For millennium, scholars and thinkers of all sorts — from scientists to men or women on the street — thought that memories simply faded with time.

Locke said:

"The memory of some men, it is true, is very tenacious, even to a miracle; but yet there seems to be a constant decay of all our ideas, even of those which are struck deepest, and in the minds of the most retentive; so that if they be not sometimes renewed by repeated exercise of the senses, or reflection on those kinds of objects which at first occasioned them, the print wears out, and at last there remains nothing to be seen."  John Locke quoted by William James in Principles of Psychology (p. 445, the 1952 Great Books edition, original 1891).

However, in the mid 1900's research by McGeoch (1932), Underwood (1957) and others found that memories can fade when what is learned interferes with other things learned. Previous things learned can interfere with current learning (proactive interference) and current learning can be interfered with by subsequent learning (retroactive interference).

The debate between decay and interference went on for over a century! Indeed, it paralleled the debate in physics over the property of light. Is it a wave or a particle?

The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave

In physics, the debate was so important that Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for the solution. Einstein's solution was simple. Light was BOTH a wave and a particle. The picture above is reported by Phys.org to be the first photograph demonstrating light's dual properties.

Now in the psychological research, we have the first experimental evidence that forgetting may be caused by BOTH decay and interference.

In a clever experiment, published just this month, Talya Sadeh, Jason Ozubko, Gordon Winocur, and Morris Moscovitch found evidence for both interference and decay.

Their research appears to be inspired, at least partially, by neuroscience findings. Here's what the authors say:

"Two approaches have guided current thinking regarding the functional distinction between hippocampal and extrahippocampal memories. The first approach maintains that the hippocampus supports a mnemonic process termed recollection, whereas extrahippocampal structures, especially the perirhinal cortex, support a process termed familiarity… Recollection is a mnemonic process that involves reinstatement of memory traces within the context in which they were formed. Familiarity is a mnemonic process that manifests itself in the feeling that a studied item has been experienced, but without reinstating the original context." (p. 2)

To be clear, this was NOT a neuroscience experiment. They did not measure brain activity in any way. They measured behavioral findings only.

In their experiment, they had people engage in a word-recognition task and then gave them either (1) another word-learning task, (2) a short music task, or (3) a long music task. The first group's word-learning task was designed to create the most interference. The longer music task was designed to create the most decay (because it took longer).

The results of the experiment were consistent with the researcher's hypotheses. They claimed to have found evidence for both decay and interference.

Caveats

Every scientific experiment has caveats. Usually these are pointed out by the researchers themselves. Often, it takes an outside set of eyes to provide caveats.

Did the researchers prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that forgetting has two causes? Short answer: No! Did they produce some interesting findings? Maybe!

My big worry from a research-design perspective is that their manipulation distinguishing between recollection and familiarity is somewhat dubious, seemingly splitting hairs in the questions they ask the learners. My big worry from a practical learning-design perspective is that they are using words as learning materials. First, most important learning situations utilize more complicated materials. Second, words are associative by their very nature — thus more likely to react to interference than typical learning materials. Third, the final "test" of learning was a recognition-memory task that involved learners determining whether they remembered seeing the words before — again, not very relevant to practical learning situations.

Practical Ramifications for Learning Professionals

Since there are potential experimental-design issues, particularly from a practical standpoint, it would be an extremely dubious enterprise to draw practical ramifications. Let me be dubious then (because it's fun, not because it's wise). If the researchers are correct, that memories that are context-based are less likely to be subject to interference effects; we might want to follow the general recommendation — often made today by research-focused learning experts — to provide learners with realistic practice using stimuli that have contextual relevance. In short, teach "if situation–then action" rather than teaching isolated concepts. Of course, we didn't need this experiment to tell us that. There is a ton of relevant research to back this up. For example, see The Decisive Dozen research review.

Beyond the experimental results, the concepts of delay and interference are intriguing in and of themselves. We know people tend to slide down a forgetting curve. Perhaps from interference, perhaps from decay. Indeed, as the authors say, "it is important to note that interference and decay are inherently confounded."

