3 Truths About Millennials and Workplace Learning

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As a Millennial, I have felt at times turned off by the over-generalizations often presented about my generation. In my view, most of the changes in the workplace that we often say are coming from Millennials are actually larger shifts happening across all generations. It may be tempting for an organization to focus its L&D efforts on catering to the perceived “new characteristics” of Millennials, but I think doing so ignores the bigger picture.

Who Are The Millennials Anyway?

One of the tricky challenges about talking about any generation is deciding when to make the cut-off.

Depending on what research study or news article you read, the Millennial generation began with people born from 1977 – 1982 and ended with birthdays from 1992 – 2004. That is a pretty wide range of variation!

In “Here is When Generation Begins and Ends, According to Facts,” The Atlantic’s Philip Bump interviewed Tom DiPrete, a sociology professor at Columbia University about this challenge. According to Diprete, “…the boundaries end up getting drawn to some extent by the media.” And while it made sense to define the Baby Boomers as a specific timeframe because of the powerful societal changes happening after World War II, he points out that “…history is not always so punctuated.”

When I read articles or hear talks about the millennial generation, the difference between millennials is portrayed as very punctuated. Older generations only wanted to work for a paycheck… but Millennials want meaning. Boomers and Gen X’ers don’t care as much about mobile devices and social media… but Millennials do.

I think that a bit of “moral panic” happens when we talk about Millennials in the workplace. Stanley Cohen coined this term in 1973 in his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics. He says:

Another feature of this “academic moral panic” is its structure as a series of strongly bounded divides: between a new generation and all previous generations; between the technically adept and those who are not; and between learners and teachers. … Thus, the language of moral panic and the divides established by commentators serve to close down debate, and in doing so allow unevidenced claims to proliferate.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Reframing the Conversation

If we accept the fact that 1) the divide between generations is fuzzy at best and 2) the characteristics we pin to Millennials are not exclusive to Millennials because of the year they were born, we are prepared to have a more productive conversation about how to better position our organizations for multi-generational success.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

1. Mobile Impacts All Generations

The common rhetoric is that because Millennials are “digital natives” who grew up with technology, that they are intrinsically different from other generations. When I am at a conference or some other event where I see individuals from all generations staring at their phones, I am reminded that it is not just Millennials who are dependent on technology.

This is why a mobile learning strategy should be designed based on the needs of your entire workforce and not just cater to younger employees. For example, outside sales reps who are rarely at a desktop computer will benefit from a mobile learning solution regardless of what generation they happen to be. It’s about what type of job they have, not how old they are.

2. Social Media Comes Down to Personal Preference

It’s true: social media came to the forefront when many Millennials were in high school or college. But while Millennials may have been the first users of social networking sites, the people who choose to share their lives on social media come from all generations. My own circle of friends shares very little on social media, while my parents and older relatives are frequent users of both Facebook and Twitter.

It seems to me that one’s usage of social media is defined less by their generation and more by their personality and, when it comes to Twitter and LinkedIn, their professional goals. It would be a mistake to launch a “social learning initiative” targeted at Millennials just because they are supposed to like social media. It is important to observe the habits and preferences of your actual employees rather than trying to follow generational trends.

3. Of Course Young People Need Skill Development

Articles often say that Millennials lack the necessary skills they need to succeed in the workplace. They are said to need lots of professional development and that they seek feedback from managers to help them improve.

I would argue that any generation just entering the workforce is going to need plenty of skill development! Likewise, professionals who are farther into their careers may also need development to keep their skill sets current. Employee training and development should focus on the needs of employees based on designations such as years of professional experience or tenure at the company rather than trying to focus on a generational divide.

What Do You Think?

I am by no means a sociologist or researcher who focuses on generations. My goal is simply to spark some discussion and encourage learning & development professionals to focus on how culture shifts and new technology impact all of us, rather than zeroing in on a specific generation. What has your experience been when it comes to generational differences in the workplace? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Can Micro-Learning Help Stressed, Unmotivated Learners?


I’ve published two posts on micro-learning in recent months. One was on this site; one was done for ATD. Both generated discussion with some folks debating my assertion that we need to be very cautious about leaping to it. I’m going to stand by my assertion. I think “micro-lessons” can be great for some things; I do not think they are the answer to most things. And for learners who are over-extended and not motivated to learn in the first place, they are not the answer at all.

