A little while ago, I wrote an article for my newsletter about how Subscription Learning might be used in Leadership Development.

I’m still a big believer, and I’m looking for organizations who want to pilot test the concept. Let me know…by clicking here.

ATD liked the article and asked if they could post it. Click to read the article.

If you want to sign up for my newsletter, click here.

I just read a great blog post by Dave Lutz of Velvet Chainsaw, a conference, meeting, and trade association consulting firm.

He makes the point that many vendors/suppliers don't attend the conference-education sessions in the conferences for which they exhibit their goods and services.

This really intrigues me because it cuts to the ideational health of an industry. Vendors control a large part of the information bandwidth in an industry. They’ve got sales people out talking to folks, they do a ton of content marketing, they produce the most webinars, white papers, and conference sessions in many industries. If they’re not learning and up-to-date, if they’re not hearing how ideas are connecting to practitioners, if they’re not hearing pushback from those who are debunking faulty information, a whole industry can suffer.

How Are We Doing?

How are we doing on this in the workplace learning industry?

I'm going to investigate this at the conferences where I speak. I'd love to hear what others know about this. Please let us all know in the comments below.




There’s too much crap floating around the learning and education fields; too many myths, misconceptions, and maladaptive learning designs. I started The Debunker Club and have been working to debunk myths for many years, so I’m passionate about the need for more debunking. The need is great and the danger to learning and learners is dire.

Fortunately, entering the world is a great new book by three researchers, Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul A. Kirschner, and Casper D. Hulshof. Their book is titled, Urban Myths about Learning and Education, and it’s jam packed with a list of 35 myths that plague our field.

You can buy it through Amazon by clicking the image below.

The book is sure to have a major impact in the education and training fields.

Partial List of Topics

Here is a list of the SOME of the myths they debunk*:

  • Learning styles
  • The bastardized version of Dale’s Cone
  • 70, 20, 10
  • No need for knowledge if we can look everything up
  • Discovery learning is best
  • Problem-based learning
  • School kills creativity
  • 93% of communication is non-verbal
  • We use only 10% of our brains
  • You can train your brain with brain games
  • We think most clearly when we’re under pressure
  • Neuroscience provides helpful recommendations
  • New technology is causing a revolution in education
  • The internet belongs on the classroom
  • The internet makes us dumber
  • Class size doesn’t matter

*Note that “debunk” doesn’t necessarily mean to rule out completely! Often the authors find supporting evidence for some of the claims, or partial evidence, or they highlight boundary conditions.

Quotes from the Book

To give you a sense of the book, here are some quotes:

On Learning Styles:

“Though appealing, no solid evidence exists showing that there is any benefit in adapting and designing education and instruction to these so-called styles. It may even  e the case that in doing so, administrators, teachers, parents and even learners are negatively influencing the learning process and the products of education and instruction.”


On the Too-Ready Belief in Neuroscience:

“In practice, at the moment it is only the insights of cognitive psychology [not neuropsychology] that can be effectively used in education, but even here care needs to be taken. Neurology has the potential to add value to education, but in general there are only two real conclusions we can make at present:

– For the time being, we do not really understand all that much about the brain.
– More importantly, it is difficult to generalize what we do know into a set of concrete precepts of behavior, never mind devise methods for influencing that behavior.”


On the 70-20-10 Rule

“Informal learning is certainly very important, but we could find no evidence in the scientific literature to support the ratio of 70% information learning, 20% learning from others, and 10% formal learning.”


On Problem-Based Learning

“The use of problem-based learning to learn new content does not have a positive learning effect. But there is a positive learning effect if you use problem-based learning to further explore and remember something that the learner already knows.”


On Class Size

“Some studies show that smaller classes are not necessarily better, but that is just a part of the story. The quality of the teachers seems to be more important than class size, but other studies do suggest that smaller classes also seem to have performed better.”

Strengths of the Book

  • After each of the 35 myths, the authors write a short conclusion that very clearly and succinctly sums up their findings. This is very helpful.
  • The 35 myths are almost all very well known and important issues that need a research-based commentary.
  • The authors appear to have done their homework in researching the topics in the book. Certainly in the areas of research that I know best, their findings are consistent with my reading of the research.
  • The authors weigh complicated evidence in a manner that is fair and thoughtful.

