A few weeks ago, a colleague asked me what I though were some of the challenges of the HRD / learning and development field. One challenge I noted is that we keep renaming and repackaging ideas. That isn’t a bad thing in and of itself – it’s great to modernize our language and spiff up long-standing ideas. But in the process, we sometimes lose the connection to the preceding discussions and literature – and we wind up ‘reinventing the wheel’ rather than ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ (I know that’s mixed metaphor, and possibly cliché, but it gets the point across).
In my own work, I continue to design conference presentations and workshops on the topic of learning environment design. Learning environment design is a framework for considering the vast array of potential resources for supporting learing for a particular need and deliberately designing an environment that provides easy access to those resources. Typically, that environment is a combination of static resources and interpersonal connections, with both formal and informal characteristics.
The truth of the matter is that the ideas that come together to form “learning environment design” are not new, although I find the new packaging to be quite helpful to my work. The ideas are built from what we know about blended learning, personal knowledge management, informal learning, transfer of learning models, and social learning, all built on a constructivist and social cognitivist theoretical base.
Several other streams of thought in our field are closely related: MOOC pedagogy (MOOC = massive open online course), performance support, knowledge curation, the concept of “pull” learning – all of these are discussions I can draw from to enrich my way of strategizing learning environments.
My point is that we have a tendency to ignore rich research literature and theoretical constructs that are part of the HRD body of knowledge – knowledge that can help us to more deeply understand what look to be new phenomena. Notice how many different words we use to describe very similar concepts. Each arena has its own rich array of literature, online conversations, and research. By renaming things, we sometimes fail to notice – or to leave a trail back to – ideas that might support and guide what we are advocating. Instead, we experiment anew and invent new models.
This is one of the reasons I am such a strong advocate for learning professionals to become well grounded in the theory and research of our field. Practice provides a lot of lessons, and we no doubt invent and reinvent approaches all the time, especially as new technologies become available and as we all become 21st century learners. But we do ourselves – and our clients and our learners – a service if we also draw on what has already been theorized and studied. Standing on the shoulders of giants will help us to advance the thinking in our field exponentially. Let’s not get forever stuck in a process of reinventing the wheel.