Evidence-Based L&D

In my focus on the informal side of learning, last time I talked about how L&D can get started. This time, I want to talk about creating good policies and practices. This includes both the cognitive and learning sciences. It also includes being resistant to unjustified hype, leery of existing practices on a purely legacy basis, and more. This is about moving to evidence-based L&D.

I’ve got a learning science book out, and it’s titled for instructional designers. However, there are implications for informal learning as well. If we’re to align with what’s known about how we think, work, and learn, we have to understand how we do this. And it’s based upon our cognitive architecture. Also, to be fair, some recognition of post-cognitive results such as distributed cognition. The point being, we have good scientific bases to guide most of what we do.

For instance, when you’re assigning a team to research/design/problem-solve, you’re likely to use brainstorming. And it turns out that it’s not a unitary things, and there are practices that are better or worse. Similarly, we’re finding out that existing practices like yearly, bi-yearly, or even quarterly reviews aren’t effective.

On the flip side, we can look to some well-tested models to help us understand why. Looking at how we generate new thoughts indicates why we need to brainstorm on our own first. Research on the need for feedback to support development suggests regular coaching over infrequent reviews.

For a nice integration, Jane Hart created a nice way to think about how L&D can be facilitating continuous learning that are grounded on good principles. Likewise, Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery model provides a great structure for individual continuous learning.

The point being, we need to look at what’s known about how people behave. Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination theory can guide us on motivation and engagement. The work of Keith Sawyer can guide us on innovation. Amy Edmondson’s research on psychological safety similarly influences having an effective learning culture. And so on. We need to critically evaluate our existing myths about things like leadership development, diversity training, and the like. There’s a lot being done that’s ineffective, and it’s known, yet it persists. That’s not a good look for L&D.

It’s time to stop running on what’s sold (e.g. personality assessments like MBTI and other such instruments), and start relying on what’s tested. It’s time to measure what we’re doing, and look to continuously improve. We need to reach out beyond our silo to the rest of the org to start really having an impact, and to the rest of the world to find the ideas we need to apply. It’s time for evidence-based L&D.

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