Wednesday, October 07, 2009

From the Reading File

Some encouraging news—and some discouraging news—in this week’s news clippings.

First—the good news:

  • In Soon, Bloggers Must Give Full Disclosure, published in the New York Times, October 5, 2009, Tim Arango reports that the US Federal Trade Commission will start to require that bloggers who receive free samples and other consideration from companies when blogging about a product will be required to disclose this relationship. This provides readers with an important piece of information in determining the extent to which the blog entry is credible. In the research community, having a stake in the outcome is considered to be an important source of bias. In legal circles, it’s called a conflict of interest, a concept that Howard Levitt, writing in the October 7, 2009 Financial Post calls “infidelity,” because it suggests a dual loyalty. Read about the new regulation at

  • In Rethinking the Shape of Everyday Life published in the New York Times, October 4, 2009, Alice Rawsthorn explains how the hardware and software of information and communications technology have revolutionized everyday products like the telephone in the past few decades, and suggests five areas for similar revolution in the coming years: autos, lighting, street furniture, e-readers for books, magazines, and newspapers, and even computers. Read all about it at

Now, for the discouraging news:

  • Although new FTC regulations will help consumers better decide the credibility of blogs about products by requiring that authors disclose their relationships with suppliers if such relationships exist, consumers in other areas still need more protection. One area is prepaid debit cards. These cards perform an important services, as they provide people who would otherwise have no access to such cards (or credit cards) with the service. But these people often pay excessive fees for these cards—and the fees are not clearly disclosed to them. Read about the problem in Prepaid, but Not Prepared for Debit Card Fees, available at the New York Times online at
  • Similarly disturbing was an article on page FP12 of the October 7, 2009 National Post. On the surface, the article had encouraging news—hiring in information technology fields is growing now, even as other fields continue to shed jobs. But hidden in this good news article was a piece of disappointing news; the article lists a number of specific IT jobs and their salaries. Technical writing was listed—but it’s the lowest paid on the list (and there were 27 jobs on the list). And it’s not just that the jobs were the lowest paid—the next lowest job paid 14 percent more. That may result from the fact that, in Canada, most IT jobs require a bachelor’s degree and most technical writing credentials in Canada come from community colleges, who only offer associate’s degrees. But given some of the employment issues with technical writers in the US, I have a feeling that the low salaries might result from a more serious issue about the perception of—and presumed skill base of—technical writers. The related article is available online at But the list of jobs and salaries is only available in the print edition.

  • • If I thought that my job as a tenured university professor was safe, the article, College for $99 a Month, Kevin Carey’s recent piece for Washington Monthly, suggests otherwise. He describes a StraighterLine, a relatively new online learning service that intends to provide online versions of large section undergraduate classes . So why should I worry about that? I primarily teach graduate-level courses. Carey explains how these large section courses are the cash cows of universities, subsidizing other courses. And although accreditation problems will limit the impact of this service for now, when those accreditation problems are resolved (and Carey asserts that they will be solved and I tend to believe him), the effects on academia could be as devastating as the current defection of news readers from paper to the Internet has been for newspapers. He also suggests that university indifference to poor teaching quality in these economically vital courses will only make the StraighterLine more attractive when accreditation makes it a viable replacement for classroom instruction. Read the entire essay at

Saturday, October 03, 2009

How Research Moves into Practice: A Preliminary Study of What Training Professionals Read, Hear, and Perceive

My article, How Research Moves into Practice: A Preliminary Study of What Training Professionals Read, Hear, and Perceive, co-written with Regan Legassie, Shaun Belding, Hugh MacDonald, Ofelia Ribeiro, Lynn Johnston, Jane MacDonald, and Heidi Hehn of the Canadian Society for training and Development, was just published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, the journal of the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education. Following is the abstract.

In the growing body of research on the practice of training and development, several studies suggest that use of research-based findings in practice is low. The present study was designed to better understand the research-practice gap by exploring these questions: (1) Which published sources in the field are practicing professionals reading? How frequently do they read these materials? (2) Which conferences and meetings do practicing professionals attend? How frequently do they attend these events? (3) In what formats are research content most usable to practicing professionals? (4) What are practicing professionals’ general perceptions of research publications and presentations? Key findings point to publications having a wider reach among practicing professionals than conferences and, of those publications, professional magazines have a wider reach than peer-reviewed journals. In terms of the manner in which the content is presented, practicing professionals prefer case studies from the workplace over other types of content.

Dans le corpus croissant de recherches portant sur la pratique de la formation et du perfectionnement, plusieurs études suggèrent une faible utilisation des résultats de recherche dans la pratique. La présente étude a été conçue afin de mieux comprendre l’écart entre la recherche et la pratique par l’examen des questions suivantes : (1) Quelles sources de publications du domaine les professionnels pratiquants lisent-ils? À quelle fréquence lisent-ils ces publications? (2) À quelles conférences et réunions les professionnels pratiquants assistent-ils? À quelle fréquence assistent-ils à ces événements? (3) Dans quels formats les contenus de recherche sont-ils le plus facilement utilisables par les professionnels pratiquants? (4) Quelles sont les perceptions générales des professionnels pratiquants envers les publications et présentations de recherche? Les résultats principaux indiquent que les publications rejoignent davantage de professionnels pratiquants que les conférences et que, parmi ces publications, les magazines spécialisés ont une portée plus vaste que les publications évaluées par les pairs. En ce qui concerne la manière dont le contenu est présenté, les professionnels pratiquants préfèrent les études de cas en milieu de travail aux autres types de contenu.

(To read the entire article, visit

Friday, October 02, 2009

Addressing Implicit Age Discrimination in Your Job Search Activities

My article, Addressing Implicit Age Discrimination in Your Job Search Activities, was just published in Intercom, the magazine of the Society for Technical Communication. Following is an excerpt.

When the mass media stresses youth (most television networks prefer their viewers between 18 and 49, or, even better, no older than 35), professional magazines talk about the technological agility of younger workers, and the general business press openly talks about the high expense of experienced workers, those of us who have a bit of experience and the gray hair to prove it have good reason to be concerned about age discrimination in our job searches.

Indeed, despite anti-discrimination laws in most countries and corporate statements guaranteeing equal opportunity, age discrimination does exist in the workplace. If you’re un- or underemployed, cosmetic surgery and Botox treatments probably aren’t viable options for covering your age.

So what can you do? This article—an update of my 2003 Intercom article on the same subject—offers five suggestions.

(To continue reading, visit You need to be an STC member to see the article.)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Three Future Directions of e-Learning

My article, Three Future Directions of e-Learning, was just published in Learning Circuits (ASTD's webzine on e-learning). Following is an excerpt.

At the beginning of the 1990s, experts predicted two trends in food. (I promise to show the connection to e-learning in a moment.) One trend was an emphasis on healthy eating. To encourage it, lower fat versions of popular foods would be developed, like low fat ice cream and fat-free potato chips.

The response to all of this healthy eating came in the second trend. To congratulate themselves, people would indulge in new lines of premium foods (in terms of calories, that is)—ones that were even less nutritious than their 1980s counterparts, like higher-fat ice creams (think Ben & Jerry’s and gourmet potato chips (think Cape Cod Chips).

When asked about the trends in e-learning, the contributors to the E-Learning Handbook: Past Promises, Present Challenges, saw a similar dichotomy. On the one hand, almost everyone thought the quality of e-learning would improve and become more responsive to learners. On the other hand, nearly everyone saw the emergence of less expensive, less thoughtful e-learning. In addition, the contributors saw one other trend that might help to reconcile this dichotomy: e-learning as a way of life. The following describe their insights.

(To continue reading, visit