Thursday, November 17

Snake Oil - Revisited | Beyond the Blog

Two years ago today, a post to a quite little blog rocked the training and development world. The quiet little blog was Learning Circuits Blog and the post was by Sam Adkins. In his post entitled “We are the Problem: We’re Selling Snake Oil, Sam outlined how much of what eLearning had set out to accomplish and had claimed to have accomplished was all “snake oil.”

His post angered and scared many. But it also intrigued and emboldened many others who saw a need for our profession to change. Emails were sent to colleagues saying ‘you’ve got to go read this article.’ Passions ignited to protect training/learning professionals or to tear them down. Blame was spread around to everyone – it was the vendors/designers/theorists/customers/our/the technology’s fault – depending on who was commenting.

When it was all said and done, there were 60 comments in reaction to Sam’s “Snake Oil” post. To put this in perspective, the other 283 posts to Learning Circuits Blog between May 2002 and the end of October 2005 have averaged 3.19 comments per post. The list of commentors includes many of the thought leaders in our industry – Jay Cross, David Grebow, C. Michael Hecht, Tom Abele, Godfrey Parkin, Fred Nickols, Jerry Ash, Diana Royce Smith, etc.

What did he say? What was the reaction? Has it had any impact in the past two years? How does Sam feel now? These are all questions we will be answering in Learning Circuits Blog’s first Beyond the Blog.

In a comment on November 19, 2005; Andrew Williams wrote, “hopefully we will all look back on this provocation/post in a couple of years and view this as an inflection point in the industry.” All too often, we don’t come back to reflect on key moments. But that’s exactly what we will do in the next couple of weeks with your help.

Here’s what you can expect from Beyond the Blog over the next week:

  • Today - This general introduction to the Snake Oil Revisited Beyond the Blog
  • 11/18 (Fri) – Revisit Sam’s post
  • 11/28 (Mon) – Revisit the comments and the themes that arose through them
  • 11/29 (Tues) – Are we still selling snake oil? Over the past two years have things improved? worsened?
  • 11/30 (Weds) – Launch of thematic discussion wikis focusing on the themes

Each of the discussion wikis will be moderated by a member of the LCB Blog Squad.

From that point on, Beyond the Blog: Snake Oil Revisited will live as long as the discussions continue to develop. We’ll give you opportunities to vote in mini polls, create mini panel sessions, present content – text, graphic or podcasts to enhance the debates – whatever is doable and makes the debate more robust. We’ll be tracking all the activity in the summary box in the sidebar of LCB. And if you see the value in this debate and want your friends and colleagues to know about it, we will even have a Beyond the Blog: Snake Oil Revisited logo that you can cut and paste onto your own website.

It is our hope that you will feel free to jump into what should be a collection of spirited discussions about what we have been, what were today and what we will or won’t be as a profession in the future. It’s our hunch that by the time that glittery ball drops in Times Square in six weeks or so, we all will have learned something about ourselves, our colleagues, and perhaps what the new year holds for us.


Ben Watson said...


I'm not sure what you expect from us the readers. Do you want us to continue the conversation in the original posting or start posting here?

Personally, I would love to hear from Sam and others as to whose thoughts have changed over the years since he first posted.

Dave Lee said...

Thanks for the question Ben. For the time being, feel free to make comments to these posts. However, after Thanksgiving (see amended schedule in post above)we will be establishing five discussion forums which will encourage indepth discussions of particular topics.

We hope you'll going those conversations. But the comment capability of these posts will still exist.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, there will be a post looking at what has and hasn't changed in the past two years. Sam may join in as a commentor along the way, but his current commitments will prohibit him from authoring any posts.

Hope that clarifies things a bit.


Anonymous said...


I tried to access the comments that accompany the original "Snake Oil" article, but I was unable. Is there a solution to the problem?