After continuing to take down marketing blather, it’s time for a plea. Caveat Malarkey!
And, as always, the prose.
If you’ve been paying attention, you will have seen that a number of my blog posts take down a variety of articles that are rife with malarkey. A lot of them come from connections or pointers on LinkedIn. (If you want to live in infamy, feel free to point me to your posts. ;) It’s time to address what I’m seeing, from two points of view. One is my advice to vendors in the L&D space. The other is advice to you who are consumers of education & technology products. The underlying theme is Caveat Malarkey!
What I’m talking about is the large number of posts that do one of several things. First, they use myths to promote products. These are things like the attention span of a goldfish, learning styles, generations/digital natives, etc. Second, they are unclear on concepts. They toss around bizbuzz without being clear about what the terms mean, and more importantly what it takes to make it work and not! Of course, there are ones that accomplish both.
So let’s start with myths. Heck, I wrote a book about them, just because they won’t go away! For instance, while we know that learners differ, we can’t (and shouldn’t) address our learning to match styles. There’s no evidence that adapting to styles helps. Worse, there is, as yet, no meaningful way to reliably characterize learners according to styles. Similarly, the claim that our attention span has dropped doesn’t stand up to biological nor empirical scrutiny. We don’t evolve that fast, and there’s plenty of counter-evidence. The claim comes from a misinterpretation of an essentially irrelevant study. The notion that we can characterize people by the ‘generation’ they’re born in, or that people who grew up with digital phones are somehow ‘natives’ are also both found lacking when looked at closely. There were 13 more myths in my book that can also be seen.
Then there’s conceptual clarity. Again, my most recent book is on learning science, trying to provide the foundation for clear understanding. Thus, when we hear terms like microlearning or workflow learning or whatever else will emerge, tread carefully! There are some powerful ideas on tap, but people who don’t bother to unpack the terms and detail how they differ in design and use shouldn’t be trusted.
My message is twofold. For one, as consumers, watch out for these approaches. If someone’s being glib, be wary! First, learn about the concepts and the myths, and then dig in. If there’s a claim, take several steps. First, give it the ‘sniff test’. If it doesn’t make conceptual sense, and/or isn’t relevant to you, back away. Second, track it back. Who’s making this claim, and what’s their vested interest? Is anyone independently saying the same thing? Importantly, is there anyone saying to the contrary, and what’s their interest? Eventually, you might go back to the original research, but if you haven’t been trained, I encourage you to look to the reputable purveyors of evidence-based perspectives.
To the vendors, please help. We need to raise our industry to a professional level. Get someone to write your articles who knows what they’re talking about. Don’t let social media interns (let alone the “I’ll write articles for you” cold-mailers) write your materials. Find someone who understands learning. More importantly, get someone who understands learning to actually guide your products and/or service design, and then you can tout scrutable opportunities.
In the long term, we can lift our industry to an evidence-based, professional standard. In the short term, we need to focus on questionable claims, and shoot for real value. Caveat malarkey!