Weaknesses of the Book

  • While the authors have designed the book specifically to reach practitioners (teachers, trainers, instructional designers, professors, and other learning professionals), they too often fall into the trap of using research jargon, which will make it difficult for some of their intended audience to fully comprehend some of the finer points of the book.

To Buy the Book, or Not?

Absolutely! Buy the book now! Occasionally, you might have some trouble with the jargon, but the most important messages will come through loud and clear.

This is a great book to peruse in short bursts. Each myth has its own chapter, which can be quickly read and deciphered. A great book to keep on your desk, in the bathroom, or on your cell phone. I’m loving it on my phone’s Kindle reader.

You can buy it on Amazon right now.


A recent research review (by Paul L. Morgan, George Farkas, and Steve Maczuga) finds that teacher-directed mathematics instruction in first grade is superior to other methods for students with “math difficulties.” Specifically, routine practice and drill was more effective than the use of manipulatives, calculators, music, or movement for students with math difficulties.

For students without math difficulties, teacher-directed and student-centered approaches performed about the same.

In the words of the researchers:

In sum, teacher-directed activities were associated with greater achievement by both MD and non-MD students, and student-centered activities were associated with greater achievement only by non-MD students. Activities emphasizing manipulatives/calculators or movement/music to learn mathematics had no observed positive association with mathematics achievement.

For students without MD, more frequent use of either teacher-directed or student-centered instructional practices was associated with achievement gains. In contrast, more frequent use of manipulatives/calculator or movement/music activities was not associated with significant gains for any of the groups.

Interestingly, classes with higher proportions of students with math difficulties were actually less likely to be taught with teacher-directed methods — the very methods that would be most helpful!

Will’s Reflection (for both Education and Training)

These findings fit in with a substantial body of research that shows that learners who are novices in a topic area will benefit most from highly-directed instructional activities. They will NOT benefit from discovery learning, problem-based learning, and similar non-directive learning events.

See for example:

  • Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.
  • Mayer, R. E. (2004). Should There Be a Three-Strikes Rule Against Pure Discovery Learning? American Psychologist, 59(1), 14-19.

As a research translator, I look for ways to make complicated research findings usable for practitioners. One model that seems to be helpful is to divide learning activities into two phases:

  1. Early in Learning (When learners are new to a topic, or the topic is very complex)
    The goal here is to help the learners UNDERSTAND the content. Here we provide lots of learning support, including repetitions, useful metaphors, worked examples, immediate feedback.
  2. Later in Learning (When learners are experienced with a topic, or when the topic is simple)
    The goal here is to help the learners REMEMBER the content or DEEPEN they’re learning. To support remembering, we provide lots of retrieval practice, preferably set in realistic situations the learners will likely encounter — where they can use what they learned. We provide delayed feedback. We space repetitions over time, varying the background context while keeping the learning nugget the same. To deepen learning, we engage contingencies, we enable learners to explore the topic space on their own, we add additional knowledge.

What Elementary Mathematics Teachers Should Stop Doing

Elementary-school teachers should stop assuming that drill-and-practice is counterproductive. They should create lesson plans that guide their learners in understanding the concepts to be learned. They should limit the use of manipulatives, calculators, music, and movement. Ideas about “arts integration” should be pushed to the back burner. This doesn’t mean that teachers should NEVER use these other methods, but they should be used to create occasional, short, and rare moments of variety. Spending hours using manipulatives, for example, is certainly harmful in comparison with more teacher-directed activities.


Hello everyone! Next week, I'm going to be arising from San Antonio's Riverwalk to learn from some of the most passionate and research-based folks in our industry — at ISPI's Performance Improvement Conference.

I'll also be sharing some of my work. Come join me at the following sessions:

  • Monday April 27 from 3:30 to 5:00
    TITLE:  Your Smile Sheets Suck!
    FORMAT:  PechaKucha (Performance Art, 20 slides, 20 seconds each).
  • Tuesday April 28 from 11:15 to 12:30
    TITLE:  Performance-Focused Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking
    FORMAT:  75-minute Conference Session
  • Tuesday April 28 starting at 12:45
    TITLE:  How and Why to Conduct Learning Audits
    FORMAT:  Roundtable Discussion

If you'd like to download or check out my slides for these sessions, click here (through April only).

