can we get a bit more precise?

11 12 2006

recently i’ve been seeing a lot of talk about professionalism amongst our ranks.  i don’t know if there really is more talk about it or i’m just more attuned to it than normal, but in either case, it’s on my radar screen and i think it’s a topic that’s important to our future within the enterprise.

for me it began when the "e" in elearning was raised as an issue with albert ip’s move to remove the "e" from the name of his blog.  does the "e" change who we are or how we are characterized by others?  does the "e" somehow limit us?  at about the same time i was taken to task for the use of an in appropriate word in the title of one of my posts.  the use of a movie character name made me look unprofessional and at risk of being shunned by the internet censor robots because the name might be offensive to some.

it continued as a theme in both of the first two the big question features we conducted on learning circuits blog.  in the october question we used the phrase "learning professionals."   while most participants used the phrase freely, a number of bloggers questioned what the term meant or whether or not calling ourselves professional is appropriate.  their sentiments were most strongly summarized in a statement clive shepard made in response to a comment on his post. 

"…is this [being unaware of key tools and concepts] true of other professionals? somehow i doubt it.  the phrase ‘learning professional’ is a complete misnomer…"

in the november question we used the acronyms ADDIE, HPT, and ISD.  several participants gave us a yellow card for the use of jargon. 

when we discuss concepts we are often not very accurate in what we are putting forwar.  recently i ran across a diagram presenting different types of learning content which included "training," "generic elearning" and "coaching" as content.  perhaps if you’re teaching a course on delivery methodologies, they would be considered content.  every where else, they would most likely represent delivery mechanisms to deliver content.   or we seem to be happy with lose definitions like "informal learning is the other 80% that formal learning isn’t." 

please understand that my concerns and commentary is not from a position of superiority or some other higher ground.  just a few weeks ago stephen downes correctly took me to task for using the phrase "making meaning."  i fall in to the same semantic traps.  while i can’t think of a better alternative, i’m getting a bit over the semantic contortions necessary to talk about what we do using the word learning (which used to simply be a verb).

in our november big question discussion of design models, karl kapp shared this nugget:

I often tell my students that when the ADDIE model is applied in business, it becomes the DI model (Develop and Implement). We really need to, as an industry, work on restoring the lost letters or we will not be aligned with the business units we are supposed to support.

as a field, we are not very rigorous in challenging the little real research that is done.  for example, in their recent survey of their membership on issues regarding informal learning, elearning guild reported that email was the #1 tool for informal learning.  but there is no evidence that the costs of maintaining the email system were included or a portion allocated when the respondent was asked about the amount of their training budget that went to promoting informal learning.  in fact, they were asked for an estimate of the percentage of their budget that goes to informal learning.  with no indication of what the respondent conceives of as informal learning, no indication of the actual breakdown and allocations of  the training budget, no definition of what "the training budget" includes, and no indication of whether all learning – formal and informal – is captured in the training budget or not; the data collected on this question has zero validity.

why is this all a concern?  

recently i read in an article regarding presentations to executives that not only do you need to quantify your arguments.  but that those arguments need to be well researched and documented.  strategic planning and budgeting at the top level of an organization is highly competitive and often cut-throat.  if i can point to such a glaring error in data like the elearning guild’s study, imagine what a well seasoned cfo could expose while she’s looking for programs to cut or to outsource in order to make the budget work.

any of the issues i’ve raised here can effect whether our peers across the organization respect us and trust that we’ve done our homework, or not.

so what can be done?

defining standards is a messy matter.  committee meetings, public soundings, drafts, reviews, re-drafts…bah humbug.   In this day and age of collaborative writing and open source software development, why would we cling to the idea of a centralized fount for direction.  can we develop the wikipedia of professional standards for learning professionals?  who needs to be involved as sponsors to grab peoples’ attention?  what needs to happen to gain participation?  to gain adoption of the concepts industry wide?  is astd’s cplp program the answer or at least a part of the answer?

are we professionals?  if not can we become professionals?  or does it really matter?  i think it does.  and so does mike b, a self-professed programmer who has worked on elearning projects, in a comment to the home post of november’s the big question:

I feel that although it may be simple for others to create content,
that the more effective training will be designed by people who
understand learning styles and who can follow a process that identifies
the best way to present information to the learners.  Mike B.


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2 responses

17 12 2006
Karl Kapp

Dave,

The concept of whether or not we are a profession is one of interest, I used to be emphatic that we are a profession. But of late, I am beginning to wonder if we are a para-profession like a para-legal or a dental hygienist. These people help lawyers and dentists accomplish their goals but no one really goes to just see them. They are just part of a larger goal…working with a lawyer or having your teeth checked.

They have value but not as much value as the profession they support. Maybe our profession is like that. Maybe business managers and employees are the real value of the organization and we are para-professionals helping them to achieve their goals and only adding value as part of the overall process not, valuable in and of ourselves, I am not sure I believe this 100% but it is certainly a thought I am beginning to have.

24 12 2006
dave lee

thanks karl: the idea of learning para-professionals is a valid idea to raise. i’m not sure that i would be in favor of it in the end.

first, i think it important to point out that the two para-professionals you bring up, para-legals and dental hygenists aren’t exactly equal. para-legals do require some education, but it is by no means as rigorous as a dental hygenist. to view dental hygenists as subordinate to dentists fits with the old school line that nurses are just doctor’s assistants.

while it maybe argueable, depending on the firm, whether someone would seek out a para-legal for help, i’ll give you that one. but i know that i have certainly made appointments with my dental hygenists with no desire to see my dentist at all.

that said, is “who people are coming to see” the best criterion for what makes a professional? should the mark “professional” be a standard of knowledge and/or quality of service? is a dentist who barely knows where to look for wisdom teeth a professional and a hygenist who provides the best quality care not? viewing job categories as either 100% professional or 100% not seems a bit archaic to me.

i still think the question is not are we professionals, but can we be and by what standards will others look upon us as professionals.

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