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Ask the Experts: Patti Shank


Dr. Patti Shank is a world leader in instructional technology, the Research Director of the eLearning Guild, the President of Learning Peaks LLC, and an accomplished author.an


She has been in the field for over thirty years and continues to give back to the community with in-depth guides and articles to support new and continually learning professionals.


Thank you for joining me Patti!



1 – Designer, analyst, author, researcher, facilitator…your career is extensive and shows a wealth of experience in the learning industry. What drew you to the field and why have you stayed?


I started doing training as a SME, which is how many people get started in our field! I had a healthcare background and did part-time training as the “expert” in several positions. I loved building and conducting training so much that when a full-time training position opened in a medical care delivery company in my town, I applied and followed up with the HR Director so often that they had to hire me! Well, they didn’t have to, but they offered me the job and the rest is history.


I like to learn so I’ve sought out new skills all along the way and my PhD taught me how to read and discuss research. I’m still learning new tools, techniques, and other skills and love it!


2 – Newcomers to learning design often look to cement their understanding and abilities with a masters. One common question is what type of masters is best suited to learning design. What would you recommend to these potential academics?


There’s a lot to learn in this field. You can stay very specialized, for example, and stay up-to-date on tools, for example. Or branch out and learn more. It’s hard to know it all, however, because there’s a LOT to know. I chose to learn the most about the aspects of writing content, activities, and assessments that have the most impact on workplace skills.


As a result, I know a lot about writing for clarity, cognitive science, design, and tools and technologies (development). I know relatively less about graphic design and LMSs. And even less about programming, although I know some.


The first step after you have some experience (which makes it easier to put all the skills into context), is to figure out which pieces you want to be more expert in. That will help you pick a Masters degree or courses. For example, many instructional technology Masters degrees are tailored to K-12, higher ed, OR workplace learning. You want a program more tailored to your workplace type because have significant differences. Some are more design or development (tools) oriented, and some are more about how we learn. I’d recommend programs help you learn both. I learned most tools outside of a Masters because they change over time.


3 – A masters is one way to further your professional development but far from the end. How do you keep yourself up to date?


MANY ways! Conferences, training courses, reading experts’ books, LOTS of practice with new skills, and so forth. I make a small list of things I need to get better at each year and then look for opportunities and resources. And sometimes a critical need will change the list. But I am ALWAYS learning.


4 – You are a prolific author of both articles and books, with your most recent book “Manage Memory for Deeper Learning”, showing designers how to work with memory to support better learning. How did you approach researching and writing this book and why focus on memory?


I write and teach about memory a lot because memory IS learning. When we learn well, what we have learned becomes “wired” into our brain’s neuron cells. If we don’t teach for memory, research shows people are unlikely to remember. Without remembering (how to or how to find), we can’t apply. It’s SO important.


To write books or teach, I gather the most foundational evidence (research). I read it and make notes. Those papers lead me to other papers and more notes. This process helps me decide what is most critical. It’s a complex process that grows and changes as I read and tie together the concepts.


5 – You’ve recently begun a series of articles focusing on how to best work with video as a learning medium. Designers have a huge toolkit of digital products to use but some stick with only eLearning. Is there one medium better than the rest?


That’s what I’m trying to find out! Having burning questions starts the process of what I discussed in the last question. It’s messy, and frustrating, but often very much fun. And I learn, too!


6 – It can be hard to design for specific metrics if the theory you base your work on doesn’t support data analytics. Of all the currently used learning theories you’ve seen in the field recently, what theories do you use and why?


I use the ones that make the most sense for the outcomes that are needed from instruction. Most often, cognitive science has great answers.


7 – The field is also littered with buzzwords and snappy bandwagon approaches. Are there theories learning designers should be avoiding?


The biggest one:


Learning styles


Clark Quinn has a super good and short book on Learning Myths most people in our field should read!


8 – Your fingers always seem to be on the pulse of the industry. Is there any new technology that you see great potential for or have been currently working with?


I’d love to see people get better at using existing technologies first!


9 – You have an active social presence on Linked In, sharing some excellent pieces from other designers across the field. Is this the best approach for designers to grow? Or do conferences and bootcamps still have a place?


All of the above and others. Growing a network of people in L&D with different skills can help you find great resources. This works well for me and others I know.


10- Of all the other amazing professionals in L&D and the learning sciences, are there any you would recommend designers should be following or reading?


Clark Quinn

Will Thalheimer

Mirjam Neelen

And many, many others! I hope you end up with a nice, long list!


11 – Do you have any last bits of sage advice for new and current designers?


Keep learning new things every chance you get. Ask questions. Find evidence-based practitioners and experts who know more than you and learn from them. Research shows that the more you know in a specific domain, the easier it is to keep learning and connect what you’re learning to what you know. This is an awesome field for people who are curious!


Thank you Patti for a perfect end to season 1! If you haven’t checked out Patti’s latest book: “Write Better Multiple-Choice Questions to Assess Learning” please be sure to check it out here.


Patti Shank, PhD

Twitter: @pattishank


(Note: I do not gain any financial benefit from these links, They are solely provided for your ease of access).




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