It’s always interesting at year’s end to review my columns for the annual “Happy New Year” piece. My interests continue to be divided between community nurturing and social learning, instructional design, and professional growth. In looking over some themes for last year here are things that stand out.


A number of columns dealt one way or another with user experience. There was a piece on physical spaces for learning, both formal and informal, at Duke University’s new medical school building. The building includes room to relax and just stop and gather, with touches that showed an understanding of learner needs including lockers tall enough to hang a lab coat and showers for students who bike to class.

This attention to end user needs goes for developing and nurturing community, either in person or virtual. Pay attention to the things that enhance and support learning rather than focusing on those that largely only make administrative chores easier. Be intentional and think through why you want a community, what your expectations of it are, and make it a place where people want to connect and talk.

As discussed in the piece on Kimberly-Clark’s “One K-C Jam” experience, take care to include those often marginalized or left out of conversations that usually focus on “knowledge workers,” and remember that you’ll never have 100 percent participation for anything. And give people space to breathe: in other work interactions people talk about cats and lunch and what their kids did yesterday. We spend millions of dollars teaching salespeople to make personal connections with clients for a reason.


Last year brought a new presentation on lean design, giving me an opportunity to review some basics. The nuts and bolts? Be careful of over-solving and over-engineering. Watch out for sneaky dangers like waste and scope-creep and waiting. Other “nuts and bolts” issues visited:

  • Better needs assessment helps you solve the right problem. Is it even a training issue? Ask some different questions from the list I offer. Talk to multiple stakeholders (especially the learners). Being part of a better solution will ultimately enhance both training’s and your reputation. Work to position the training function as a partner in performance improvement, not just the deliverer of one type of intervention.
  • Remember that what you measure is what you get: Number of calls answered in an hour. Number of tickets closed. But is that really what matters? So what if they can pass the multiple-choice test but can’t actually perform the heart surgery? Pay attention to measures that matter. Try to find things that are meaningful, that give you real information to help real people do their jobs and to help organizations perform more efficiently. Beware of easy measures and vanity metrics.
  • A theme that spans my whole career: attempts by vendors and consultants and non-practitioners to minimize the fact that a good solution will usually require some actual work. Beware of advice that’s too good to be true and promises of steps that seem too convenient. It’s called “practice” for a reason.


We’re all busy and it’s only natural to move from task to project to chore without stopping for breath. Making some time for reflection can help us intellectualize our practice, become clearer about our own philosophies of teaching and learning, refine our views of learners and our work, and help us to reconcile ideal with reality and theory with practice. Ultimately, consciously reaching to become a reflective practitioner can help us work more efficiently and effectively while finding more satisfaction in the work that we do. It can also help us learn, by thinking through decisions and processes and politics and mistakes and “next times.”

The next step: Share that reflection with others. While you’re reflecting, consider whether what you’ve been working on might be of value to someone else. We have piles of status reports and documented standard operating procedures and what have you, and still, the data says we spend a quarter of our time looking for something—or someone—with the information we really need. If you struggled to learn it, or solve it, or stop it from leaking, or put it out while it was on fire, then don’t keep it to yourself. Work out simple ways to show your work that fit into your workflow.

Finally: Just do it

Just do it. Figure it out. Figure out how to do it without money, or on time, or with dull content, or without enough time. And quit weighing and meeting and musing. As you move into this new year, remember what Euan Semple once tweeted: “Quit reading case-study porn and get on with it.”