Connie Malamed is The eLearning Coach, an intriguing podcaster, and the author of two fantastic books on visual design. Here I interview her in regards to her most recent book, Visual Design Solutions.


Here is the book:

Here is Connie:


Connie, in your book, Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals, your goal seems to be to help learning professionals utilize effective visuals to improve their learning outcomes. Indeed, you dedicate the book to “the hard-working creative learning professionals who want to make a difference.”

Tell me about your hope for the book and the importance visual design has for learning professionals?


My three goals in writing this book were to: 1) prove that it is possible to improve one’s visual design skills without being an artist, 2) demonstrate the benefits of using visuals to enhance and amplify learning, and 3) raise awareness about the importance of aesthetics in a learner’s experience.

For those with normal vision, the brain processes more sensory information from the eyes than from any other sense. So learning professionals should expect that the visual aspect of instructional materials would be of great importance to comprehension, retention and the user experience. The good news is that anyone can become more competent in visual design by learning, applying and practicing the foundation principles.



Many learning professionals enter the field with little or no background or experience in graphic arts, visualization principles, or aesthetics—and yet you declare in your book that “you do not need drawing talent to work as a visual designer.” First, let me ask you, “Why not?” Second, let me ask you what key skills people do need to be effective at the visual aspects of learning design?


Early in my career, I met an excellent designer who didn’t know how to draw. He told me he wasn’t an illustrator. I was shocked. Since then, I’ve met and read about many designers who do not illustrate. Visual design involves the arrangement of images and text in graphic space. To be able to do this, one doesn’t need to render with a pen or pencil. Of course, it’s always nice to brainstorm ideas with a pencil and sketchpad, but visual concepts can be communicated using geometric shapes and stick figures.

The skills that I think people need for visual design competence can be learned. Here is my list:

  • An understanding of how to think about and solve visual problems.
  • Foundation principles of design, such as use of white space, establishing a visual hierarchy and appreciating typography.
  • Awareness of design in the world around you to see how others have solved visual problems.



I noticed in your book that you begin with lots of research supporting the benefits of using visuals. But certainly visuals can also be used in such a way that causes harm. What are some of the problems involved in using visuals? What are some of the most common mistakes learning professionals make?


Right. Like anything else, it takes thoughtfulness to come up with an effective visual design. I think common problems are: cluttering a layout with too many flourishes, using irrelevant graphics that are distracting, and splitting attention so that the visuals and text or activity are not well integrated. One way to avoid common mistakes is to get your work critiqued by peers, sponsors and potential users.



In the book, you emphasize white space, and yet I’ll bet this is one of the hardest things for us instructional designers to get. Just as we tend to cram content into our curriculums and don’t leave enough time for learning, I’ve often seen designs that cram content into our visuals without thinking about white space. What is white space and what are the top three things learning designers should realize about it?


White space is also known as negative space. It’s the area in a visual that does not contain any images or text. It even includes the area in between letters. Here are three tips about working with white space.

  1. Think of white space as another element, just like text and images. These three building blocks of design have to work together to create a clear communication. Without white space, you can’t have form and without form, you can’t have white space.
  2. As you design, if you begin to focus on the shape of the white space, you begin to bring it into the foreground perceptually. Become conscious of the white space and make sure the shape is pleasing and that it’s not broken up into tiny little pieces.
  3. White space gives a viewer’s eyes a place to rest and allows a design to breathe. So don’t be stingy with your white space. Let your designs have some spaciousness.





I put a ton of time into creating PPT slides for my workshops and presentations—and I’ve developed some beliefs over the years that may or may not be true. Would you comment and critique my visual-design prejudices?

  1. Never use clip art; photos are cheap, easily available, and convey more credibility.
  2. Using a transparency fade (for example when you take a photo but gradually fade one side of it into the background) is good looking, adds credibility, and enables room for pertinent text.
  3. It is better to have one major learning point per slide with a nice supporting visual, than to offer many ideas on the same slide.
  4. Using objects with some gradient is almost always preferred to no gradient.


