Recently, I was a part of a really good and stimulating Twitter conversation that involved many people and lasted many days (see a collection of the tweets here). The conversation started with us discussing instructional design and learning experience design, the former being seen as a rather outmoded skill that has been trumped by the rather grandiose sounding learning experience design.
The conversation took in other topics too, such as the need for evidence to support different types of design and the need for theories to make sense of data and evidence. It featured some big names in corporate learning, people who are regular speakers at L&D conferences. And it was a great conversation, with a really good depth and breadth of thinking shared – I learned a lot from it.
I like to think I am pretty good at staying on top of the latest thinking and trends in L&D – I curate this stuff for clients after all. But this conversation encapsulated much more thinking and challenge than you normally get in articles, video and at events. I said as much during this Twitter conversation and asked some of those in the conversation why the thinking being shared is normally so difficult to find. What was the response? That this thinking is available for all to see, but it is mostly to be found on personal websites and blog posts.
And this is precisely my point. This thinking and these types of discussion tend to exist on the edge of corporate learning discourse. They are on the edge rather than mainstream. That’s not good enough. My view is that most L&D and HR professionals are unaware of the blogs where this thinking resides and are unfamiliar with the people who are discussing the ideas on social networks such as Twitter.
And yet these are the places where the new ideas in corporate learning are being aired and discussed. These ideas challenge conventional thinking as well as looking at what is worth keeping.
The conversation raised some good points around data, evidence and theories. For example, ‘What use is research without a theory?’ asked Nick Shackleton-Jones. And it surfaced some thinkers that L&D may be less familiar with. As change pushes organisations and L&D into new and unchartered waters, the industry will need good thinking and robust theories to help guide its actions. At the same time, the old theories that L&D has traditionally relied on will continue to be stress tested by new research. Already research has shown concepts such as learning styles don’t work. Could more thinking that L&D has relied upon go the same way?
The irony here is that we are talking about learning, about being curious and continually developing our thinking in order to do good work and do it well. Is there enough good thinking in corporate learning? Yes, but much of it is happening at the edge of the discourse, which means that it doesn’t have a broad enough reach.