Will Thalheimer, someone I respect tremendously in the arena of learning science research and applying research to practices, wrote an extensive comment to my ATD post. He also linked to a post by Alex Khurgin, CEO of Grovo, a SaaS company that produces lots of micro-learning. Khurgin positions micro-learning as good for 21st century businesses. Khurgin’s blog is high-level and, in general, promotes micro-learning as the solution to the crazy pace that exemplifies many of today’s organizations.

Here’s the thing. I feel like I am an example of the “C-suite” person so many say are the reason we need to shift to micro-learning. I do not own a Fortune 500 company, but I am a business owner who has concerns about maximizing what my team can do. My company has been named as one of the top 25 fastest growing companies in Indiana… and making sure our team members continually learn and grow is a key reason why we’re on that list. Their skill and knowledge fuels company growth.

Why Companies *Think* Learners Need Micro-Learning

Micro-Learning 1

Within my company (and probably many others), these truths all affect my team’s ability to learn:

  1. We’re stressed. Life is stressful, not just work. We all have a bazillion things to do each day and many people who need things from us.
  2. We face multiple interruptions each day. If we don’t discipline ourselves to ignore email, disconnect from instant messaging, or mute our phones, we can be distracted every few minutes all day long every day.
  3. Time is limited. We never feel like we have enough time to get things done.
  4. We want to enjoy life. Most folks don’t want to work 60-hour weeks; we need for our work – and our learning – to happen within the sanity of a 40- to 45-hour work week. Sadly, we don’t all hit the goal of 45-hour maximums, which makes carving out time for learning a constant challenge if it is not prioritized.
  5. Maintaining focus is HARD. New technologies and ideas are like squirrels, tempting us to run off in new directions all the time. We see these squirrels when we consume content on social media – checking out links sent via tweets,  perusing Zite, monitoring our Feed.ly accounts. We can get highly distracted just trying to “keep up.”

Micro-learning is identified as the answer to items 2, 3, and 5 from that list, but I do not believe it is truly “the” answer to any of them. It sounds great on the surface, but the root of the problem goes deeper.

Motivate, Focus, Repeat.

So what is the answer? I think these things are…

  1. Make sure motivation exists. Putting people who have zero desire to be learning into a learning situation is a recipe for flushing money down the drain. Motivation trumps almost everything else. Really great instructional designers can help with motivation, but only to a point. People need to perceive that learning the new skill matters to them in a significant way.
  2. Make sure focused time is available  Get clear on company priorities…and realize you can  only execute on one priority at a time. Without time to focus, people cannot learn. Don’t think you can squeeze a learning experience into five minutes per day.
  3. Repeat to remember. Assume that people will need to have multiple repetitions to truly learn something. Repetition can be effective in short, continuous bursts… but I’ll save that discussion for another blog post.
  4. Make sure there are immediate opportunities to use what’s being learned. Without the immediate opportunity to apply, learning gets lost.This would be a second way you can flush money down a drain.
  5. Make sure someone else – besides the learner – cares about what someone is learning. Someone else, either a manager or co-worker, needs to inquire about what’s being learned. If people never get to talk about or reflect on what they are learning, the learning will be extremely limited and difficult for the person to apply it.


Right now, I am taking a 5-session MOOC (massive open online course) called Smart Growth for Private Businesses. It includes about 5.5 hours of lectures, several quizzes, and four case studies that are each 12-15 pages in length. I started the class about three weeks ago; I’m now three-fourths of the way through it and should have it completed in the next week or so. The lectures are organized into relatively small chunks, which are interspersed with 2-minute quizzes. The first sessions lectures are organized into “bites” of varying lengths that range in length from 2 minutes to 26 minutes. To date, I’ve invested several hours and I think every hour as been hugely valuable.

My completion of this course hits the five ingredients I feel are necessary for learning:

  1. I’m motivated. My company is growing extremely fast; we want to control our growth to maximize the health of our company and its team members. We’re also getting ready to start another strategic planning cycle and I will use the info from the course as we execute this process.
  2. I’m finding time to focus because focus matters. I’ve clarified my priorities… and taking this course is one of those priorities.
  3. I am reviewing the content with myself and others. I have taken notes, I’ve gone back and reviewed sections, etc. I’m repeating to remember… even using the white boards on my walls to write down key concepts I want to retain.
  4. I already mentioned strategic planning we’re preparing to do. I have an immediate need for the content.
  5. Two others in the company are also taking the course. Having someone to talk to is huge in retaining the information and learning from it.

