In this episode, I chat a bit about what I think is an unnecessary separation of theory and practice in L&D, including how that separation has impacted me as a PhD student in instructional design and technology and also as an instructional design and L&D leader in the field.
I also suggest following or consuming content by some amazing folks who are constantly encouraging evidence-informed, research-informed, and data-driven practice:
Hello. And welcome to the BLOC, the Building Learning and Organizational Culture Podcast. I'm your host, Heidi Kirby. And on today's episode, I'm going to be talking about the separation of theory and practice in learning and development, how I view the separation, how I believe it has impacted me in both my schooling and in the field. And what I think kind of the future state is of the separation of theory and practice. So the reason I decided to do this episode was because I recently attended DevLearn in Vegas. And there were a ton of practitioners from all over L&D, I got to meet some amazing, amazing people in real life that I'd only since met on the internet. And I was able to attend some great sessions and see some great demos of things people are working on visit with some phenomenal vendors who are just doing some incredible things with educational technology. And meanwhile, down the street, as is custom, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology or AECT, which is essentially the higher education version of your learning guild or your ATD was meeting and holding their conference. Now, some of my friends from my Ph. D. program, came over to DevLearn for demo fest or the expo, or to me and network with some of the people who are over at DevLearn. But I've always complained that these two events happen at the same time, because to me, it really represents a very real schism between theory and practice. And it's not just on the practitioner side, I'm not just saying that practitioners need to learn more theory. I'm also saying that people in academia, need to spend more time practicing, as it were, right? So I started my Ph D program in January of 2017. And on the day that this episode releases, I will be defending my dissertation, and hopefully doing that successfully. But I have been kind of a black sheep, if you will, in my program. And admittedly, a lot of us were working full time as I was in my program. And as I was going through, going through the process, but a lot of us were also doing a lot of research, and a lot of publishing and really just falling into that academic mindset of research publication. And just kind of this very instructional design in a box approach. And whatever we were doing had to be not as on the job, even the people who were working full time weren't always doing research or publishing things, based on what they were doing on their job. Like they would be doing meta analyses or, you know, looking into different subjects, or even just doing research completely outside of their full time job with other grad students or in other areas. And I was the odd man out because I never did any particular publications, or any particular research, other than some very minor things that I did needs analysis, interviews, things like that, that I did with practitioners. And those were obviously not accepted anywhere. I have never spoken on any of those projects. But I think that they were actually really good. And they taught me a lot about how to apply what I was learning in the settings where I was working. And I took that approach to my entire doctoral program, that if I was learning something, if we were discussing something, I wanted a concrete way to apply that to what I was doing, and then to compare, right because theory is great, because it tells us what in a perfect world can we all should work. But we know that we don't live in a perfect world. We don't live in a sterile environment. There's so many different variables that we have to have to consider. But we can do evidence-informed or research-informed or data-informed practice when we're on the job, but a lot of times people balk at the theory and the research and the practice because of that sterile environment that it comes from. We don't spend enough time learning the theory as practitioners, in my opinion, and we don't spend enough time testing the theory as practitioners, in my opinion, because if we, we test things all the time, right, as practitioners, we, how many of you have tried and failed numerous times throughout your career in l&d, you know, whether that's trying a new method with a subject matter expert to get them to give you better feedback, or to give you better information, trying a new tool or technology that works better with your learning management system, trying a new way to design a storyboard, or trying a new template or a new assessment. We try new things all the time. But how many of those things that we're trying are based on research or theory, or the history of our field, I think there are really rich things that we can learn from the history of our field. And if you follow people who've been around for a really long time, for instance, Guy Wallace, he's still active and posting or Clark Quinn, right? People who've been around and have been practitioners, but have also been around since the theory was being built. And who found really great ways to incorporate that theory with the practice. And we try these things, and we bang our heads against the wall as practitioners. And the people who've been doing this for a really long time, kind of look at us and go, Yeah, we already knew that wouldn't work. Why would you try that? Right? But we're not paying enough attention to the theory as practitioners. And we're not paying enough attention to the practice, as theorists. And I know this from being in a Ph. D. program where publication and research