67 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Learning and Development Professional


In spring 1998, a young, brash bureaucrat at the United States Office of Personnel Management delivered a presentation on the federal government’s early retirement policy. It was his first presentation and as the room cleared out, someone pulled this young, brash bureaucrat’s boss aside and asked: “Who’s the asshole?”

It was me. And apparently I didn’t quite hit my first presentation out of the park. I’ve learned a lot over the past 17 years. Here are a few of those lessons learned, in no particular order:

  1. Learning doesn’t really happen unless the audience is engaged.
  2. Learning and engagement is nice, but results are even better.
  3. Malcolm Knowles is all right… Jane Vella seems to capture the spirit of adult education in a less academic, more accessible way.
  4. Flipchart is the second best invention ever.
  5. Mr. Sketch markers are the first. And they still sell them!
  6. Even the best-designed training in the world won’t necessarily lead to better outcomes.
  7. Sometimes training efforts are foiled by an apathetic or cynical manager.
  8. Sometimes it’s not a training problem (and no amount of training can fix that!).
  9. There are so many other options beyond “training” (see this model by Jane Hart).
  10. If you’re in to elearning, you should be following Tom Kuhlman on Twitter.
  11. And Nicole Legault.
  12. And David Anderson.
  13. Heck, pay attention to the entire eLearning Heroes community.
  14. Back to Twitter and eLearning… definitely follow Melissa Milloway.
  15. And “award winning” eLearnist Tim Slade.
  16. Come to think of it, Twitter is a pretty powerful professional development tool… there are lots of smart people who post really good, thought-provoking content.
  17. Icebreakers should always have a learning purpose, otherwise they’re kind of a waste of people’s time no matter how fun they are.
  18. Speaking of “fun”, some people view it as a 4-letter word in the training room… but it’s really not a bad thing as long as there’s a purpose to the fun.
  19. Training and presentations are about the learners. Learning is never about the presenter.
  20. PowerPoint is not evil.
  21. The way many people use PowerPoint is extremely evil.
  22. Blogging is a great way to reflect on what you’ve learned or how you’ve taught something.
  23. Blogging 2-3 times a week forces you to constantly reflect on your art form.
  24. If you’re in to amazing visual aids, you should be following Nancy Duarte on Twitter.
  25. And you should own at least one of her books.
  26. PowToon is a pretty cool tool for microlearning or for creating a promotional video for your training.
  27. Want 99 other cool tools? See this list compiled by Jane Hart.
  28. Actually, just follow Jane Hart on Twitter.
  29. It’s amazing how many conference presentations are so poor.
  30. Even in conferences full of learning professionals like ATD or the eLearning Guild.
  31. It doesn’t have to be that way… especially if presenters paid attention to lesson #19 (above).
  32. And #21.
  33. Converting an in-person session into elearning is trickier than you may think.
  34. Same goes for converting an in-person session into a webinar.
  35. Designing a webinar using break-out rooms ought to be done with a lot of planning (or it ought not be done at all).
  36. I find I get more out of a webinar if I attend it with someone else.
  37. Sometimes I learn more from the chat section of a webinar than I do from the presentation itself.
  38. TED Talks can be a great source of inspiration for what’s possible when it comes to a presentation… like this one that incorporates magic or this one that just encourages really smart people to talk nerdy.
  39. Sometimes inspiration just comes from a shirtless dancing guy.
  40. Combining instructional design with game design elements can be an incredibly effective way of engaging learners.
  41. If you’re interested in gaming, research on gaming or just want some good energy in your Twitter feed, then follow Jane McGonigal.
  42. And check out her TED Talk if you want to add 10 years to your life.
  43. Any presenter worth his/her salt should have their own remote to advance slides.
  44. Of course, sometimes PowerPoint doesn’t work… so have a Plan B!
  45. Want to engage your audience in a non-threatening, mostly anonymous manner? Try PollEverywhere.
  46. The most common mistake I’ve seen presenters make is to launch right into content, assuming the audience knows/cares about the topic at hand.
  47. Anchor activities are a good place to start, before launching into content.
  48. Some learners are auditory learners.
  49. Others are visual learners.
  50. Others are kinesthetic learners.
  51. Actually, items 48-50 have been totally de-bunked. Train to the learners’ needs and gaps, not their “learning styles”.
  52. #51 isn’t an excuse to just lecture at people. Vivid imagery and active learning are important engagement strategies to prevent your learners from falling asleep.
  53. Sometimes learners will fall asleep no matter what you do. When this happens, sneak up behind them and drop a really heavy book on their table or on the floor right behind them.
  54. When you’re on the hunt for a new training job, who you know is at least as important as what you know, so networking is pretty important.
  55. Just because you know someone doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the job. You still need to prepare and bring your A Game to the interview (I’ve disappointed many a contact by flubbing many an interview).
  56. Even if you flub an interview, the sun will still come up tomorrow.
  57. You probably didn’t want that job anyway.
  58. Same thing goes if you screw the pooch on a presentation… there will be more presentations in your future.
  59. Just don’t make the same mistakes.
  60. If you’re still stuck on this whole PowerPoint thing, here’s a great primer for improving your slides.
  61. If you want to improve your slides and you’re really not much of a graphic designer, maybe this will help.
  62. When in doubt, put on a coat and tie.
  63. The shinier the coat, the better. Always.
  64. It’s helpful to keep a trainers’ emergency kit in your bag that includes some markers, tape, scissors, post-its, name tags, and in case of a particularly tense situation (or if someone asks a question you can’t/don’t want to answer): a stink bomb.
  65. If you’re out of stink bombs and someone asks a question you can’t answer, try the boomerang technique.
  66. Incorporating metaphors into a lesson can lead to some great discussion.
  67. If you’re an L&D professional, there should be no end to your learning and no limit to your creativity. At least no end to your learning and no limit to your creativity if you’re a good L&D professional…

How about you? Do any of these resonate with you? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?

6 thoughts on “67 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Learning and Development Professional

  1. How about designing a session that does NOT use PowerPoint, or any other types of slides? What if you had to engage participants for FOUR days without using slides? What would you do? How would you design it?

    • It’s a good question and an interesting challenge. And , it can be done!

      I’ve created a presentation skills training for our organization that intentionally does NOT use PowerPoint… although sometimes I wonder if, in trying to make the point that you don’t NEED PPT, I’m doing a disservice because people WILL use PPT. At some point, people need to be taught on how to more effectively use the tool.

      That said, I’ve also worked at an organization that did a 3-day train the trainer without PPT and a 2-day diversity training without PPT.

      Lots of flipchart. Lots of activities and discussions. It *can* be done!

  2. Each of your lessons learned would make great quote cards or t-shirts:-) I’m starting a new podcast challenge next month and the first topic is similar to your list. I’ll reference this list since it should help a lot of users get started. Thanks as always, Brian!

    • Thanks David! Love the t-shirt idea… hmmm… maybe I’ll start turning these blog posts into t-shirts! Perhaps printed on shirt material made from recycled flipchart. And for the true training geeks, I may also come out with a line of onsies in order to begin indoctrinating their children.

      David, I think you’ve inspired me to a billion dollar idea here…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.