The Manifesto and Me

Ok…didn’t know I was going to do this, but its happening. I think its happening…

I am a ‘trustee’ on the recent eLearning Manifesto put together by four people I deeply respect, along with a list of other trustees that are in my opinion heavy weight thinkers in the eLearning space. It was nice to be asked to play that role for sure. I am a little surprised though that there aren’t more people weighing in and providing constructive criticism to further the efforts of the originating crew that put the manifesto together. I read and loved Donald Clark‘s criticism which legitimately challenged the notion of the manifesto. I also enjoyed reading some of the author responses to the blog post.

I support whole heartedly the idea that he manifesto creates a new ground floor for eLearning practitioners. It does not provide the ceiling and in no way, from my perspective, provides a visionary outlook. I think the manifesto is a curation of ‘training should be this’ heard at most conferences and lays that out in language most of us understand and most of us resonate with. If the manifesto seems revolutionary, then I suggest you get out a little more. I would also like to think that the guys and gal who put this together do not want the manifesto simply accepted and signed onto, rather I would hope that what they want is for people to challenge and raise the ground floor even higher. As Heidegger lays out in his book ‘What is Called Thinking‘, the greatest thank you we can give for our power to think, is to think about thinking. In this case, the greatest respect we can show the manifesto is to be critical and to challenge it.

In my opinion here is where the Manifesto needs more thought and clarity:

1) What is a ‘learning intervention’? Is it any different than an intervention? Why is there an assumption of learning? Is it because we are in L&D that we can create ‘learning interventions’ but all other mortals simply create interventions where leaning is accidental? We need to stop reinforcing the idea that we can create learning.

2) Provide realistic practice – Yes, good one. Except that in eLearning, realistic practice is only available in binary formats. This usually translates into a realistic scenario followed by a decision tree activity where every answer choice is right or wrong. There is no room for chaos, spectrums and the influence of the outside world. It might be good to reinforce that ‘realistic’ doesn’t have to be electronic and that often decision making is NOT based on a set of preordained choices of which some are right and some are wrong.

3) The use of ‘learning experiences’ – see my comment in #1. If we (the industry) want to be relevant, can’t we just say ‘experiences’? Isn’t learning a natural and unavoidable consequence of authentic experience. You see, the problem most designers have to begin with is the impulse to create ‘learning’. Instructional designers believe in magical powers that they uniquely possess that can transform ‘information’ into ‘learning’. When we use terminology like ‘learning experiences’ we reinforce the myth that we’re controlling the learning. The more we try to do that the less authentic the experience and the less ‘learning’ will likely happen.

4) Performance Support – L&D does not own performance support. We need to stop pretending like we do. Making IT systems more usable is performance support. Changing HR policies is performance support. Proper pay structures for employees is performance support. Its not about us. We need to stop trying to silo stuff. We need to go mainstream.

5) “Measure Learning Comprehension” – and the unit of measurement is? Unless there’s an answer here it cant be done. Language is very important and if we are going to raise the ground floor let’s get people to start being crisp in their use of language. I will never forget a philosophy prof of mine reaming out a student on their use of the words ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’. The student was using those words like anybody else would. In the context of the class however, the precision in how the words were used was critical. I kinda feel like the boat was missed in cases like this.

Overall, I’m happy to have participated as a trustee. I respect the posts I’ve read that have come out and protested the Manifesto mostly on the grounds that people feel like this is something they’ve been practicing and preaching forever and that to have created a ‘manifesto’ around it seems a bit much. I do however know first hand the motivation behind the Manifesto and feel like any attempt to raise the bar in our industry is a good attempt. I would also encourage anyone who has signed on as a signatory to think critically about this and point out where the Manifesto is weak. To blindly sign on and feel good about yourself is of no service to anybody. Dialogue, criticism, agreement, disagreement are all necessary elements in scientific inquiry.

 

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