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At a recent online discussion held by the Minnesota Chapter of ISPI, where they were discussing the Serious eLearning Manifesto, Michael Allen offered a brilliant idea for learning professionals.

Michael’s company, Allen Interactions, talks regularly with prospective clients. It is in this capacity that Michael often asks this question (or one with this gist):

What is the last thing you want your learners to be doing in training before they go back to their work?

Michael knows the answer—he is using Socratic questioning here—and the answer should be obvious to those skilled in developing learning. We want people to be practicing what they’ve learned, and hopefully practicing in as realistic a way as possible. Of course!

Of course, but too often we don’t think like this. We have our instructional objectives and we plow through to cover content, hoping against hope that the knowledge seeds we plant will magically turn into performance on the job—as if knowledge can be harvested without any further nurturance.

We must remember the wisdom behind Michael’s question, that it is our job as learning professionals to ensure our learners are not only gaining knowledge, but that they are getting practice in making decisions and practicing realistic tasks.

One way to encourage yourself to engage in these good practices is to utilize the LTEM model, a learning evaluation model designed to support us as learning professionals in measuring what’s truly important in learning. LTEM’s Tier 5 and 6 encourage us to evaluate learners’ proficiency in making work-relevant decisions (Tier 5) and performing work-relevant tasks (Tier 6).

Whatever method you use to encourage your organization and team to engage in this research-based best practice, remember that we are harming our learners when we just teach content. Without practice, very little learning will transfer to the workplace.

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
    time.
  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
    important.

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?