There's nothing so practical as a good theory.

—Kurt Lewin, 1940

I'll excite their minds with the desire to know.

—Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Why This Book: First Principles and a Common Language

"Every professional language," George Bernard Shaw once quipped, "is a conspiracy against the laity." The field of learning and performance is no different. Even within this relatively small discipline there are subdisciplines, each one spouting its own code jargon and making it difficult for beginners and even professionals to communicate readily with one another, let alone with clients. The International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), for instance, speaks of "human performance technology"; the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) speaks of "performance improvement"; and organizational developers speak of "interventions and change management initiatives." All three speak of "knowledge management"—and yet mean something different by it in each case.

I compiled this book because of the need for a common language in the learning and performance field. When I first entered the field some twenty years ago (when it was called training and development), most of the information to be found was in unreadable five-pound textbooks and 800-page handbooks. Moreover, the field seemed less a discipline than a series of fads, fashions, and flavors of the month. By now, the field has existed for over a century since its beginnings, and it seemed to me as good a time as any for clearing the ground for a foundational discipline— for rethinking and reformulating first principles. With clearer definitions and philosophical distinctions, the field will be able to continue to thrive, and to carry even more impact than it has in the past.

How to Use This Book: The 30-Second Access

The book is designed as a multilevel database: You can jump in at any level and retrieve the information required—from a one-sentence definition of "systems," for instance, to an extensive range of research on the art of designing systems. The book aims to provide you with the information you need at the moment you need it—be it Information Lite or Deep Data. Here is the way three different user levels would utilize the book:


  • Have you suddenly been catapulted into a training department without a Ph.D. from Harvard? Don't know what they're talking about in meetings? Read this little book when you're back at your desk. It will ramp you up quickly and point you in the right direction.

  • For a brief systematic introduction, read Part One, from beginning to end, to gain an overview of the learning and performance improvement process, from analysis through solution-design to implementation and evaluation.


  • Using the table of contents and the index, you can locate any subject ("learning object") and read the initial definition within thirty seconds. Spend a couple of minutes reading the rest of the entry or certain cross-references—then go have lunch or go to your next meeting (or, if you have the afternoon off, go read one of the five-pound text-books I have referenced in the Fastpaths sections).

Advanced Practitioners:

  • A practicing expert and know everything? Kick back on your next lunch break and read the section on "Dante: Curriculum as Memory Theatre" in Part Three, and let your brain rock and roll on sun storms of association toward a new award-winning learning and performance initiative!

The Fastpaths as Pointers to Expert Texts

Throughout the book there are chronological listings of key events in the development of the different theories and concepts, called Fastpaths. These Fastpath sections, which provide a sense of the historical development of each concept, are of particular interest to advanced practitioners and researchers. Practitioners looking for only practical steps can skip these listings.