“When there is nothing left to say, lift your head up high, smile, and walk away like you own the world.”
Amazingly—and no one is more amazed than me—this is my 100th and final monthly “Marc My Words” column. I started writing this column in 2010, the same year the original iPad was introduced (ancient history, right?). I’ve tried to cover a broad range of topics, adding a little humor and controversy along the way, celebrating progress where possible, with concern where necessary. But mostly, I’ve tried to educate as best I can.
Looking back over 100 columns, I have some favorites. Like when I found great training in unexpected places, such as in bartending and birding courses, or when I took a fanciful look at training issues, like a counseling session with training itself on the couch, a new spin on a classic Christmas poem, or silly new year predictions. I’ve also been harsh when necessary, highlighting examples of terrible training and bad training processes. I am proud to have helped promote new ideas, including performance support, ecosystems, and content curation, as well as challenge training’s sacred cows, like instructional objectives, ADDIE, LMSs, and eLearning itself. Lastly, I hope that my every-September back-to-school columns inspired some of you to give back to public education in your community.
Celebrate, but be cautious as well
I’ve covered a broad spectrum of topics over the years and tried to point out both the good and the not-so-good in our profession. In my view, here are the ten areas where we can celebrate our progress, but still be concerned about where we’re headed:
- Celebrate: We see ourselves as professionals. But compared to many other professions, we are not professionalized. This reduces our influence. We’re tried to fix this over the years with a variety of certification programs, but for many reasons the results so far have been mixed to downright disappointing. Have we drifted too far from strong academic programs and robust internships to a plethora of short-term workshops (along with weak credentialing, aka “certificates of completion”) as the preferred professional development strategy for our field? Can you imagine a doctor, an engineer, or even a schoolteacher being certified the way we do it?
- Celebrate: We are strong advocates of learning technology. But sometimes, we advocate too much. Our obsessiveness with the next big thing can get in our way of using the technology appropriately to a larger end. As I have said many times, technology is not strategy, and thinking or acting that it is will likely not end well. And remember, it’s much more the people who use the tech, not the tech itself that determines success. Putting these tools in the hands of people who don’t know how (or are not motivated) to use them effectively will only make matters worse.
- Celebrate: We are a mix of a great diversity of fields, and our experiences are invaluable to the L&D function, and the business. That said, we are often too transient, spending only a short part of our careers in L&D. The high churn rate in our ranks impedes our progress as a profession. We will surely benefit if more people with deeper experience stay longer to serve as role models and champions of our craft. Let’s strive to make our field a longer-term career choice for more people.
- Celebrate: We embrace sound learning sciences and research. But we also tend to embrace “quasi” learning science and popular, but unfounded fads. We need to hold any new approach or technique to the fire of higher standards of evidence than we currently do. Our too frequent short-sightedness often gets in the way of giving new ideas time to percolate before the next delicious vogue comes along.
- Celebrate: We are focused on certifying people for their jobs. In many cases, training is an essential part in getting employees ready for work, but we often have a weakness for simply counting people who show up for class (or log in to a course) as enough to confirm them as trained. This is false compliance, a disaster waiting to happen. Attendance isn’t competence.
- Celebrate: We have fostered a vibrant commercial marketplace. Across the spectrum of what we do, from instructional design to eLearning and technology, we are supported by a diversified and dynamic consulting and product industry. But we must be careful that the industry’s agenda doesn’t completely dictate our agenda. We must be advocates of our own future. Stronger client-side voices must be heard.
- Celebrate: We support the notion that hard evidence of learning’s effectiveness and efficiency is what really matters. But too often, we put evaluation and measurement on the back burner, or relegate it to a trivial activity that pales in comparison to building the product. If we can’t do a better job of showcasing our worth and value, in terms of performance and organizational impact, we’ll get what we deserve.
- Celebrate: We strive to build quality courses and other solutions, and we’re getting better at it. But there are still too many terrible products out there that are boring, poorly designed, don’t teach, too expensive, or shouldn’t have been built in the first place. Do we push too hard to get the product out, quality be damned? And, are our fixes to these problems too much like putting lipstick on a pig? We need more rigorous, universal standards to assure consistently high product quality, or we could be the subject of cries of “fake training,” to paraphrase a popular term.
- Celebrate: We have elevated the role, importance, and visibility of training, learning, and development. But we have struggled mightily to transition to performance improvement. Corporate universities, for many years the holy grail of our value proposition, have not fared well recently. We need to take a very hard look at our future direction and come up with new ways to be valuable to our organizations, or all our accomplishments may be for nothing.
- Celebrate: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are justifiably proud of what we do. Unfortunately, we sometimes believe our own story a bit too much. Although learning and development programs may die of many ills—budget cuts, indifference, changing attitudes, and shifting priorities—the coup-de-grace is often our own hubris. When our budgets are cut, or our work is eliminated, we are often the most surprised. Perhaps by being more open and proactive to changing what we do, how we do it, and how we are perceived, we will reduce our exposure here.
When Jon Stewart left The Daily Show in 2015, on that last day, he challenged his audience not to be silent in the face of what is mediocre or wrong. “If you smell something, say something,” he advised. The same should be said for us. We do good work, but not everything is perfect in the L&D world, including eLearning. We can do better by challenging what we see as holding us back, as individual contributors, and as a profession, and suggesting a better way. Yes, celebrate how far we’ve come, but also know we still have lots of work to do.
New adventures are calling
People ask me if I’m retiring. The answer is a firm yes and no. I’ve been in this business more than forty years, starting out in eLearning’s stone age, when early CBT was built with keypunch cards (look it up). I’m working less lately, but will still be professionally active for sure, particularly in my writing and speaking. I’ll have more to say with The eLearning Guild, but it’s time to end my monthly commitment to this column. As one of my heroes, Neil deGrasse Tyson, once said, “Being at the top of your game is not a forever thing.” Despite all that I’ve learned, seen, and done, there are new voices that need this space more than I do. We will all be the better for hearing them, and for celebrating progress with them.
I appreciate all the “appreciates” and comments I’ve received from readers. My highest desire in writing “Marc My Words” was that these columns would be of value to you, help you in your work and your professional advocacy, and perhaps make you smile. My thanks also go to the leadership of The eLearning Guild, particularly David Holcombe and Heidi Fisk, and especially senior editor Bill Brandon—a joy to work with—for allowing me the honor each month to say something I hope has been useful to The Guild’s tens of thousands of members around the globe, as well as the learning and development community at large.
When I began these “eMusings” (thanks Heidi!), I promised my wife that it was better than the slog of writing a third book. Well, I guess I did write that book, only just 1,000 words or so at a time, and it took me more than eight years and 100 columns to do it! It has been one of the great privileges of my career.