Do you want L&D to be a Profession?

Aug 21, 2017

Earlier this week I posted the following article to LinkedIn. Seeking simply to ask a question and get some feedback about where to go next, I had no intention of posting this here on But then…

…Well, then it blew up.

Within 48hrs this article had received more Shares, Likes, and most importantly Comments than anything else I’ve ever posted. It seems to have struck a nerve.

So in case you missed it, here is the post reproduced in its entirety. Plus, you can still go see the comments here:

definition by Google

In my 17 years of working in the Learning & Development field, I’ve seen a lot of things change. The widespread adoption of online courses, webinars, LMSs, and the fading role of The Traveling Trainer. We’ve had name changes from Corporate Training Department to Professional Staff Development and from Student to Learner.

I remember back when “video learning” meant rolling the TV & VCR cart to the front of the classroom. Seventeen years ago, I was the guy that rolled it in! Over the years my role has changed, and a few years ago I was the lead Senior Instructional Designer creating real video learning for the first YouTube Certified Online training program at the Googleplex. Yes indeed, times have changed.

Now online is the default answer for everything, and most of our stuff isn’t even hosted on our side of the firewall anymore. These days we’re often looking for games and experiences instead of courses and completions. Mobile devices are upending all that we’ve built, and xAPI data is helping us question why we built it that way in the first place.

I’ve also seen a lot of things not change. Things that I have been waiting for and really, really hoping would change. Frankly, I’m surprised we managed to get this far without them.

We in L&D still don’t have:

  • definitions of basic terms (learning, training, information, certification, license, learning asset, etc.)
  • common standards or measures for what we produce
  • a code of ethics or even a statement of intent
  • legal standing or governing bodies (like doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, interior designers, massage therapists, or manicurists)

In short, we in L&D don’t have any of the other markers that other real professions really do have.

Is it any wonder we’re not often treated professionally?
This has been on my mind more and more. I’ve had many conversations about it, including with those entities who I believe should make it their business to address such issues for the benefit of their members.

As much as I like ATD, The eLearning Guild, Training Magazine, and other such membership-based organizations, the fact remains that they are essentially for-profit trade associations uniting us primarily for their benefit. None has offered to provide a framework that defines what our industry is and is not. (ATD got close once, but reversed direction prior to the critical regulatory juncture and settled for something well short of that.) While such organizations might follow a movement from within their ranks, apparently they don’t see the value in leading the way.

In all my conversations, I just walk away thinking…

The signals are clear. It ain’t gonna happen. Our industry has fallen down on the job.

The result is not only that we don’t get taken as seriously, or that our work is kind of all over the place, it’s that other professional organizations have to come up with standards of their own because we failed to do so.

Have you had the pleasure of dealing with CEU credits in the medical industry, or CLE for lawyers, or CPE for accountants? If you ever get the chance, I’d suggest you run the other way fast! It all gets pretty ridiculous pretty quickly.

Accountants, for example, know how to count things really well! But when it comes to learning…they really have no idea what to count. They may try valiantly, but it’s simply not their field of expertise — it’s ours.

Why haven’t we stepped up on this yet? What will it take?

One Framework Join Them All

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of waiting and wishing for this to change.

Since it looks like no one else is going to do the work it takes to turn L&D into a Profession, I’m thinking about rolling up my sleeves and doing something about this problem myself.

I’m considering bringing together 20-30 brilliant minds from inside and outside of our industry to do the following:

  • define basic industry terms
  • provide a comprehensive framework for learning assets
  • construct a working model linking learning & behavior
  • join together others in our field to establish benchmarks & standards that may be of service to industries outside our own
  • lay the open-source foundation upon which all of our work can continue to evolve

This is not merely an intellectual exercise for me, nor is it a self-interested one. I’ll only make this leap if it looks like it’s going to affect real change in our community. If these efforts could forge us from a loose-knit community of independent practitioners into a real, bonafide Profession, then I’m in.

If not, then I think the best thing for me personally may be to move on. I’ll give up on L&D as a Profession and go back to doing what I did before you ever heard of me: quietly turning out the best work I can while directing my passions to other endeavors.

After all, if we’re not willing to up our game and take ourselves seriously as an industry, our days are numbered. Relevant data gathered by scientific methods is no longer a luxury, it’s a demand. If we can’t supply this within our professional framework, then the businesses we serve will find better alternatives that hold up to their scrutiny, as well they should.

So the biggest question in my mind right now is about you, dear reader. I don’t know if you even want to be in a Profession. Do you?

  1. Do you want L&D to become a Profession?
  2. Are you willing to be held accountable for the success/failure of the work you produce?
  3. Do you like the idea of creating definitions and setting baselines for the things we do as professionals?
    Why or why not?

Any answers you care to give are most welcome! I’m simply looking for some data myself, so I can make my own decisions about what to do next.

Thanks in advance for your contributions!

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