This is a great blog post by Clark Quinn, e-learning guru whom I think highly of. His post talks about whether there is a science to learning (spoiler: there is) and how e-learning professionals should frame it as learning engineers. It got me wondering how content engineers and other technical communicators beyond those in the e-learning field approach this.
In other fields of endeavors, there is a science behind the approaches. In civil engineering, it’s the properties of materials. In aviation, it’s aeronautical engineering. In medicine, it’s medical science. If you’re going to be a professional in your field, you have to know the science. So, two questions: is there a science of learning, and is it used. The answers appear to be yes and no. And yet, if you’re going to be a learning designer or engineer, you should know the science and be using it.
There is a science of learning, and it’s increasingly easy to find. That’s the premise behind the Serious eLearning Manifesto, for instance (read it, sign it, use it!). You could read Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn as a very good interpretation of the science. The Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center is compiling research to provide guidance about learning if you want a fuller scientific treatment. Or read Bransford, et al’s summary of the science of How People Learn, a very rich overview. And Hess & Saxberg’s recent Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age: Using Learning Science to Reboot Schooling is both a call for why and some guidance on how.
Among the things we know are that rote and abstract information isn’t retained, knowledge test doesn’t mean ability to do, getting it right once doesn’t mean it’s known, the list goes on. Yet, somehow, we see elearning tools like ‘click to learn more’ (er, less), tarted up quiz show templates to drill knowledge, easy ways to take content and add quizzes to them, and more. We see elearning that’s arbitrary info dump and simplistic knowledge test. Which will have a negligible impact on anything meaningful.
We’re focused on speed and cost efficiencies, not on learning outcomes, and that’s not professional. Look, if you’re going to do design, do it right. Anything less is really malpractice!