Searching for "learning research," Work-Learning Research is fairly highly rated.

Google: #4

Bing: #4

Yahoo: #6

I'm honored and want to thank all the fans who make it so.

First, read this article on the booming growth in the product-customization business.

Now consider how we in the learning-and-performance field might use the essential ideas of the product-customization business in our work.

The Tutoring Model

As learning professionals we know that one-on-one tutoring/coaching can provide superior benefits. Can we provide customized coaching?

Maybe social-media covers this a bit, but having a one-to-many relationship is NOT the same.

The Pretest Model

Pretesting and diagnostics that suggest learning content  might create benefits. Instead of offering training courses in a big LM-meSsy list, why not try to offer training diagnostics in a big list, and let our employees select their own training.

The Prequestion Model

Utilizing prequestions within learning content is a way to do mini-customizations within our current e-learning delivery paradigms. Prequestions tell learners whether to pay attention, and tell them which info to pay attention (and which to skim).

The Customized Job Aid Model

Job aids can work brilliantly to prompt learner/employee behavior, but they typically suffer from three problems. First, they have a maturation problem. As people do a task over time, they need less and less prompting. So, we might offer people a maturing job-aid that changes as their prompting needs change. Second, generic job aids don't energize like customized or grass-roots job aids do. Customized job aids might provide more engagement and they might also help with the first issue too–they might people create the job aid they need. Third, job aids tend to be developed by high-level experts without a full understanding of the on-the-ground realities that real employees/people face. For this reason, a job aid's "final version" may not actually be optimally effective. Enabling customized job aids might be just the thing to allow people to fine-tune job aids to make them more effective.

Job aids actually suffer from a fourth problem as well. They can be ignored and they can be habituated so that they no longer are processed deeply when people encounter them. Why not use the product-customization meme more literally by creating job aids embedded on the side of coffee mugs, on knick-knacks, on pens, etc.


Now that I've given you training entrepreneurs millions of dollars worth of ideas above, why not engage me to consult, to brainstorm more ideas, to ensure that your innovations are really learning-worthy, or just to meet the kind of guy who wouldn't blanch to make a direct appeal. SMILE.

Authenticity is not customizable…

If you're a knowledge worker, your productivity depends on your ability to give attention to your tasks. Unfortunately, the human cognitive system is designed to be wary of environmental events so it devotes some of its ongoing processing to scanning the environment. Thought interruptions naturally occur, lowering our productivity–including our output, creativity, effectiveness, and completeness.

If you've got your own office and your own door, you may be able to control outside distractions. But for many of us, we've got noisy creatures near us–our colleagues–requiring us to devote cognitive capacity to their trivial activities.

Fortunately, there are solutions. I just found a great one-two combination that is really working for me–for those times when I really need full-frontal attention.

  1. Noise-Canceling Headset.
  2. White Noise (see for example

I have a Audio-Technica Headset and I just discovered, which allows me to hear white noise, pink noise, and red/brown noise–and I can even have it oscillate.

Thoughts on Noise

White noise (or pink, red/brown noise) is great for when I really need to concentrate. I do a lot of writing and so hearing words–like song lyrics–is really disruptive. I have found a great grouping of African musicians on Last.FM, and that will often work great because most of the words are not in English so the lyrics don't disrupt. Other people like Pandora for music, but their "instrumental" section doesn't work for me. Somebody needs to come up with a way to filter out songs with English words.

Noise-Canceling Headsets

If you haven't used noise-canceling headsets, here are some things you should know (before you buy):

  1. They do NOT block out all ambient noise, but they blunt its ability to disrupt your thoughts.
  2. They block much, much more ambient noise when you are listening to music or white noise. In fact, without adding noise inside the earpieces you may not think the noise-cancellation technology is doing enough.
  3. If you are buying these specifically for airplane travel, know that you are generally NOT allowed to wear them on takeoffs and landings (when the noise is at its height).

I don't really know whether one brand of noise-cancellation headsets is better than another. For example, it's not clear if Bose is worth the extra money.