Also, if you've got a business issue you'd like to discuss while there, let me know.

Contact me at: info at work-learning dot com.

Yesterday, #chat2lrn, a bi-weekly twitter discussion, delved into the concept of microlearning. It was an interesting discussion.

You can view the tweets by clicking here (thanks to Martin Couzins).

Here are my takeaways from engaging in the discussion:

  1. There was no consensus on what microlearning entails.
  2. There was no consensus on how long a microlearning engagement might take. Indeed, there were estimates that ranged from 5 minutes to 1 hour!
  3. There was a strong suspicion that “microlearning” was a buzzword, perhaps one created by “evil” marketers.
  4. There was no consensus on what microlearning might be good for.
  5. Many saw microlearning as information-presentation only, not considering that a microlearning nugget might also prompt action.
  6. Many saw microlearning as something that regular learning-and-development folks would not be involved in. Indeed, many seemed to see microlearning as a way to subvert the ineffectiveness of L&D departments.
  7. Many saw microlearning as just-in-time learning, almost as performance support.
  8. Very few folks considered threading microlearning nuggets together in a subscription-learning manner.

“Microlearning” is now in the infosphere. The genie is out of the bottle and we better be ready. “Microlearning” is coming to a senior manager near you!


Here's a blog post by Brent Schlenker on Extreme Micro Learning, meaning videos in 6 seconds.

Click here to see the post.

His examples are more advertising than learning, but I think he's right that if we see the extremes it may make us more creative.

Tom Spiglanin has a nice blog post on Microlearning, in which he has generated a great discussion as well.

  • tom.spiglanin.com/2015/03/microlearning-fab-or-fad/

I commented on the discussion and am copying-and-pasting my comments here:


Tom, glad that you’re pushing this important discussion!

You say, “Microlearning products usually need no navigation, and there is no inherently complex structure. Each microlearning product serves but one objective and is tightly focused on that objective.”

I think this is too restrictive. Please check out my work on the Subscription-Learning Website (defunct as of December 2017).

On that website, I describe subscription learning (the use of small nuggets spread over time) as a way to create meaningful learning interactions. Indeed, subscription learning can go way beyond “learning” to provide prompting mechanisms, calls to complete tasks, feedback, etc.

The problem with the way many are thinking of microlearning is as a content-delivery system for folks with short attention spans. Unfortunately, we know that content presentation is a poor method. To really get folks to benefit from learning we need to ensure that we provide learners with at least the following (from the Training Maximizers model https://www.worklearning.com/2015/04/08/training-maximizers/):

A. Valid Credible Content
B. Engaging Learning Events
C. Support for Basic Understanding
D. Support for Decision-Making Competence
E. Support for Long-Term Remembering
F. Support for Application of Learning
G. Support for Perseverance in Learning

So, if microlearning only gets at A, B, and C; it will not create meaningful learning benefits.

Subscription learning can deliver isolated nuggets of information, but it can do much more as well. For example, one of the most important learning factors (based on the scientific research) to support remembering is the spacing effect (spacing repetitions of learning concepts over time). If you take a nugget-by-nugget approach, you don’t get the spacing effect.

Bottom line is that microlearning without intention, without scientifically-based learning design, with only isolated nuggets — will be a FAD.

Microlearning that utilizes learning factors that help us reach the requirements of (D) decision-making competence, (E) long-term remembering, (F) application of learning, and (G) perseverance in learning will be FAB.

A few years ago, I created a simple model for training effectiveness based on the scientific research on learning in conjunction with some practical considerations (to make the model’s recommendations leverageable for learning professionals). People keep asking me about the model, so I’m going to briefly describe it here. If you want to look at my original YouTube video about the model — which goes into more depth — you can view that here. You can also see me in my bald phase.

The Training Maximizers Model includes 7 requirements for ensuring our training or teaching will achieve maximum results.

  • A. Valid Credible Content
  • B. Engaging Learning Events
  • C. Support for Basic Understanding
  • D. Support for Decision-Making Competence
  • E. Support for Long-Term Remembering
  • F. Support for Application of Learning
  • G. Support for Perseverance in Learning

Here’s a graphic depiction:


Most training today is pretty good at A, B, and C but fails to provide the other supports that learning requires. This is a MAJOR PROBLEM because learners who can’t make decisions (D), learners who can’t remember what they’ve learned (E), learners who can’t apply what they’ve learned (F), and learners who can’t persevere in their own learning (G); are learners who simply haven’t received leverageable benefits.

