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The wrong basis

Of late, I’ve been talking about the approach organizations take to learning.  It’s come up in presentations on learning design, measurement, and learning technology strategy.  And the point is simple: we’re not using the right basis.

What we’re supposed to be doing is empirically justifiable:

  • doing investigations into the problem
  • identifying the root cause
  • mapping back to an intervention design
  • determining how we’ll know the intervention is working
  • implementing our intervention
  • testing to see if we’ve achieved the necessary outcome
  • and revising until we do

Instead, what we see is what I’ve begun to refer to as ‘faith-based learning’: if we build a course, it is good!  We:

  • take orders for courses
  • document what the SME tells us
  • design a screen-friendly version of the associated content
  • and add a knowledge test

Which would be well and good except that this approach has a very low likelihood of affecting anything except perhaps our learners’ patience (and of course our available resources). Orders for courses have little relation to the real problems, SMEs can’t tell you what they actually do, content 0n a screen doesn’t mean learners know how to or will apply it, and a quiz isn’t likely to lead to any meaningful change in behavior (even if it is tarted up with racing cars).

The closer you are to the former, the better; the closer to the latter, the more likely it is that you’re quite literally wasting time and money.

Faith may not be a bad thing for spirituality, but it’s not a particularly good basis for attempting to develop new skills.  I’ve argued that learning design really is rocket science, and we should be taking an engineering approach.  To the extent we’re not – to the extent that we are implicitly accepting that a course is needed and that our linear processes are sufficient – we’re taking an approach that very much is based upon wishful thinking. And that’s not a good basis to run a business on.

It’s time to get serious about your learning.  It’s doable, with less effort than you may think.   And the alternative is really unjustifiable. So let’s get ourselves, and our industry, on a sound basis.  There’s a lot more we can do as well, but we can start by getting this part right.  Please?

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