5 papers every learning professional should read

I don’t read as many journal articles as I’d like.

Given the challenges and pressures of professional life, combined with everything else that’s been going on privately, I’ve fallen out of the habit of scanning the latest abstracts and deep diving into particular studies.

And that’s a problem because as a practitioner, I consider it important to inform my work with the latest science. While blogs (for example) certainly have their place in the discourse, so too do peer-reviewed publications.

So it was with much gratitude that I read The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice.

I say “gratitude” because it was one of the pre-reads for last night’s Sydney eLearning and Instructional Design Meetup. If David Swaddle (the meet-up’s organiser) hadn’t prompted me to read this paper in preparation for the event, I fear I never would have done so.

This in turn got me thinking about good papers – the ones that stand out from the rest. The ones that I would recommend to my fellow learning pro’s. While there are many that could fit that bill, I’ve given it some thought and have short-listed my Top 5.

A pile of papers on a desk.

1. Sfard, A. (1998). On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. Educational Researcher, 27(2), pp. 4-13.

In this paper, the author distinguishes between two metaphors for learning: the acquisition metaphor in which the learner’s mind is akin to a vessel to be filled, and the participation metaphor in which the learner is an active social agent in the learning process. The latter metaphor reminds me that learning is not about the consumption of information; it’s about making sense.

2. Cook‐Greuter, S. R. (2004). Making the case for a developmental perspective. Industrial and Commercial Training, 36(7), pp. 275-281.

In this paper, the author distinguishes between two directions of human development: horizontal growth and vertical transformation. I translate this dichotomy as the difference between “learning” and “development”, recognising that as a profession we tend to assign disproportionately more attention to the former – to our organisation’s detriment. I elaborate here.

3. Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), pp. 3-10.

Somewhat controversial in academic circles, this paper documents real thought leadership in my humble opinion. The author challenges the notion of what it means to “learn” in the modern world, and if we put philosophical arguments aside, he provokes us to re-think our practice.

4. Biesta, G. J. J. (2012). Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), pp. 35-49.

In this paper, the author rues the shift of our collective discourse from teaching to learning, whereby the sage has been pushed off the stage and recast as a guide on the side. I don’t agree with everything he has to say, but I do agree with much of his sentiment. I’ve blogged my reflection here.

5. Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K. & Smith-Jentsch, K. (2012). The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(2), pp. 74–101.

In this paper, the authors outline “what matters” before, during and after training in the organisational setting. While their focus is set firmly on the traditional one-to-many mode of delivery, their advice is grounded in research and real-world experience. Even if you aren’t involved in training per se, this is a solid framework against which you can (dare I suggest should?) audit what you do and how you do it.

Sunlight shining through dark clouds

The above papers are several rays of light that break through the clouds to change our mindsets and behaviours.

Do you agree with my short list?

Which papers would be in your Top 5?

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15 Comments on “5 papers every learning professional should read”

  1. Scott Wallace Says:

    I would recommend:

    Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

    It’s a valuable article as it challenges some of the main assumptions underpinning current dominant education paradigms. Even if you vehemently disagree with the paper, it will force you to examine your own practice.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Ooh good choice, Scott. I do like a counter-contrarian argument. Thanks for suggesting it!


  3. Like this list – I found Siemens particularly inspiring – my favourite quote being “I store my knowledge in my friends”.

    I also like this one:

    “It is what one does”: why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice

    M. McLure Wasko, , S. Faraj

    This is of course social community focused.

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Louise. I’m very much looking forward to reading your suggested paper, as I’m currently grappling with social learning in the workplace.

  5. Adam Says:

    Thanks for this list of papers, I really look forward to reading them. I am in the process of learning about T&L, coming from a ecological sciences background, so these look like they will help!

    On a similar vain, do you have any Journals or Blogs that you would recommend as good resources for keeping up to date with teaching in higher ed? I am finding T&L to be really interesting and want to get deeper into it.

    Having just discovered your blog, and read some of you previous posts, this is currently at the top of my list. ;-)

  6. Ryan Tracey Says:

    You’re welcome, Adam. I have an ecological sciences background too, although that was a lifetime ago. Your scientific way of thinking will come in very handy in the education realm.

    Regarding journals, I tend to read only open access journals these days unless I have a good reason for looking up something in particular. The University of Melbourne has a useful list.

    Regarding blogs, feel free to explore my blogroll. Not everyone listed is in the higher ed sector (actually most aren’t), but the themes they blog about are often applicable.

    Thanks for your kind words. I hope my subsequent posts prove valuable to you :)

  7. Adam Says:

    Thanks Ryan.

    In the spirit of this blog post, I thought I would point to a very interesting paper I came across that I think probably addressing and challenges some fundamental ideas in education.
    ‘Biesta, G., 2015. Freeing Teaching from Learning: Opening Up existential Possibilities in Educational Relationships’

    All the best

  8. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Sounds like a sequel to “Giving Teaching Back to Education”. Thanks for making me aware of it, Adam.


  9. Thanks for making me aware of these papers, I too would like more time for exploring these. A couple from me:

    This one on Self-Determination Theory:
    Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67.

    While this is a big one, it’s available online and is an eye opener:
    Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., and Ecclestone, K. (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre.

  10. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Matt. The second one is serendipitous because I’m currently crafting a blog post on learning styles. Cheers!


  11. This is shaping up to an interesting list. Ryan, will you curate them for a future #SEID MeetUp?

  12. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Isn’t it! And yes, I will :)

  13. Michelle Ockers Says:

    Ryan, you have pointed to a gap in my ongoing reading – blogs, white papers and books tend to be the bulk of my reading. I don’t keep an eye on journals, and find that few recommendations are passed to me through my PLN to journal articles. I shall start with your list plus the additional recommendations coming through and let you know how this impacts my professional practices. Thank you.

  14. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Glad to be of service, Michelle ;)


  15. Reblogged this on 5ddigitalcomm's Blog and commented:
    Just found this and feel the need to spread some information about recent learning research and some thoughts on teaching and training.


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