Today, we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a federal holiday here in the United States. I fear that many of our federal holidays are taken a bit for granted—more as a welcome day off than an opportunity to reflect on something of great significance. But among our current holidays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one that originated during my lifetime and thus feels somewhat more relevant and personal to me. I hope that we all do take a few moments to think about the unique contributions that Dr. King made to advance equality and justice among all people.
In light of the events of the last year and of the current unrest associated with transition of power in Washington, DC, now more than ever, Dr. King’s message of acceptance and love for each other’s humanity seems as relevant and pressing as it ever was.
In thinking about Dr. King, I came across this quote from one of his early sermons that speaks about our responsibility to each other:
All I'm saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that, somehow, we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
This speaks to everyone involved in human activity, but it should ring a particular chord of significance with those of us involved in training and e-learning instructional design. As we sit manipulating LMS tags, signing off on learning objectives, manipulating our templates, or recording narration, it is easy to forget that all this activity actually has to ultimately connect to real-life; it has to mean something personal and empowering to each person who encounters it. The details of all the work we do matter nothing unless our training programs reach learners in a way that transforms each one of them directly.
A few years ago, I wrote a white paper that has been widely disseminated titled “Creating e-Learning That Makes a Difference”—such a simple phrase but one of such continuing power. Whatever our hurdles in crafting learning objectives, mastering tedious content, working with sometimes uncooperative SMEs, wrangling authoring tools, adhering to a design process matters nothing if we fail to make a difference in the learner. To use Dr. King’s phrase, we need to help our learners be what they ought to be.
So today, I just want to call your attention to the possibilities in your environment to make a difference. We’re not doing anything particularly useful just by putting more content on the internet or by creating another pretty animation or even by reporting the sheer number of users that have completed a course. Instead, we can make an enormous difference by first focusing on the learners and dedicate our efforts to crafting and experience that truly recognizes what they are in need of.
Maybe these thoughts on this holiday can create a renewed sense of perspective on the activities we engage in as designers, the responsibility we have, and the potential within our grasp to create real change in our learners. Until we do that, we’ll never be what we ought to be.