Research

The experiment:

Sadeh, T., Ozubko, J. D., Winocur, G., & Moscovitch. M. (2016) Forgetting patterns differentiate between two forms of memory representation. Psychological Science OnlineFirst, published on May 6, 2016 as doi:10.1177/0956797616638307.

The research review:

Sadeh, T., Ozubko, J. D., Winocur, G., & Moscovitch, M. (2014). How we forget may depend on how we remember. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18, 26–36.

 

 

A year and a half ago, three esteemed researchers (and me) published a series of articles debunking the meme that people remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 30% of what they read, etc…

Here was my review of those research articles.

Unfortunately, until now, the articles themselves were not available online. To subscribe to the originating journal, Educational Technology, click here.

Now, we the authors are able to share a copy with you.

 

Click here to get a copy of the four articles…

OMG! The best deal ever for a full-day workshop on how to radically improve your smile-sheet designs! Sponsored by the Hampton Roads Chapter of ISPI. Free book and subscription-learning thread too!

 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Reed Integration

7007 Harbour View Blvd #117

Suffolk, VA

 

Click here to register now…

 

Performance Objectives:

By completing this workshop and the after-course subscription-learning thread, you will know how to:

  1. Avoid the three most troublesome biases in measuring learning.

  2. Persuade your stakeholders to improve your organization’s smile sheets.

  3. Create more effective smile sheet questions.

  4. Create evaluation standards for each question to avoid bias.

  5. Envision learning measurement as a bulwark for improved learning design.

 

Recommended Audience:

The content of this workshop will be suitable to those who have at least some background and experience in the training field. It will be especially valuable to those who are responsible for learning evaluation or who manage the learning function.

 

Format:

This is a full-day workshop. Participants are encouraged to bring laptops if they prefer to use a computer to write their questions.  

 

Bonus Take-Away:

Each Participant will receive a copy of Dr. Thalheimer’s Book, Performance-Focused Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking of a Dangerous Art Form.

Send me your tired, your salaried, your harried Chief Learning Officers (and other Talent Development Executives) so that I can collect data on the state of our industry — focusing on a practical science-of-learning perspective.

Bigstock-Large-Group-of-Business-People-62228402

Areas Covered in this Research Effort:

  • what is your organization asking of the learning function?
  • how are your results measured? what matters to management?
  • what are the key struggles for your learning units?
  • research utilization — how utilized? who utilizes?
  • current strengths of learning professionals.
  • development needs of learning professionals
  • sources of knowledge for these learning professionals.
  • how does your organization deal with learning myths?
  • how do you separate good information from bad?
  • what vendors provide valuable research/data?
  • what vendors provide training that is science-based?
  • what do your learning units need to be most effective?

Organizations who contribute will be entitled to the full report. An executive summary will be available for free to others.

Send me names and contact information to info@work-learning.com.

 

Now that my book publishing responsibilities are out of the way, I'm ready to begin a research effort designed to find out more ways to improve the effectiveness of our smile sheets.

If you're organization would like to participate in this effort — and be among the first to see the results of the research — check out the full announcement on my book's website: http://smilesheets.com/2016/05/18/3705/.

Next week, I'm headed to Denver, Colorado for ATD's Annual Conference for 2016. The largest conference in the workplace learning and development field, it brings together all kinds of folks for a wondrous bacchanal of learning.

I'll be talking about smile sheets (learner response forms) on Tuesday May 24th, 4:30 – 5:30 pm
TU420 – Utilizing Radically Improved Smile Sheets to Improve Learning Results at Room: 708/710.

 

I'll also be joining a "Science of Learning" panel on Monday May 23rd, 1:00 – 2:00 pm
M1CE – Community Express: Science of Learning Fast Track
along with Sebastian Bailey, Justin Brusino, Paul Zak, Patti Shank at Room: Mile High 1c.