  1. It depends on what you mean by clip art. Although you want to avoid the silly smiling characters, there are wonderful collections of illustrated and simplified vector drawing that you can use to represent concepts and objects. You can make an entire presentation or eLearning course using this minimalist and distilled style.
  2. Adding a transparency fade is a good way to be able to add text. But it’s not the only way and if it looks very feathered, it could look dated. Other ways to add text are to use a large 1024×768 photo (the size of the entire slide) and then overlay a slightly transparent rectangle on part of the photo where you want the text. Place the text within that rectangle and ensure there is enough contrast to read it.
  3. I think you’re probably right about one point per slide. Don’t tell anyone but sometimes I might put three related points on a slide. Maybe I’m being lazy.
  4. A gradient can give an object a 3D appearance, but it’s not always necessary. The flat design trend has moved away from full gradients and you will now probably see more designs with flat or solid-looking objects. I don’t think there’s a wrong or a right way to fill in objects, but as trends change, a viewer’s idea of what is aesthetically pleasing will change.



You mention perspective in your book. First, tell us what it is. Second, because you recommend it “to add realism to a story or scenario,” could you tell us if there is a secret to searching for photos with perspective in photo databases (so we don’t have to search through an endless array of photos)?


Perspective is a way to trick the eyes into perceiving three dimensions on what is really a flat surface. I don’t know of any great way to find images with perspective other than to type that word into your photo database. Such as “street perspective,” for example.


You mentioned distilled graphics. What are they and when should we use them?

Distilled graphics are simplified, schematic or iconic visuals that represent objects or concepts. We perceive and understand them quickly, similar to the images on road signs. I think it’s a good idea to use these when you want to get an idea across quickly. Also, using a distilled graphic like a silhouette works like a visual suggestion of what it represents without getting into the detail. Another suggestion is to use distilled graphics instead of bullet points, placed near the text to represent the concept or fact. It’s tough to explain without a visual accompaniment!



Connie, maybe you can help me. When I look for photos, sometimes I find myself spending half an hour or more just to find an image I deem acceptable. Am I nuts? Please help me! How long should I spend looking for an image?

Will, I’m going to guess that you are a little nuts, but not because you take so long to find photos. But yes, searching for photos is one of the most time-consuming aspects of this career. Most stock photo sites that weren’t specifically made for eLearning seem to have an advertising/marketing focus. The photographers still have that mindset, where rather than showing people in realistic situations, they show people smiling at the camera or cheering. There’s not enough diversity in the image choices either. I got so frustrated one day, I sat down and wrote an article about this problem: 21 Reasons Why Stock Photo Sites Make Me Cry.



I have a new favorite font, but while it’s in Microsoft Office, when some of the online meeting tools convert it, they replace my beautiful artsy font with a boring font often of the wrong size. Are there any ways to do a work around? Can I search-and-replace fonts for example?

For those situations, you could make a second version of the presentation for online meeting tools and change the font to a similar but more common one in your template. Even though it might be boring, it everything will line up the way you want it to. If the online meeting tool is hosted by a professional association or a company, you can see if they would be willing to install the font on the hosting computer.

As to replacing fonts, I’ve always replaced the font in the Slide Master and that usually works. You may have to choose the Master Layout again in your slide though.



Connie, I love the section in your book on creating a visual hierarchy. As you describe it, visual hierarchies send unconscious signals to our brains that prompt us to look at certain parts of the visual before other parts. I didn’t really know this until I read your book. Thank you! I’m a big believer in PowerPoint (or KeyNote, etc.) of revealing aspects of our visuals one at a time, which is probably cheating to get a similar effect to hierarchies—but sometimes there would be a huge benefit in having a visual hierarchy. Please educate us on how to create a visual hierarchy, and tell us why it’s so important.