So… that’s not micro-learning as I’ve seen it defined. But I can tell you I am getting excellent results, and I absolutely do not believe I would be getting excellent results if this content was of low or even medium value to me and delivered in small, five-minute chunks each day.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts: can micro-learning truly help an employee who is stressed and lacks motivation learn?

L&D in 2015: Too Much Content, Too Little Time


Have you seen the latest list of learning trends for 2015, yet? It might sound familiar to you. “Big data, gamification, mobile/micro/social learning.” These trends are supposed to be your focus for the year. You are supposed to be an innovative learning professional who integrates these throughout your learning strategy.


The real trend in learning and development, or in any business function where training is needed, is how the central challenges and pain points do not change much year after year. In many ways, organizations are still faced with the same central issues they dealt with five years ago… or more.

We conducted a Learning and Remembering Survey in December 2014 to learn more about these issues from subscribers to our Lessons on Learning newsletter, which includes our clients and other L&D professionals at Fortune 500 organizations. Do any of these challenges sound familiar?

  • Too much content delivered to learners and/or content that changes frequently.(39%)
  • Lack of knowledge transfer, lack of learner retention. (38%)
  • Lack of organizational buy-in, gaps in process and management support. (29%)
  • Lack of learner motivation, lack of focus. (26%)

See the full survey results here.

These four challenge areas came up again and again in the responses we received. The real trends to watch in 2015 are not new technologies or products, but rather recurring problems and pain points that organizations need to solve.

Organizations overload learners with content, and it changes quickly.

Organizations have more “information” to pass on to their employees than ever before. Product and service offerings may change frequently, or a compliance standard might have a new wrinkle that is critical to employees on the job. Regardless of the “what,” it’s clear that content overload is a big problem. It’s no wonder that survey respondents noted that…

Employees struggle to internalize the knowledge and skills they need to perform effectively.

Maybe your sales reps are spread across multiple locations… and the follow-up resources are dependent on what each location wants to do. Or maybe it’s difficult to actually connect what is covered in training to the job experience. Employees are often asked to internalize a large volume of information and recall it when needed. Is your training helping them do that?

The problem is that, even when L&D knows there is too much content, and that employees are not retaining it…

Stakeholders do not buy in to new training approaches.

Maybe it’ a middle manager who does not want to take employees off the phones long enough to play the new serious game you want to implement. Or perhaps it’s a shift manager who is not enforcing the compliance training that you need learners to take, even though you made it engaging and instructionally sound. Other times, stakeholders might be completely disconnected from what’s happening in the lab or on the sales floor.

Whatever the barrier, knowing that your training is broken is not enough to fix it. And when a manager or stakeholder becomes an immovable barrier and training stays the same…

Learners are not motivated to embrace the existing training.

Maybe they find the eLearning course boring. Perhaps sales reps are working around your training to Google facts on the products they need to sell, even though you tried to deliver product knowledge training that would help them retain this information. Sometimes, employees simply do not see the value in training. The return on investment for their time is unclear.

The training delivered needs to change… but how?

Is There a “Quick Fix”?

Controlling the flow of content to learners, ensuring knowledge transfer and maximizing learner engagement are all tall orders. If there was an easy answer, organizations would have figured it out by now!


Before you launch your next training initiative in 2015, take some time to identify the issues you are facing, or the problems you need to solve. It’s great to imagine how one or more of the “trendy” approaches can help solve these problems, but also consider what existing tools and resources can be used in a different way. Don’t forget to focus on the “why”… and measure success.

And no matter what programs you launch or delivery methods you choose, make sure the training you create is rooted in effective instructional design that truly drives both learning and remembering.


See the Results from Our 2014 Learning and Remembering Survey


We received a variety of thoughtful responses to our two-question survey on learning and remembering. Their was a wide diversity in respondents: 34 individuals from 21 different industries participated.

The results provide a snapshot of the type of knowledge employees need to remember most to be effective in their jobs… and the challenges that make it difficult to train them on this knowledge.