I do think an investment in noise-canceling headsets will pay itself back in productivity. On the other hand, your spouse may get really annoyed…


If you want to be like me, here is a link to the updated version of my headsets:

Training Magazine is looking for nominations for the Best Young Trainer Award (have to be under 40).

Let's nominate someone who utilizes research-based recommendations–and does it with practical wisdom.

If you know someone, nominate them using this link.

It is not always enough to know something. Often people must
respond immediately to circumstances. Often they must respond under stress and
distraction. To be able to do this, they need to develop a cognitive link
between situational cues and action.

On January 9th 2009, firefighter Robert O’Neill
was at the wheel of a 22-ton fire truck as it headed down a steep street in
Boston. When O’Neill attempted to apply the brakes, nothing happened. As the
truck gained speed heading straight for a large brick wall,
O’Neill made frantic attempts to pump the brakes and shift into another gear—ultimately
shifting into neutral. His efforts went to no avail and the truck crashed through the brick wall into
an apartment building injuring several children in an afterschool program and killing
his colleague, firefighter Lieutenant Kevin M. Kelley who was riding beside
O’Neill in the truck’s passenger seat.

Photo from Boston Globe Story

After an 11-month investigation, District Attorney Daniel
Conley reported that O’Neill received “limited classroom instruction and no driver
training in the proper use of air brakes in downhill and emergency
” What’s really tragic is that O’Neill’s actions in that time
of panic may have actually made things worse. As the Boston Globe reported:

The driver did not know to check brake pressure before he got
behind the wheel that day and then, when the brakes failed, did not know how to
engage secondary braking systems. Instead, he pumped the brakes, releasing any
remaining air pressure from the brake system, and put the truck into neutral, preventing
the secondary brakes from engaging.

Many things might have prevented this tragedy. The truck
could have been better maintained. A job aid that forced drivers to do routine
safety check might have been used to ensure brake pressure. Management oversight
might have prompted the drivers to actually engage safety routines. Training
that helped drivers understand how air brakes worked might have helped—just
before the accident the driver turned the truck around in a parking lot
releasing air pressure in the braking system. Finally, the driver could have
been trained to spontaneously remember what do when facing such a situation.

Ideally, when someone is in an emergency situation, the cues
from that situation ought to remind them of what to do. As learning
professionals we want to help our learners engage in spontaneous remembering.
To do this, we need to help our learners make links between situational cues
and actions. It can help to teach these links, but it is even better to have
learners practice these links.

Research on general context-alignment effects shows the
benefits of making such links (for reviews see Bjork & Richardson-Klavehn,
1989; Smith, 1988; Smith & Vela, 2001; Eich, 1980; Roediger & Guynn,
1996; Davies, 1986). Research on retrieval practice shows us the benefits of
retrieval practice in automating such responding (for reviews on retrieval
practice see Roediger & Karpicke, 2006a; Pashler, Rohrer, Cepeda, &
Carpenter, 2007; Bjork, 1988; Crooks, 1988). Finally, recent research on implementation
intentions shows how powerful it can be to help learners link situational cues
to action (for review see Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006).

If firefighter O’Neill had been properly trained, when he
found himself careening down the street with inadequate brakes, the situation
would have reminded him to apply steady pressure on the brakes and engage the
secondary braking system.

What makes this situation even sadder is that firefighters
typically have lots of time between emergencies to engage in training. Even if
a high-fidelity simulation was too expensive, a simple e-learning program that
simulated driving emergencies might have worked to create cognitive links
sufficient to create spontaneous remembering.



Bjork, R. A. (1988). Retrieval
practice and the maintenance of knowledge. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris, R.
N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical Aspects of
Memory: Current Research and Issues, Vol. 1., Memory in Everyday Life
396-401). NY: Wiley.