A visual hierarchy indicates where the viewer should look first, second and perhaps third. Make your most important element the first thing that people will look at. You can do this through contrast.  Make it larger, place it in the upper left or top of the screen, make the element more colorful or brighter or add movement (if appropriate to the learning). There are other ways, but that’s a good place to start.



I notice you added humor into your book. I laughed out loud when you told me that to transform myself into an “expert designer” that I’d need to wear all black. LOL. Your book is extremely helpful—and one doesn’t even have to change their wardrobe.

What’s your most important message for us learning professionals? Besides reading your book, what else can we do to be more effective? And, are there any methods you’ve seen for getting evaluation feedback on our visual designs?

There are a lot of things learning professionals can do in addition to reading my book, dressing in all black and getting piercings in weird places:

  • Analyze the visual design in your environment and see what works and what doesn’t. Think about what the designer was trying to achieve. Notice the layout, typography, color palette and focal point. This means studying the design of websites, apps, magazines, brochures, posters, books, catalogs, packaging, billboards, subway ads, store interiors, videos, icons and junk mail. You get the idea.
  • Start an online collection (via Pinterest, bookmark sites, etc.) of designs that you like. Then use these for inspiration the next time you are stuck.
  • Read design books. Although most design books focus on advertisements and branding, they still offer a lot of sound principles and inspiration.



Finally, what’s the best way for people to get your book?

Thanks for asking. My book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the ATD online bookstore, where it is discounted for members. I hope your readers understand that there are around 130 color graphics, which makes it a little more on the expensive side due to printing costs.


Will’s Note:
You can view the book on Amazon
by clicking the image below:

I was honored to be invited to write an afterword to 3rd edition of the classic text, Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning.

In my afterword, I noted the following:

"Roy Pollock, Andy Jefferson, and Cal Wick have provided a proven conceptual structure—the 6Ds—as a foundation. We’ve been shown how the 6Ds approach works in real organizations. We’ve been given practical tools that have been refined and updated. We’ve been privy to one of the best compilations of industry wisdom ever assembled in one book. We’ve been read the riot act, heard the gospel truth, and made to wonder why so many of us are failing on the fundamentals. This book lays it out for us, if only we have the guts and perseverance to do the right thing."

I've been following the work of Wick, Jefferson, and Pollock since 2006 when I awarded the very first Neon Elephant Award to Cal Wick. I love these guys! Their work has had a major impact on the field.

The book publisher, Wiley, has been nice enough to let me publish my afterword separately, so I'm going to provide you the link just below. In my provocative piece, I show how the workplace learning-and-performance field is poised for a transformation based on four vectors. It's good stuff!

And of course, I highly recommend their book, which you can buy by clicking on the image 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.


One of my favorite people in the workplace-learning space is Clark Quinn. Smart, passionate, and research-based, Clark has been consulting on learning and learning technology for decades. We worked on the Serious eLearning Manifesto together. We attempted—and failed—to build a community of workplace learning thought leaders. We commiserate frequently. I feel that I know some of what is in Clark’s heart. Now you can too!

With publication of his new book, Revolutionize Learning and Development, Clark shares his unbridled passion for our field. His book is a cross between a furious Charles Bukowski poem and a winding Jack Kerouac road trip. His words stream like a molten-steel lava flow of wisdom, love, and thunder.

Clark loves what we do. He just wishes with hope that we did it better. He puts the focus on on-the-job performance, saying that our learning solutions should be aimed at creating results in the workplace. Indeed, Clark nimbly changes our name from the Learning and Development team to the Performance and Development team! Learning is just a means to performance.

Clark comes to his wisdom based on years of immersion in the learning research and working on practical learning-design issues. Early in the book he explains how the brain works and how its architecture should impact our learning designs. This is very helpful because too many of us in the learning field think that conscious information transfer is all that’s needed, when in fact most of our work is done subconsciously.

