We’re living in a period of time where it’s more and more acceptable that we can hammer experts for their subject matter knowledge in preference for someone’s personal opinion. It is genuinely a troubling attitude when someone feels so entitled to their opinion that they create a well articulated argument in favour of it and will willingly disregard opinions from those who have clear evidence suggesting better practice.
Amongst other societal challenges this trend represents it is indicative of lazy thinking and a real lack of critical thinking faculty.
In L&D we’ve been guilty of such lazy thinking and lack of critical thinking for a long time.
There are a number of factors that play a part in the lazy thinking and lack of critical thinking.
PERFORMANCE OF A TRAINER
Many trainers and facilitators in L&D believe they are so good at what they do as a trainer or facilitator, that it overrules any need for being fact or evidence driven in their approach.
They will run exercises and activities that are designed to do nothing genuinely insightful and are simplistic at best. Such stuff is superficial and is often a result of some creative thinking on how to get someone to think about a topic in a different way.
The personal experience they create is often mistaken and misrepresented as effectual learning.
MISTAKING A CASE STUDY OR ANECDOTE AS RESEARCH
Researchers take years to become subject matter experts. They ask multiple questions like:
- Why does this happen?
- What literature is helpful for this research?
- What do the results tell us?
- Is our data biased?
- Have we studied the right things?
- What else could be a factor?
- What does the research help us understand better?
There are many more questions researchers ask.
L&D do not do research. Not even close.
We have multiple case studies and anecdotes. In nearly every case, we lack actual research.
MODELS AND THEORIES OFTEN LACK EVIDENCE
It is a very common affair that the multiduinous models and theories used are nothing more than one person’s view of the world and lack anything close to evidence.
Actual proper research and evidence would show things like:
- Here’s how this model/theory tangibly made a difference based on these factors
- Here are the control groups who received nothing, the control groups who recieved something different and the control group who used our model and here are the results from all those groups
- Here’s the variety of different work groups / sectors / industries the model was tested in, and these are the results
- Here’s the limitations of this model and how it should not be used
- Here’s replicated studies of other people using our model and the results they got
- Here’s peer based reviews of our work and their criticisms of the model
There are so many models and theories put forward in L&D and I would wager 90% of it lacks credible research and evidence.
Case studies are not the same thing. Anecdotes are not the same thing. Both of those are examples of marking your own homework.
WE LACK THE TIME FOR PROPER RESEARCH
In so many cases, we just don’t have the time for actual research. When the likes of Saba, Cornerstone OnDemand, SumTotal or Pluralsight put their stuff out there, they’re not showing us evidence based results.
They believe they are, because they are in multiple big clients and have volumes of clients using their products. Just because a product is widely used does not constitute data as evidence. They do not have the validated research by external sources to verify if their products deliver the successes they claim. They have anecdotes and customer success stories. They are not the same thing.
When the likes of leadership consultancies and personal development trainers make claims their methods work, it is because they have no evidence to show the contrary. If all you are using are your own methods and models, you’re not testing them against anything else so all you’re going to get are positive results in your favour. That is so much skew.
The time to do the proper research would take years. Most people have mouths to feed and bills to pay. Life gets in the way. So the evidence is of a much reduced quality and we’re often asked to move forward based on faith and trust in the person and not worry about the models / theories / methods.
ASKING FOR RESEARCH IS UNPOPULAR
There have been many times I’ve asked a potential vendor for actual research to back up their methods / approaches, and many times I got very poor responses ranging from no research, to them providing case studies and anecdotes, to them claiming research doesn’t matter.
If we can’t be confident the methods being used are tested and have validity and reliability then why are we moving forward with them?
I’ll also get people giving me alternative results from other research, which supports their original thinking, even though it is poor research in and of itself.
I’ll also get people telling me research can be anything we want it to be. This just displays such a lack of understanding about research and why it’s important.
L&D HAVE A DEEP PROBLEM WITH RESEARCH
Many in L&D don’t want to ask the question about research. They don’t care about it, they don’t see the relevance of it, and it gets in the way of them doing what they perceive as their job.
It is a problem which is inherent across everything we do. E-learning, in-person sessions, virtual training, mobile solutions, all have such poor research into what good actually looks like we are often left with sub-par solutions and asked to trust in the person more than the tools or resources they put forward.
I have no problem trusting a person. If the tools and stuff they use are flawed, then that basis for trust is automatically problematic. If they do not understand fundamentals about research, it only adds to the problem.