Manufacturing Medical Device and Diagnostics Biotech Pharma Defense Agricultural Supplies Higher Education
Food Security & Investigations Banking Health & Beauty Web Hosting eLearning Healthcare
Life Science Business Software Government Industrial Products Car rental Information Technology Automotive
Total Respondents: 34

What do employees need to remember?

The first question of our survey asked: What knowledge do your employees need to remember to be successful in their jobs?

Responses were heavily focused on fact-based knowledge. 77% of respondents mentioned topics like process, procedures and product knowledge that employees must know cold. 18% of respondents said that the most important topic was not what this information is, but where to find and locate it.

Only 24% of respondents mentioned soft skills and/or  “big picture” knowledge as an area employees need to remember.


Selected Survey Responses:

Any information that must be recalled within a short timeframe, needed to make decision that could have substantial negative consequences or is used frequently.
Product and service knowledge: features and benefits and procedural details
Process for working across many business units. Communication protocols, how to leverage resources
Product, customers, competition knowledge. Articulate value prop and how it connects to customer needs and competition
Specific facts, figures, vocab and ideas… what they are, how it fits into their experience and how to apply that knowledge in real world settings to impact their jobs
Where to find information needed on the job
Sales people: basic understanding of market forces, product knowledge, sales and ordering proces
Company mission, vision and values
Compliance: AGSL, ACL, Privacy Act, Anti Money Laundering
Customer service skills, sales skills and founding values of company

What Makes it hard for employees to remember?

We also asked: What challenges do you face when delivering training that helps employees remember this knowledge?

Keep in mind that each respondent was not asked to list every challenge they face. The question was open-ended, so some listed a single challenge and others listed two or three interconnected challenges.

Since fact-based knowledge is seen by respondents as important to remember, it’s no surprise that knowledge transfer and retention (38%) is the number one challenge faced when delivering training on these topics. Lack of buy-in and process gaps (29%) also poses a major challenge, which suggests that many L&D professionals have great ideas for how to improve knowledge transfer, but can not get buy-in from their organizations.

To make matters worse, 26% of respondents noted how learners are not motivated by current training approaches.

Another issue is the volume of ever-changing content in organizations. 24% of respondents rated “too much content” as a big challenge, while 15% cited the ever-changing nature of their content as an obstacle.


Selected Survey Responses:

Reinforcement is difficult because there are multiple locations, follow-up dependent on the local location
Forgetting happens quick; training thought of as insignificant to job
Determining what needs to be known “cold” vs find and locate.
Managers not willing to pull employees off the phone, limiting training to job aids and one on ones
Gap between managers perceptions and what’s actually happening on the floor
Learners too distracted to concentrate on training
Employees don’t see value of training: can’t find the return on investment of their time and energy and how it impacts their results
Call centers creating ineffective training without talking to trainers
Lack of time to put together training with high detail incorporated well
Too many nuances of different product markets to communicate in training solutions
Ever changing scope and location of resources


Most survey respondents believe  that essential process, procedural and product information is highly important for employees to remember. This is the information that truly must be embedded into memory for employees to improve their performance.

The questions we asked were open-ended, and there certainly are other important areas of knowledge for employees to remember, but it can be argued that this practical, “nuts and bolts” type of information is what really makes a day-to-day impact on the job. What are the features of Product A? What are the steps to Process B?

remembering in corporate learning

If we use the challenges shared by respondents to paint a bigger picture, we start to see what is likely a familiar scenario for your organization: A large volume of content changes frequently… and learners have difficulty retaining and applying this content on the job. They are unmotivated from the current training approaches, yet managers and stakeholders in the organization do not buy in to changing or improving the existing training.

Organizations that want their L&D initiatives to have a real impact in 2015 should reflect on these challenge areas… and ways to overcome them.

Our “Recipe” for Learning and Remembering in Corporate Learning


Some employees get too little training. They sit through a few classroom sessions, see some slides, and get very little help at actually doing their job.

Others get too much training. The list of required eLearning courses is too long, and actually takes them away from their responsibilities. The learning and remembering ends up happening outside of, or in spite of, the training requirement.

Most organizations invest heavily in training their employees, yet employees still do not retain the critical knowledge they need to be successful. This is why we focus our research on why employees forget. How do our brains respond when we learn new information? Is there a pattern to forgetting?