 

If you're there at ATD's ICE — and you want to meet to discuss your organization's needs for a practical research-based approach to learning or evaluation design — send me a note at info@work-learning.com.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool — one of whom is the world's leading expert on how expertise develops (Ericsson) — have critiqued Malcolm Gladwell's popularization of the 10,000 Hours Rule in a Salon article, adapted from their new book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

 

 

 Here are the main points from their article:

  1. "Gladwell did get one thing right, and it is worth repeating because it’s crucial: becoming accomplished in any field in which there is a well-established history of people working to become experts requires a tremendous amount of effort exerted over many years. It may not require exactly ten thousand hours, but it will take a lot."
  2. "There is nothing special or magical about ten thousand hours." It can be more or less. Indeed, in some fields it may take twice as long to reach world-class status.
  3. The number of hours to become an expert varies from field to field.
  4. It's not just about practice (or time spent in an activity). Rather, it is about a very specific form of practice — "deliberate practice, which involves constantly pushing oneself beyond one’s comfort zone, following training activities designed by an expert to develop specific abilities, and using feedback to identify weaknesses and work on them."
  5. There are zero research studies that show that anyone who puts in some requisite number of hours (be it 10,000 or less or more), will achieve preeminent expertise. And, let me add my conclusion: There may be — indeed there are likely to be — other factors that influence the development of expertise, including such things as innate abilities, health, environmental stressors, related experiences, nurturance, et cetera. As the authors stress, not everyone can become an expert in a particular field.
  6. Almost always, people can radically improve their performance in a skill through deliberate practice.

Anders Ericsson is amazing — having been doing great research for decades, putting in certainly more than 10,000 hours, I must think. I've just ordered the book, and I recommend that you order it too!

And here is a nice audio clip with Ericsson.

 

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Winter today, proprietor at SkillsCrafters.com. He's developed a method over many years enabling him to catalog training content by using a spreadsheet. He's worked with organizations like GM, MillerCoors, The U.S. Navy, and The U.S. Coastguard.

Picture

I don't usually get involved in the nitty-gritty of content compilation, but for huge learning interventions, this must be a massive challenge.

I can handle the vast learning-research literature — and find it fun to do so — but I'm glad there are folks like Chris who have the patience to organize the content.

Check him out at the Skills Crafters website.

In my 30th year in the workplace learning field, I've seen in my own work — and in that of my clients — that I cannot control everything that happens. I can make recommendations to clients, and I can get better as a persuader, but I can't force change.

I've also seen my clients and instructional designers everywhere struggle to make small improvements against floodwaters of organizational lethargy, misunderstandings about learning, conflicting priorities, and more. I've seen the same thing with CLO's, training directors, and other learning executives as well.

I've come to know many dogged professionals who keep at it year after year against Sisyphean challenges, making improvements — even small improvements — wherever and whenever they can. I admire them greatly.

To be effective in our jobs as learning professionals, we not only have to know the research and know our craft, we also have to develop an ability to marshal our resolve, maintain our perseverance, and retain at least some semblance of equanimity.

Perhaps by sharing our laments and our aspirations, we can get a little closer to these ideals.

I'm not religious, but it seems that a "serenity-prayer" approach for instructional designers might prove valuable.

 

Give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

 

Things that cannot be changed (in the short term):

    Examples:

  • Sometimes, I will need to crank out learning interventions that fail my standards for effectiveness.
  • Sometimes, I will need to fail to adequately evaluate my learning interventions.
  • Sometimes, I will need to do an inadequate job in doing needs assessment.
  • Sometimes, I will need to….

            List your "things that cannot be changed (in the short term)" below in the comments.

 

Things that require the courage to push for change:

    Examples:

  • Learning interventions that produce only awareness — should be improved to help learners be competent enough to perform a skill.
  • Learning interventions that don't utilize spaced repetitions — should be improved to space repetitions over time.
  • Learning interventions that don't provide substantial realistic practice — should be improved to provide skill practice that mimics the most salient aspects of the targeted (on-the-job) performance environment.
  • Smile sheets that utilize Likert-like scales or numeric scales — should be improved to utilize distinctive answer choices.
  • Et cetera…

 

Wisdom to know the difference:

    Examples:

  • By making a distinction between the short term and the long term, I can meet my task goals while pushing for lasting improvements.
  • By searching out the most dedicated learning professionals, by gathering together in a mutual effort to make the system work for better learning and performance improvement, I can maintain my motivation and energy to keep at it.
  • By meeting my organizational obligations with a steady excellence, I can develop the credibility and power to enable me to be persuasive and potent in pushing for improvements.
  • Et cetera…

 

These are just some examples… My hope is that you will add your thoughts and wisdom in the comments.