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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

He Had a Bad Day

I just saw a post by Mark Oehlert - I'm tired people, so I'm only going to say this about 1,000 more times... - and it appears that Mark has had a bad day...
The point (hard to see though as it is) however, is that with learning - the changes are going on inside our own heads and bodies. We are acted upon by outside forces but ultimately learning is an internal act mediated by our own individual/collective contexts. What learning is NOT is a product. It can NOT be shrink-wrapped. It can NOT be updated to version 1.2. It does NOT rely on a particular OS or even give a crap about what version of the Web we happen to on. Learning scoffs at mergers of companies and at specifications like CORDRA and SCORM. This misunderstanding has led us to countless, pointless discussions about lots of issues but ROI makes a great example (you can't really measure what's going on in someone's head can you? - no but you can measure performance - but people aren't selling Performance management systems (those would be PMSs and marketing would NOT let that happen).

We can do better or worse at creating opportunities for people to learn. We can use methodologies and technologies that seem to have a positive impact on peoples' ability to learn; but we are NOT selling learning. So let's freakin' STOP talking about learning like its a product. Hey LMS CEO - you ever manage "a learning"? Hey authoring tool person - you ever make "a learning"? Can you send me one?

So how about for pete's sake, we all agree to start indulging in some semantic accuracy.
I was going to comment on his blog, but for some reason it required registration, but had not way to register. So, instead, I've pasted my comment here...
Mark, wow. Are things okay? Is it that Oregon State is going to get beat up by Oregon this year in college football?

I hate to tell you, but while you are technically correct that learning is an outcome of something else you can still sell "learning solutions" - solutions designed to achieve learning as an outcome.

And good luck with getting us to stop using the term learning instead of training. I'd personally rather have us talk performance, but the industry has landed on learning, e.g., CLO, LMS, WLP, oh and eLearning.

Of course, when I think about it, we should be talking outcomes. So learning is better than training as a term.
Hopefully Mark gets some help working through this issue. :)
... Maybe I should buy a beer for him in San Jose.


Anonymous said...

It's a very long time since I did it, but I seem to remember that, if you click on the link to comment, it takes you to a log in/registration screen.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. On second thought - trying it again I see what you mean. Something is broken!

Mark said...

Hey - I had to mess around with the commenting stuff today because there did seem to be something broken...seems fixed now - let me know if you are still having problems. On a sidenote, would you believe in the 10 minutes I had registration turned off, I had already gotten comment spam?!

Tony - yes, I was tired, I've had a cold for about a week now and that is getting old but this is an old wound too. Now that you mention it, I'd rather focus on Beaver Baseball which has won two (count 'em two) back-to-back College World Series (football we don't talk about so much in Corvallis).

As for the rest, I know I'm tilting at windmills but that helps me stretch sometimes and you can sell anything and call it anything (maybe learning-focused solution), my point was just that these inaccuracies in the way we use these terms can have real consequences - like your point exactly - we should be talking about performance and outcomes - things we can measure...

And I am working on it but my therapist tells me I need to open more so maybe take a step back ;-)
Oh, I'll take that beer though.

Benjamin Hamilton said...


Glad you came across Mark's post as well (Mark...if you're reading this, I had the same issue when I tried a few minutes ago - 8:20 the same "registration required" notice, but nowhere to register).

Similar to you, Tony, I've posted my response on my blog ( I agree that learning and performance are outcomes and that we should focus on outcomes. I think what particularly irked Mark is that there are too many people out there trying to sell the outcome that is internal to the individual. I agree with you, Tony, that the term has landed, but man, that would be great if we could buy "a learning" would make things a lot easier.

Tony Karrer said...

Mark - still hanging your hat on the old back-to-back college world series, eh?

Benjamin & Mark - I agree that you can't "buy a learning" but I don't really hear it put that way? Or am I just missing the phrase that bugs you?

Karl Kapp said...


I think this stems from an earlier posting by Mark I Swear…This is Why People Switch to Apple. Nothing gets under one's skin and makes one angry, upset and in the mood to rant like a computer that is not co-operating.

Anyway, I use the term "Learning Event" more and more instead of training or education. The reason is that learning is supposed to occur during that event. The event can be online, face-to-face, formal or informal...but the goal/outcome (as you indicated) is learning so it is a learning event.

And while we can't "learn" anyone, we certainly can faciliate learning and help people learn, that is what instructional design is all about.

So maybe Mark should first, get rid of this PC-based machine and then, think of in terms of of learning events and not "learning" and then take you up on the beer...:) and then call in the morning.

Anonymous said...

I think the thing that is bothering Mark (and apparently Benjamin) is that learning is "sold" as if it were a commodity. As if it were "a learning". One of the points I keep trying to make is that learning is internal. Teaching, education, training, etc are all things that can be done TO a person, but unless the learner learns all the teaching, training and education in the world are a waste of resources. I guess it's a bit like selling happiness - you can provide the means, the platform, the event, but you can't guarantee that the user will BE happy as a consequence.

Benjamin Hamilton said...


I think you picked up on it accurately. I'm certainly not as fired up about the word "learning" like my buddy Mark is, but there are times where people treat learning as if it were a commodity being "sold" in order to entice people to buy something.

No system (well...there is something that an R&D agency is working on that might come close) will increase learning by itself. Even Web 2.0 technologies (please don't strike me down, Tony) are useless for learning if they are not valued by the individual.

Talking to a group like this in the eLearning blogosphere, this almost goes as common sense. We all recognize that learning is the goal/outcome of an event (nicely coined "Learning Event" by Karl), but we also realize that just sticking someone in a learning event or learning environment does not guarantee learning.

Mark said...

Let me apologize for not keeping up via CoComment and responding sooner....anyway...I love the mental dissection that I have been undergoing here. :-)

I will say that I think I have the comments fixed on my site - but please let me know if you find out otherwise.

Oh yeah..and that "cold" was "walking pneumonia" so I get more excuse points there too.

I still get to play the curmudgeon though...and I'll start with Karl (who I admire) but you mentioned the intent of ID being to help facilitate learning...I think that may be your intent and mayhaps the intent of a number of people in the field but unless I'm wrong, wasn't ISD created to find a way to more rapidly train people following WW II? There is a difference in seeking to generate a large number of trained people and facilitating learning and I think this is part of the field is grappling has this genesis rooted in the industrial model and it is now trying to re-create itself as a 'learning' industry (note that industry is still there) but it can't do that without disavowing some of the original foundational work that was done by people like Skinner and Bloom and it has to to do that at least to a degree and inject some degree of self-critique into this field's discourse if it is indeed to be able to describe itself anew. But let's talk more over beer. :-)

Karyn and Ben - you have it right on - the commodity thing - the business thing - you know I just found my notes from the first ISPI conference I went to back in 2003. At the time I was in the grad program at Boise State (Instructional Performance Technology as I recall) and I really wanted to go to ISPI and get a does of what i used to get at my history and anthropology conferences...lots of critical thought and intellectual challenges...what I wrote was that 'most of these sessions are just pitches. the only thing that separates the expo hall from the sessions are a couple of walls.' I clearly got the impression that people weren't interested in researching Bloom or Gagne or Kirkpatrick because so many of them had already built businesses on them. What they wanted to do was proclaim that their product was the best implementation of this model or that model. This is a feeling that I have not lost in the intervening years although I have a deeper appreciation of the people practicing in the all the people commenting here and a lot of the beer & blogger crew.

So even with all the great analysis of me that has gone on here :-) I think what was really getting to me was this idea of learning as a commodity. was that...or something else. :-)