Myths, Research & Sharing

Once again, Will Thalheimer nails what is passed off as corporate research as actually the propagation of a myth (meme?), asking:

Is it plagiarism if you steal a lie?

The culprit in this case is Forrester Research. The previous culprit was NTL. Will is doing the field a great favour by holding us to high standards of research and citation.

My own experience is that a lot of corporate research is fluff that is sold for very high prices. Many researchers, like Will or Stephen, or practitioners like Jay, make their work available for free, in order to encourage peer collaboration. The free information and research is just as good, if not better, than the “research” that is sold as fancy white papers to large, unsuspecting organisations. I find that it’s worth your while to pay for research that is contextual to your particular circumstances or to hire a researcher to look specifically at your field or region. Generic research, sold in +$1,000, one-size-fits-all packages, is probably not worth it.
Caveat emptor

5 Responses to “Myths, Research & Sharing”

  1. Tom Werner

    Will has done a good service by debunking a popular learning myth that has been propagated since 1967.

    But I think one should be careful not to overgeneralize and thus risk propagating new myths. The fact that a myth was cited on a researcher’s slide is scant proof that generic research is fluff or probably not worth its cost. (Disclosure: I work at Brandon Hall Research and thus am biased in favor of for-sale research.)

    Here are some observations, some of which defend the Forrester error:

    (a) The slide was in what I believe was a free webinar, not in +$1,000 research (although it’s possible that the myth is also included in their for-sale research).

    (b) Although it was certainly sloppy to cite Forrester as the source of the data, if Forrester had in fact reported that data elsewhere it seems an overstatement to call citing Forrester ‘lying’ or ‘stealing.’

    (c) The myth supports an extremely popular belief in learning along the lines that ‘interactivity is good and page-turners are bad,’ which many, many, many learning professionals state without reference to cited data or theory. (This is not meant to excuse Forrester, except to suggest that words like ‘culprit’ are probably a bit strong.)

    (d) Will, Stephen, and Jay should be admired and thanked for making their work available for free. At the same time, I assume (without knowing them personally) that none of them is independently wealthy and working as a volunteer in the field of learning. Each professional must decide what work to make available for free and what work to require a salary or fee for.

    (e) Because the field of learning is very world-view-based (e.g., constructivism vs. instructivism) and very idea-based (e.g., informal learning vs. formal learning), ideas often precede research data. Thought leaders, by definition, articulate thoughts ahead of the adoption curve and research curve. For example, informal learning is a popular new idea today. But if Will were to shine his myth-busting light on informal learning, I suspect he would find little in the way of citable, refereed research to prove its effectiveness. Nonetheless, informal learning is an idea that will be much discussed in coming months and years. (And I think this is a good thing.) But as we explore ideas in our field, we should all be careful to acknowledge our world-views and business models and avoid ‘echo-chamber’ effects in which we vehemently agree with like-minded colleagues to the point of creating new myths.

  2. Harold

    Thanks for your comments, Tom. I didn’t mean to infer a direct cause & effect relationship here, only that my personal experience has shown that many for-sale research reports aren’t as good as going out and digging through the free stuff.

    One good thing about making research available and public is that myths can be debunked. It was on Will’s open site that I saw the original de-bunking and this meme has been picked up on several blogs. By being open and transparent, I believe that we advance the field and keep ourselves to high standards. As stated above, I also think that there is room for context-specific paid research.

    The major premise of this post was “Buyer beware”. I am sure that BH has many satisfied clients, so there must be value in your research reports, or you would not remain in business.


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