stuff and avoiding the poison. Here, I’ll highlight a few things to keep in mind as you attend a conference. I’ll aim to make this especially relevant for this year, 2018, when you are likely to encounter certain memes and themes.

Drinking the Good Stuff

  • Look for speakers who have a background doing two things, (1) studying the scientific research (not opinion research), and (2) working with real-world learning professionals in implementing research-based practices.
  • If speakers make statements without evidence, ask for the evidence or the research—or be highly skeptical.
  • If things seem almost too good to be true, warn yourself that learning is complicated and there are no magic solutions.
  • Be careful not to get sucked into group-think. Just because others seem to like something, doesn’t necessarily make it good. Think for yourself.
  • Remember that correlation does not mean causation. Just because some factors seem to move in the same direction doesn’t mean that one caused the other. It could be the other way around. Or some third factor may have caused both to move in the same direction.

Prepare Yourself for This Year’s Shiny Objects

  • Learning Styles — Learning Styles is bogus, but it keeps coming up every year. Don’t buy into it. Learn about it first. The Debunker.Club has a nice post on why we should avoid learning styles. Read it. And don’t let people tell you that learning styles if bad but learning preferences is good. They’re pulling the wool.
  • Dale’s Cone with Percentages — People do NOT remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they read, 30% of what they see (or anything similar). Here’s the Internet’s #1 URL debunking this silly myth.
  • Neuroscience and Learning — It’s a very hot topic with vendors touting neuroscience to entice you to be impressed. But neuroscience at this time has nothing to say about learning.
  • Microlearning — Because it’s a hot topic, vendors and consultants are yapping about microlearning endlessly. But microlearning is not a thing. It’s many things. Here’s the definitive definition of microlearning, if I must say so myself.
  • AI, Machine Learning, and Big Data — Sexy stuff certainly, but it’s not clear whether these things can be applied to learning, or whether they can be applied now (given the state of our knowledge). Beware of taking these claims too seriously. Be open, but skeptical.
  • Gamification — We are almost over this fad thankfully. Still, keep in mind that gamification, like microlearning, is comprised of multiple learning methods. Gamification is NOT a thing.
  • Personalization — Personalization is a great idea, if carried out properly. Be careful if what someone calls personalization is just another way of saying learning styles. Also, don’t buy into the idea that personalization is new. It’s quite old. See Skinner and Keller back in the early 1900’s.
  • Learning Analytics — There is a lot of movement in learning evaluation, but much of it is wrong-headed focus on pretty dashboards, and a focus only on business impact. Look for folks who are talking about how to get better feedback to make learning better. I’ll tout my own effort to develop a new approach to gathering learner feedback. But beware and do NOT just do smile sheets (said by the guy who wrote a book on smile sheets)! Beware of vendors telling you to focus only on measuring behavior and business results. Read why here.
  • Kirkpatrick-Katzell Four-Level Model of Evaluation — Always a constant in the workplace learning field for the past 60 years. But even with recent changes it still has too many problems to be worthwhile. See the new Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model (LTEM), a worthy replacement.

Wow! So much to be worried about.

Well, sorry to say, I surely missing some stuff. It’s up to you to be smart and skeptical at the same time you stay open to new ideas.

You might consider joining the Debunker Club, folks who have agreed on the importance of debunking myths in the learning field.