and you know, things are valued higher than finding a job in the actual field, or doing research in the actual field. And on the practitioner side, I see a lot of social media hate for degree snobs or academia snobs or, oh, yeah, that person is doctor so and so. But I've been working in the field for 20 years. What is the doctor? You know, doctorate know that? I don't know. Even though I don't have a degree. I've been in the field for 25 years, and I have value. Yes. Everyone has value, even the newest person to our field has value. That's that's really my belief that everyone brings something unique to the table. Everyone brings a unique experience from wherever they were before. Even if it was nowhere related to l&d. They can bring a unique perspective. So I think shutting each other out, is so dangerous. And having those separate events just really like shows me that we're not doing enough to marry the two. There are some really amazing people who do a good job of this, that I would encourage anyone who is new or aspiring and l&d to follow. Lori Niles-Hofmann has an amazing LinkedIn learning course, on Data driven Learning Design. She studies up and she's a practitioner, and she's a wonderful human being, by the way, and I have gotten the pleasure of getting to know her over the past year or so. And Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner do a lot of work on evidence informed learning design and have a book by the same title. And Mirjam Neelen is someone that I follow and love her posts about research based learning and why it's important as practitioners to look at the research and look at the theory especially in trying to navigate all of the over simplified stuff, for lack of a better word that is out there. There's so many diagrams or simplified definitions or things that have been made incredibly vague for the purposes of social media. You know, statements like micro learning is dead, or the new one I've seen that says l&d is dead. It's all about performance. And I laugh because if you know theory, and you understand where instructional design comes from, you understand how performance improvement performance technology performance consulting, has influenced instructional design and continues to with good, solid quality practitioners to this day. And I make that huge digression because I just always see Mirjam Neelen, commenting on posts that are over simplifying things. And I really, really appreciate it from the standpoint of trying to elevate both theory and practice. There's also a couple other people that I would recommend following who don't necessarily publish a ton of content on mixing theory and practice, but who do a really good job of it in their day to day, my colleague Eamonn Powers, is always sharing out his research with the greater community. And he's always doing so in a way that makes it relatable, but most of his research is also based on his job and his role and what he's doing at the time. And then last, but not least, I'm going to make a shameless plug for useful stuff, and mentioned that my business partner and l&d Bestie Matt Smith, is another person who just consumes all of the lnd content that he possibly can. So he's got like this really vast knowledge of who's come before who's working on things now. And he knows more big names, past, present and future in the field than I do. And I've done a lot of reading in the last five years during my PhD program, and I think that's part of the reason why we came together and created useful stuff, at least for me, not wanting practitioners to bang their head against the wall and try different things and not know what is valuable and what isn't, and academia, narrowing their research, so much so that they're not accounting for real life variables and differences in really the practitioner workspace, and coming up with tools and ideas and methodology and frameworks that are combining that theory and what we know about the fields and what has already been tried, and what has already been researched with what we've both experienced or used in practice, I think makes for something that will hopefully be really valuable for people in l&d, and it's why we're doing what we're doing with useful stuff. But I say all this to say, definitely follow these people definitely see how what they're doing is a little bit different than some of the other people that you follow. And notice that difference, notice how their content, their work, their research is a little bit different. Because I've been the odd person out in academic conversations, because I don't have publications because I'm not going to be a professor. And I've been the odd person out in the workplace. pursuing my PhD people ask me why I'm bothering people asking me if it's really worth it. And, you know, being able to try to marry those two things, has been incredibly rewarding for me, even though it makes me a bit of an outsider in both worlds. I wouldn't have it any other way. So if you're like me, if you feel like Theory and Practice need to be closer together, definitely share this podcast with friends. Let's keep the conversation going. Let's go continue talking about how we can bring the two worlds together. If you're working on research in the practitioner space, let me know if there's a way that I can support you. Help you get participants, help you talk about your research give you a platform to share it with the world. I am more than happy to do so. And I'm looking forward to recording some episodes soon, where we talk about just that some of the different research and how we can apply it to our practice. So let's keep in touch and let's keep the conversation going. Thanks again for joining me on the blog. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with friends and review us on your favorite podcast platform. I hope you'll tune in again soon.