Sharon Boller’s work has explored the divide between remembering and forgetting extensively in 2014. Her white paper, When Remembering Really Matters, identifies eight strategies, four for learning and four for remembering, that help fight forgetting.

Sharon’s presentation at DevLearn 2014 presented these strategies from a new perspective. Have a look:

learning and remembering as a “recipe”

In her presentation, Sharon illustrates how the elements required for learning and remembering fit together into a repeatable process. When used correctly this process, or “recipe,” can yield our desired outcomes.

Here’s a look at the entire recipe from start to finish:


What elements are required to learn?

Before we can remember anything, we have to first learn it! Research (and experience) tells us that motivation, relevant practice, and specific, timely feedback are all required for learning… but that’s not the whole story. These are all essential parts of the learning process, but we have to take remembering into consideration to complete our recipe.

What elements are required to remember?

In her white paper and presentation, Sharon presents four strategies to use when you really want learners to remember:

  1. Spaced intervals – not a single “glop”
  2. Repetition – several instances of it
  3. Feedback – with requirement to do it right after making mistake
  4. Stories

One particular reason spacing works is that it eliminates the “glop.” With learning, too much = nothing. If you overload the learner with information then none of it will stick. Space the learning out and use repetitions to cement the content.

Finally, story helps create context and an emotional response in the learner, both of which are proven to increase retention. This is one of the reasons that games can be such a powerful learning tool.

So what’s the real recipe for learning and remembering?



Motivation: Employees/players/learners need to be motivated to learn. The most obvious way to do this is to incentivize them somehow, and that can work, but that provides only extrinsic motivation. The best learning happens when the learner is intrinsically motivated. Think about what your learners might need to want to participate in the training. Could you make it more fun? Do they want to compete?


Relevant Practice: It is crucial that your learners practice. The saying “practice makes perfect” might be cliche, but it’s true. Think about ways you can encourage practice over time… and make sure it’s relevant to the goals you set.


Specific, Timely Feedback: Feedback is one of the most essential ingredients because it allows your learners to correct mistakes and stops them from building any bad habits or repeating incorrect information. Behavioral psychology shows time and time again, however, that the feedback must be specific and it must be quick, so that the learner can make the connections between the correct feedback and their mistake.


Spacing and Repetition: Now we’re getting into the ingredients that are crucial to long-term retention. Without repetition at strategically spaced intervals, learners will forget 30 – 90% of what they learned in 2-6 days time. Spaced repetition is the secret to fighting this forgetting curve.


Story: As we stated above, story both gives the learner context and creates an emotional element that will help them retrieve the information later. It’s easier to remember an alien telling the safety guidelines that can help you keep your lab safe from invaders than it is to remember those same guidelines from a boring PDF.

Test the recipe in your own “Kitchen”

What do you think of these strategies? Have you applied any of them in your own training? What obstacles make it hard to do so?

The Science of Remembering: Strategies for Long-Term Retention (Free Webinar)


Employees are required to complete a lot of training during the year, so much so that it is simply impossible for them to remember everything that is asked of them. Sharon Boller spoke to these challenges in her recent white paper: “When Remembering Really Matters: Learning Strategies for Long-Term Retention.” The white paper includes strategies for both learning and remembering, emphasizing the need to improve the effectiveness of the initial training event as well as the post-training reinforcement strategy.


VP of Client Relations Leanne Batchelder took these ideas a step further last week at CLN Week West. Her session included expanded case studies of clients where we have applied the science of learning and remembering to achieve tangible business results.

If increasing what employees remember is a priority for you in your role, I encourage you to join Leanne and I for our upcoming webinar, “The Science of Remembering: Proven Techniques for Helping Learners Obtain New Knowledge and Skills.” The webinar is based off of Leanne’s CLN Week West presentation, but also includes some expanded “show and tell” from our custom eLearning projects.

The webinar will be held on Tuesday, June 3rd at 1 pm PDT, 10 am EDT. Click here to register.

Leanne will spotlight two corporate learning case studies that show how incorporating research-based design techniques into your learning solutions will improve knowledge and skill retention, and ultimately drive business outcomes. We’ll take a look at what we did, how we did it, and the results we achieved with a single online learning game for ExactTarget sales reps and a larger, blended curriculum for Roche Diagnostics customers.