When we train or teach only to A, B, and C, we aren’t really helping our learners, we aren’t providing a return on the learning investments, we haven’t done enough to support our learners’ future performance.



Research translators are people who read research articles from scientific refereed journals and distill the wisdom from those articles into practical recommendations for practitioners. Sometimes research translators translate one article at a time (or a few), compiling the main points from the article and transforming those main points into recommendations for practice.

More effectively, research translators read many articles about a particular topic and then — based on years of immersion in the research and years of experience with practitioners — make sense of the topic findings in relation to a wider body of research and the needs of practitioners. After developing a comprehensive and practical understanding of the research findings, research translators create simple elegant models and metaphors to help practitioners deeply understand the research findings, while ensuring that recommendations are clear, leverageable, and potent.

Research translators add value because they bridge the gap between the worlds of research and practice — between groups who speak different languages.

Some researchers are brilliant in translating research into practice. Most are not. We shouldn’t blame them for their deficiencies. The world they inhabit pushes against research translation in myriad ways. Researchers are not incentivized to do research translation. Indeed, those who write popular books are often scorned by other researchers. Researchers don’t have time to hang out with practitioners to learn their language, to deeply understand their needs, to see how research gets understood/misunderstood and applied, to see what obstacles are faced. Researchers’ language pool so controls their own thinking and verbal output that they can’t help themselves in using jargon that then overwhelms the working-memory capacity of their readers and listeners.

At a minimum, here is what research translation requires:

  1. Deep and current understanding of a wide body of research.
  2. Deep and current understanding of the practitioner ecosystem, language, motivations, incentive systems, body of knowledge, blind spots and misconceptions, organizational influences, etc.
  3. Ability to compile research into practical wisdom, utilize metaphor to support comprehension, create models that balance simplicity with precision, craft recommendations that propel appropriate applications of the research while avoiding misapplication, etc.
  4. Ability to reach a wide swath of practitioners to ensure that the research-based messages are heard.
  5. Ability to craft messaging that ensures that research-based messages are understood, remembered, and found compelling enough to generate actual attempts to be used.
  6. Ability to provide corrective feedback and encouragement as practitioners attempt to utilize research-based messages.

Researchers’ Biggest Blind Spot

In my experience, most researcher’s biggest blind spot is that they just can’t communicate without the use of jargon and big words that overwhelm the working-memory capacity of those they are attempting to reach. Even when they try to communicate plainly to practitioners they just can’t do it.

Here is an example from a recent book that that authors claim is written to be accessible to practitioners. I won’t “out” the researchers here because I love their book and want it to do well.

My yellow highlights indicate jargon that is likely to overload working memory.

More than 50% of the paragraph is jargon, rendering the paragraph virtually indecipherable.

The Tragedy of the Uncommon

There are very few research translators in my field, the learning field. Ruth Clark recently retired, leaving a gaping hole. There’s simply no place for us — that is, there’s no place to earn a living as a research translator. The academy wants researchers, not research translators. Industry wants practitioners, not research translators. Those of us who try to carve out a niche as research translators find that research translation hardly pays a penny, that we must be consultants first. In some ways, this is great because it keeps us close to practitioners — and we get to see on a daily basis how research can be used to make learning more effective. In other ways, being a consultant doesn’t really give us enough time to do the research.

It is said that a successful consultant will allocate time as follows:

  • 3 days a week to paid work.
  • 1 day a week to marketing.
  • 1 day a week to administrative tasks.

For those translating research we can add:

  • 2 days a week compiling research.
  • 2 days a week crafting communications to share the research.

Ruth Clark once told me that surviving as a research translator was “really hard.” And, of course, she is the most successful full-time research translator in the history of our field.

It doesn’t make sense to wish away the realities faced, to hope the academy would make room for research translators, to hope that industry would have at least a few positions open. It’s just not going to happen anytime soon.

There is a window however. Perseverance, perhaps? But more importantly, innovating new business models that make research translation a sustainable option.


Research translation ain’t easy, but it’s a vital part of the research-to-practice ecosystem.