Six Ways Innovation is Stifled in the Learning Field

To have break through innovation in the field of learning and development, we must first think about how innovation is stifled in the field. I think is is stifled in many ways:


Old Models
We all have been through a traditional learning model at early, impressionable age. From Kindergarten to high school, to college. We’ve been “trained” how to be a good learner. You sit in your seat, face forward and raise your hand to ask questions. There are only “right” and “wrong” answers and you are “tested” with a multiple choice question to “prove” you’ve got the right answer. Little room for nuances in understanding or learning. Many people unconsciously cling to the old classroom model of lecturing and questioning, it is so inherent in the design of all types of learning, even elearning modules. Content, content, quiz question, content, content, quiz question. Final exam at end.

Imprecise Language
The golden rule of instructional design is to create MEASURABLE objectives which is great except when you run into something you can’t measure. It is not enough to identify an upset customer and describe why she or he is upset. Instead it is better to understand why they are upset and how to address their issue. But we can’t measure “understand” so we never go for “understand” instead we go for identify, describe, select, recognize and other verbs that are easy to measure but are next to meaningless in the real world. I want a sales person who understands the needs of the customer…not one who only identifies or recognizes needs. We will never get to higher levels of learning like create, synthesize, etc. by keeping a low level verbs as our learning objectives.

Scorn for Learning by Doing
When I facilitate or co-facilitate workshops about game design or gamification, I try to include a hands-on exercise where the learners (mostly learning professionals) build a working prototype. But for some people, that is too slow of a process, they just want me to tell them what to do, they don’t actually want to do it. When the learners build the prototype, it’s not perfect and is far from a finished product but, by the end of the workshop, the learners have gone through the entire process. We don’t just talk about the process, we DO the process. Learning by doing, a goal everyone claims to want. However, that is not the case. Occasionally the level one evaluations will give comments like “prototype building was lost time. Would have preferred to hear more”. So the comment from a presumed learning professional was basically, “I wanted more lecture and less interactivity.” They wanted more information. Because with more information, they could have done better…why waste time doing when we can spend more time informing. Only, we know from “tons” of research that learning by doing is far better for retention and application. I mourn for the learning profession when people like this are in the profession. They will never drive innovation.

Missing the Forest Through the Trees
One thing I try to do in my conference presentations is to model what I think is effective and innovative learning designs. I am 100% story-based, always include interactivity and work hard to model research-based practices to enhance learning. I am not a graphic artist and I sometimes make spelling mistakes or typos in my presentations. I am human. Most people can see past my human flaws and gain some good ideas from my presentations. The ones who do not make me sad. I don’t mean that someone should 100% adopt what I am doing but I think there could be one or two good ideas in the presentation that they can ADAPT and modify for their own use. But every once in a while someone totally misses the point. “cheesy story, didn’t like the graphics, too many interactive questions.” Please, the concepts I am modeling (and others are modelling) are not about the graphics, the actual story or the number of interactive questions. Those are the trees…the forest is to use the concept of “a story” to use “some questions” rather than lecture all the time and to have some type of interesting graphical elements. To innovate we need to take what is effective from presentations that we see at conferences and adapt from those presentations into our own presentations–and do it even better. If you think the story is “cheesy”(and it probably is…) write a better story. If you think there is too much interactivity, dial it back when you implement the concept. It is like looking at a house and saying “I don’t like the red color paint they used in the living room so I am not going to buy the house.” Hey, you can repaint the living room. The big ideas lead to innovation, not the nit picky details.

Not Knowing Research
Far too few people in this field have any idea about real educational research and tend to believe a number of myths that are prevalent in our field. This is sad and inexcusable. Innovations come from research in practically every field…how about ours?

Too Much Faith in Newest Technology
Innovative learning design has nothing to do with the latest technology. Humans have learned wonderful and important things for thousands and thousands of years without mobile devices or page-turning elearning. We don’t need technology to learn, we need solid learning principles, we need sound methodology and we need to learn from research about what works and what does not. Enough with running to the latest technology and thinking it will solve our BAD design and implementation of learning myths. It won’t.

These are a few of the elements that contribute to stifling innovation in our field, can you think of others and how we can overcome those innovation blockers?

Here are a few other articles on the topic:

Nine Rules for Stifling Innovation

Four Ways of Thinking that Stifle Company Innovation

Posted in: Design, Learning at Work, Out and About

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Karl Kapp
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