What Will You Learn?

4 proven strategies that inhibit forgetting and enhance remembering.

Explanation, examples and research behind specific learning design techniques: spaced learning, distributed practice, repetition, feedback and more.

The real cost of not remembering

ASTD estimates that in 2012, organizations invested $164.2 billion in employee training. How much of your training investment goes to waste?

Ways to incorporate these strategies into a single learning solution or large curriculum

Case studies from our work with Roche Diagnostics and ExactTarget demonstrate how these learning strategies impact business results

How to put it all together

Perhaps most importantly of all, the expanded webinar includes a summary of five business challenges we solved for our clients using a combination of these strategies.

Click here to Register!

When Remembering Really Matters – New White Paper from Sharon Boller

Sharon Boller, President of Bottom-Line Performance, has authored a new white paper: When Remembering Really Matters: Learning Strategies for Long-Term Retention. It’s full of research, case studies, and advice for learning professionals ready to reduce the amount of information learners forget from all types of training.

Here’s what is covered in the white paper:

What will learners remember?


The question is not asked often enough in most organizations. Research shows us that most of what we learn is forgotten after a learning event, so what can we as learning professionals do to combat this in our designs?

The Cost of Not Remembering


Managers, Directors, and VP’s are painfully aware of what happens when critical training concepts are forgotten. ASTD estimates that in 2012, organizations invested $164.2 billion in employee training. How much of your training investment goes to waste?

Remembering is hard; forgetting is easy

You’ve probably heard of Herman Ebbinghaus’ famous “Forgetting Curve,” based on research done in the late 19th century. While the curve can approach 90% in terms of total information forgotten, more recent research shows that the Forgetting Curve is highly variable. Regardless of the exact percentage, What percentage of what we learn do YOU think is okay to forget?

Four Strategies to Foster Long-Term Retention

Sharon introduces four proven strategies that inhibit forgetting and enhance remembering. You’ll learn more about how to apply these strategies, and the research behind them, in the white paper:

  1. Provide frequent, spaced intervals of learning instead of “glops” or “unrepeated waves.”
  2. Provide multiple repetitions.
  3. Provide immediate feedback for mistakes, and make sure learners get it right before moving forward.
  4. Use stories to drive the learning experience.

All of these strategies are explained in detail within the white paper.

Learning comes before remembering


While the first part of the white paper focuses on remembering, part two is all about the learning. If employees never truly learn new knowledge or skill, they certainly will not remember it. Sharon introduces four strategies for learning that, coupled with the strategies for remembering, will lead to long-term retention.

  1. Balance the use of multimedia.
  2. Limit learner control in the course design.
  3. Personalize the experience as much as possible.
  4. Be ruthless in eliminating content.

Putting it all together

Perhaps most importantly of all, the white paper closes with a summary of five business challenges we solved for our clients using a combination of these strategies for learning and remembering.

Ready to change the way you design and deliver learning? Download the white paper now!

Learning Theories Gone Wild – Urban Myths that Hurt Your Learning Designs


I had lunch with one of our team members last week, and she shared a story about her elementary-aged son that made me cringe. The teacher had students take a “learning styles” assessment to determine their learning styles and assigned homework based on the learning style. Yikes! I thought the myths around learning styles had been settled long ago. As I learned last week – there are numerous unproven learning theories still running amok among designers and educators.

Our industry is rife with things that become hot trends – and then fizzle out. It’s also rife with various theories that hang around (probably due to their inclusion in a best-selling book). These theories turn into urban legends that people view as facts. They then make design decisions based on those “facts.” Let’s clear a few up.

Theory Gone Wild #1


“People have different learning styles. We need to design learning to address a variety of them.”

The truth: What a person “needs” in terms of instructional design depends on many factors such as prior knowledge, readiness to learn, motivation, etc… but not on a preferred learning style. This blog post from Guy Wallace in eLearn Magazine does a terrific job of summarizing the issue and the research findings. He reaches out to heavy hitters such as Ruth Clark, Harold Stolovitch, and Will Thalheimer. These are folks who work hard to review the research and assess the validity of it.

