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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.

I added these words to the sidebar of my blog, and I like them so much that I’m sharing them as a blog post itself.

Please seek wisdom from research-to-practice experts — the dedicated professionals who spend time in two worlds to bring the learning field insights based on science. These folks are my heroes, given their often quixotic efforts to navigate through an incomprehensible jungle of business and research obstacles.

These research-to-practice professionals should be your heroes as well. Not mythological heroes, not heroes etched into the walls of faraway mountains. These heroes should be sought out as our partners, our fellow travelers in learning, as people we hire as trusted advisors to bring us fresh research-based insights.

The business case is clear. Research-to-practice experts not only enlighten and challenge us with ideas we might not have considered — ideas that make our learning efforts more effective in producing business results — research-to-practice professionals also prevent us from engaging in wasted efforts, saving our organizations time and money, all the while enabling us to focus more productively on learning factors that actually matter.

Today’s New York Times has a fascinating article on the mostly European concept of practice firms. As the name implies, practice firms give people practice in doing work.

This seems to align well with the research on learning that suggests that learning in a realistic context, getting lots of retrieval practice and feedback, and many repetitions spaced over time can be the most effective way to learn. Of course, the context and practice and feedback have to be well-designed and aligned with the future work of the learner.

Interestingly, there is an organization that is solely devoted to the concept. EUROPEN-PEN International is the worldwide practice enterprise network. The network consists of over 7,500 Practice Enterprises in more than 40 countries. It has a FaceBook page and a website.

I did a quick search to see if there was an scientific research on the use of practice firms, but I didn’t uncover anything definitive…If you know of scientific research, or other rigorous evidence, let me know…