Bjork, R. A., &
Richardson-Klavehn, A. (1989). On the puzzling relationship between
environmental context and human memory. In C. Izawa (Ed.) Current Issues in Cognitive Processes: The Tulane Floweree Symposium on
(pp. 313-344). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Crooks, T. J. (1988). The
impact of classroom evaluation practices on students. Review of Educational Research, 58, 438-481.

Davies, G. (1986). Context effects in episodic memory:
A review. Cahiers de Psychologie
Cognitive, 6
, 157-174.

Eich, J. E. (1980). The cue dependent nature of state
dependent retrieval. Memory and
Cognition, 8
, 157-173.

Gollwitzer, P. M., &
Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A
meta-analysis of effects and processes. Advances in Experimental Social
Psychology, 38, 69-119.

Pashler, H., Rohrer, D., Cepeda, N. J., &
Carpenter, S. K. (2007). Enhancing
learning and retarding forgetting: Choices and consequences.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14,

Roediger, H. L., III, & Guynn,
M. J. (1996). Retrieval processes. In E. L. Bjork & R. A. Bjork (eds.), Memory (pp. 197-236). San Diego, CA:
Academic Press.

Roediger, H.L. & Karpicke, J.D. (2006a). The power
of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1,

Smith, S. M. (1988). Environmental context-dependent
memory. In G. M. Davies & D. M. Thomson (eds.) Memory in Context: Context in Memory (pp. 13-34), Chichester, UK:

Smith, S. M., & Vela, E. (2001). Environmental
context-dependent memory: A review and meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 8, 203-220.

Story of the accident:

Story of the accident

Photo from Massachusetts AFL-CIO website

Lieutenant Kevin M. Kelley
(Killed in Fire Truck Accident)

Is this effective e-learning?

Click here to see e-learning using only audio and photographs.

Sure, it's missing interactivity, retrieval practice, and a focus on application; but it does hint at the emotional power that can be created with good simple design.

I've got a file in my email from Indian e-learning companies who have contacted me because I am an important decision maker at Work-Learning Research, Inc. (my research and consulting practice). I must have gotten emails from over 50 Indian e-Learning companies. Almost enough so that I have begun to feel a deep personal relationship.

Perhaps this is why I read this article in the New York Times with such interest. It says that Indian companies are afraid they will remain the low-cost provider and they will fail to innovate.

Well, I wonder if this is true in the learning-and-performance field. I'm not an industry analyst so I'm sure I don't see the big picture here, but the following data points come to mind:

  1. Almost all of my emails from Indian e-learning companies highlight their cost advantage.
  2. My efforts over the years to get consulting or workshop business with Indian e-learning companies has been fruitless. If they wanted to differentiate their work by investing in research-based insights, you'd think at least one Indian e-learning firm would have attempted to warm themselves in the glow of my wisdom. WINK. WINK. Maybe my marketing might is poorly directed.
  3. I have heard some Indian e-learning company employees talking about Indian e-learning companies taking over the U.S. marketplace within the next 10 years…
  4. Many U.S. vendors I have talked with who off-shored their development work to India talked about poor instructional design. Of course, they might just be ticked off at the price competition or worried about their jobs.
  5. NIIT bought one of our most premium brands, Cognitive Arts, many years ago now, but such mergers don't seem to be trending up.

What's going on? If you have an idea–or just some more data points–leave a comment below.

Until they begin to hire me, I won't believe they are truly ready to innovate.

I can be reached in the U. S. at my contact information. SMILE.

Seriously though, anybody know who's keeping tabs on the Indian e-learning invasion? Anybody know what's going on?

Starting today, December 1, 2009, bloggers who review products will have to fully disclose their ties and reveal any free products they receive. See article in NY Times announcing the ruling.

Within the last year, I was sent a learning product worth over $500, presumably to try to entice me to use it and give it a good review. That product is still in its shrink wrap. I've also had several inquiries over the years about whether I'd be willing to review a learning intervention and say nice things. I won't make such a deal.

Do you ever wonder which workplace learning blogs are slanting their reviews? Me too.

Anyway, today such incentivized bias is supposed to stop.