How to move away from the myth: Take time to understand the needs of your particular learner group. Learn about your particular audience and factor these things into your design:

  • The amount of prior knowledge the learner is bringing to the learning situation.
  • Their motivation to learn – will they see the learning solution as a huge benefit or as a chore? Do they perceive they already HAVE the skills? Do they see the learning as useful?
  • The complexity of the skill being taught; you need different strategies for a highly complex skill or subject matter area than you do for a simple one.
  • Appropriate contextual cues you can use to encourage transfer to the workplace; we do better when we can scaffold new content onto stuff we already know and know how to do.

Theory Gone Wild #2


“People only remember 10% of what they read; they will remember 90% of what they see, hear, and do.”

Older folks may recall seeing charts labeled “Cone of Learning” or “Cone of Experience” that were widely distributed  in the 1990s. I don’t see the charts as much as I used to, but I still hear percentages quoted.

The truth: Dr. Will Thalheimer tackles this one in great depth. The challenge, according to Thalheimer, is that the premise SOUNDS logical… but the percentages provided aren’t rooted in any quantitative research. In fact, the sources cited aren’t even real. Essentially this stuff is MADE UP but it sounds intuitively right and we accepted it without questioning how percentages were ever derived.

How to move away from the myth: Be very intentional in selecting strategies that are proven to help people remember. I love John Medina’s book, Brain Rules, for its summary of great “brain rules” that truly help people remember. These strategies all can enhance our ability to remember:

  • Space learning out – do it in small chunks, not as one uber session.
  • Provide lots of repetition – if we want to remember, we have to repeat things over and over.  (Yes, those Flashcards really worked in helping us learn things such as anatomy, multiplication, etc.)
  • Deliberately insert attention getters every 10 minutes or so. We get easily bored and we don’t pay attention to boring things. About every 10 minutes we have to re-engage that learner by introducing something that sparks emotion or interest.
  • Provide relevant feedback – Medina doesn’t talk about feedback in his brain rules, but Will Thalheimer does as does other research. (Ruth Clark and Richard Mayers’ book, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction offers nice guidance.)
  • Remember that visuals typically trump text in our memory. We more easily recall a picture than verbiage. Clark and Mayer talk about visuals; Medina does as well, offering compelling info on how we tend to think in pictures…not words.

Theory Gone Wild #3:


We will forget 90% of what we learn within 3-6 days’ time without reinforcement.

The truth: Forgetting DOES occur – the problem is the blanket statement about the percentage of forgetting that occurs. Some people will indeed forget 90%; others may only forget 30%. Way back in 1895, Hermann Ebbinghaus theorized that children in classrooms will forget up to 90% of their classroom instruction within 3 to 6 days without reinforcement. His studies done in support of his theory focused on remembering nonsensical syllables rather than meaningful content. Thalheimer attacks the forgetting percentages voraciously. He identifies research that points to several variables that influence the amount of forgetting that happens (spoiler alert – prior knowledge is a big one), and he puts together a scatter plot of various study results to show how widely forgetting percentages can be.

Thalheimer emphasizes that what matters most is recognizing proven strategies that help people REMEMBER and incorporating these strategies into the learning design .Effective strategies include the use of spaced learning and retrieval practice, repetition, feedback, and novelty.(See page 7 of Thalheimer’s white paper on forgetting.) These are a handful of the effective strategies that can enhance remembering.  Clark and Mayer’s book identifies others. John Medina, in Brain Rules, also expounds on what helps people remember.

Moving away from the myth: See the strategies under Theory Gone Wild #2.

Theory Gone Wild #4:


“Learners know best. For maximum engagement, let learners be self-directed. If we “force” learners down a linear path, we will de-motivate them.”

The truth: Many learners do a very poor job of learning and try to skip through with minimal effort and attention. One of Thalheimer’s most recent blog posts does a terrific job of blowing through this myth. He goes through numerous research studies and concludes, “WE CANNOT ALWAYS TRUST THAT OUR LEARNERS WILL KNOW HOW TO LEARN.” (His all-caps emphasis, not mine).

If you want to pay $39, you can get a terrific report from Educational Psychologist on three urban myths that all link to this one. My favorite is the one related to digital natives – and how they will intuitively learn better in online formats than “non-digital natives.”

