Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bad Science - and Learning

One of the best books I read in 2011 was Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, which should be read by everyone interested in evaluating learning and development (there’s also a useful website at I especially recommend the chapters on ‘Bad Stats’ - among other things, learn the differences between relative risk increase, absolute risk increase and natural frequency - and the hilariously-titled ‘Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things’.

The latter chapter spells out five reasons why we are poor at measuring findings:

1. We see patterns where there is only random noise.
2. We see causal relationships where there are none (just correlations).
3. We overvalue confirmatory information for any given hypothesis.
4. We seek out confirmatory information for any given hypothesis.
5. Our assessment of the quality of new evidence is biased by our previous beliefs (and the beliefs of others).

There’s more too: some of the things that make human beings good thinkers are the same reasons why we don’t naturally measure evidence well, and conversely, why computers are good at dealing with quantitative evidence but rubbish at intuitive thinking. A crucial lesson we need to learn is when to use our judgement and intuition, when instead to obtain and analyse detailed information, and how to distinguish these situations.

Another book I read in 2011 was Paul Kearns’ Evaluating the ROI From Learning, in which I was dismayed to discover the author completely dismissing management competences, corporate universities and e-learning – well, not quite “completely”, but that’s how he leads, and how he designs his three box model; (slight) qualifications come later. My dismay was because these have been three of my main interests, and career preoccupations, of the last two decades. But it wasn’t just self interest – I was also dismayed because I fundamentally believe learning is A Good Thing, and worthwhile for its own sake. We should all do more of it. By all means, we should evaluate it, and learn to focus more on the more valuable stuff – to my mind, at least, leadership and management development, e-learning and blended learning, corporate universities and academies, are some of the best vehicles to accomplish that.

I’d like to wish all my followers and readers a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Being an Amazon Associate

I've just signed up to be an Amazon Associate - twice!

I have been meaning for some time to include Amazon links on this blog, and on my writing website, mainly to encourage sales of my books, and as a spin-off draw a small income as a percentage of those sales. Having just signed up the learnforever sites to do this (but I haven’t found time to create the links yet), I’ve realised that I’ve been looking at this all wrong – I’ve been thinking in terms of increasing sales of my books, rather than monetising my websites.

The second way I signed up was for my new business, Airthrey. My partner and I have spent the last few months conducted an extensive literature review of the field of learning/training evaluation, and our plan, now realised, has been to review the best-known and most useful books, as a resource for our clients. The Amazon Associate program allows us to take a small percentage of sales of all books (not just our own) that arise from us directing our clients/readers to Amazon, but the best part is, once they’ve clicked through from our site, we get a cut of everything they buy on Amazon for the next 24 hours!

So we’ve accidentally stumbled upon a new income stream – a good example of obliquity – and I’d like to encourage all my readers to click on Airthrey before doing their Amazon shopping this Xmas .

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