Moving away from the myth:

If the learning matters, then employ research-proven instructional design strategies and don’t assume people “will get what they need.” Also don’t assume that anyone with some subject matter expertise can craft the learning experience. Most people do not plan their learning well and they are not intentional in their learning. The instructional design has to save them from themselves.


Corporate Training in 2014: Business Goals, Learner Needs, or Both?


As we all settle back into our respective desk chairs for what should be an eventful 2014, our attention is naturally drawn to what’s new and trending. Where is the L&D industry headed? What new tools can help my learners right now? How does our business achieve the growth and performance goals it has set for the coming year?

We turn to two of our old friends, top 10 lists and emerging trends reports, to start answering these questions. My own browsing brought me to a few of my favorite sites: eLearningLearning.com, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningTags.com, and others. Through this browsing, I encountered a “2014 Learning Trends” article by Doug Harward in the Winter 2014 edition of Training Industry Magazine. 

The article is subtitled “Shifting to Business-Centric Learning.” In it, Harward suggests that the days of focusing on what learners need and want are over. It is time instead to focus first on the business objectives, and making sure training is carefully mapped to the desired outcomes.

I agree with Doug… to a point.

What’s your metric?

Corporate training is challenging because it has both tangible and intangible results. A 50% increase in average contract value for sales reps who complete training on a new product is a measurable outcome for training. We should be looking for these types of improvements… and expect to align training holistically with other parts of the business.

Training should be carefully embedded in the overarching company strategy. Why not make 2014 the year where (almost) every L&D initiative we launch is tied to a measurable outcome?

Who is your learner?

Objectives and outcomes are great, but If we move too far away from what learners need and, heaven forbid, want in the training they take, those tangible results will be more elusive. Considering the learner is still an important step in the process… but we must think on a deeper, more essential level.

Why not replace this:

“Let’s add points and badges to the course because learners think that’s fun.”

With this:

“Let’s add an element of competition to this learning solution because it is geared towards sales reps and they naturally work in a competitive environment. It will mirror their on-the-job situation… and we expect it will also increase retention.”

Even this example is rather basic. For every learning solution produced, it is the instructional designer’s job to really look at the science of how people learn… and how they forget. How should information be reinforced? Is it possible to use a research-based approach instead of just presenting content? Even the best instructional designers can fall victim to the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset that often plagues organizations.

let your goals and your learners work hand in hand

Let 2014 be the year when you consciously try to connect business goals to the learning solutions you develop. A business-centric approach is needed, and a major part of that approach includes designing and delivering training that learners will get the maximum benefit from. Its up to the L&D department to use a mix of modalities that will maximize engagement, motivation, and chances for relevant practice.

Let the business goals guide you… but let research-based approaches and best practices for learning design be the vehicle.

Gamification, Sales Training in Learning Solutions Magazine

Gamification, Sales Force Training

Image © Learning Solutions Magazine

Organizations faced with fast product launch cycles must simultaneously train sales teams, support teams, and customers on the features and benefits. There’s often no “easy button,” however games and gamification are shown to be some of the most effective methods for acquiring new knowledge quickly.

Dr. Karl Kapp, Ed.D has written a two part series on games and gamification for Learning Solutions Magazine. The series focuses on case studies that show the efficacy of games and gamification in business situations. He gathered the case studies while researching his latest book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook, which will be available soon.

Part two of Karl’s series is focused exclusively on product knowledge training for sales and support teams. The case study he uses is especially familiar to us: Karl describes how ExactTarget used our own Knowledge Guru game engine to get employees and partners up to speed on their MobileConnect product.

I suggest you read the full article, as it provides a comprehensive overview of how gamification principles can be applied to support a product launch and help people learn facts fast. The business results ExactTarget saw are particularly powerful:

The result for the business was that, of all the launches done in the two years previous to the MobileConnect launch, the sales team built one of the quickest pipelines for this product. The gamification approach improved product knowledge and helped the team build the sales pipeline while simultaneously reducing call-response times.

The hardest part about “selling” a learning game or gamification idea inside your organization is often just getting the initially buy-in. Thankfully, Karl’s upcoming book will feature many case studies, just like this one, to help making the case for a new gaming initiative easier.

So, read the full article to gather new ideas for implement games and gamification in your organization… and on how to use Knowledge Guru to make your own games.

Click the image below to read the full article.

The Gamification of Sales Force Training - Full Article