In the book, Clark highlights the need for us to redouble our focus on two areas, performance consulting and development facilitation. Performance consulting looks at how to optimize execution. It requires that we analyze tasks and root causes before we develop appropriate solutions—and, incidentally, it demands that we not always look to training as the solution. Development facilitation is focused on how people develop their knowledge and skills over time. Where performance consulting works directly through our outside efforts, development facilitation helps “people improve while working on their own and together.”


Nuggets From the Book:

  • “Our species has in many ways survived because we learned how to physically augment our resources.” We learned how to overcome our tendency to forget by providing ourselves with informational sources, including such things as reference materials, job aids, and performance support.
  • We in the workplace learning-and-performance field used to have a responsibility to help people execute their job tasks better. Now we also have a responsibility to help them be innovative.
  • We, as workplace learning-and-performance professionals, need to work backwards. “We need to identify the performance we desire and then decide how to distribute information among the individual, network, and resources—digital and real.”
  • “As much as possible, we should resist trying to change the individual, as this is difficult…Our focus must be on how we want people to perform, and we must figure out what can be ‘in the world’… and then what has to be ‘in the head.’”
  • “The principle here is to recognize that, when we want people to perform in a resourced environment, we should develop the formal learning to incorporate the performance resources in the [learning] experience. If we can avoid formal learning, we can and should, be when we can’t, we should develop the resources before we develop the training.”
  • “The very first thing to do is to stop doing what we are doing. That, arguably, is impossible, yet there needs to be fundamental change. We have to stop being order-takers and start being performance consultants and improvement facilitators.”
  • On-the-job learning requires an environment where people feel safe to contribute and make mistakes, diversity is valued, people and groups are open to new ideas, and time is made for reflection. We, as learning professionals, can help enable these tendencies.
  • “A performance support focus is a better starting point for organizations than courses!”
  • “A real revolution in social tools has taken place…these capabilities need to be leveraged for learning as well.”
  • “The room is smarter than the smartest person in the room if you manage the process right. If not, the room might be only as smart as the most dominant person in the room or the one with the most authority.”
  • Workplace learning professionals should consider the “Least Assistance Principle.” It’s counterintuitive for many of us, but it basically suggests that we answer the question, ‘What’s the least I can do to guide performance?’” So instead of jumping in with a training solution, we should consider alternatives first.
  • Formal learning methods are fine for novices but for experts more informal learning methods are needed. See graph below.

Critiques of Our Current Practices:

  • Our tendency to have a course/event mindset keeps us from achieving real change.
  • Our tendency to focus on providing knowledge keeps us from focusing on decision-making and task competency.
  • Instead of designing instruction to make the learning intrinsically interesting, we use all manner of attention-getting gimmicks like throwing rubber squish-balls around the room.
  • One of the key things we do wrong is provide insufficient practice. “And we practice until someone gets it right, instead of practicing until they can’t get it wrong.”
  • As an industry we seem incapable of making job aids, even when they are often much more effective than training or training alone.


There’s one thing that I regret about the book. Clark needed, and deserved, a better editor/publisher—one who would have wrestled his lightning-bolt wisdom into a tighter package. For example, the book uses the term, “To Hand,” but even after going through the book twice, I still don’t get what that means.


Banging the drum for revolution, Clark Quinn has done our field a great favor! His research-based focus is on target. His call for a performance-focus captures the high ground.

If you’re new to the idea of a performance focus, the book will help you see through the smoke of current practices.

If you’re a performance true believer, you’ll deepen your passion and restock your armaments with fresh insights and imperatives.

You can buy the book by clicking below.


Nice review of Diane Ravitch's new book on schools, schooling, and the importance of good teachers.

Seems like it shows just how hard it is to find easy answers.

One of the biggest gaps in the learning-and-performance
field occurs after the training is done. Learners fail to apply what they’ve
learned and their managers fail to support training implementation.
Fortunately, the Fort Hill gang writes again. Where their blockbuster book, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning,
laid out a comprehensive process for getting training results, their new book (Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training and
) provides a call-to-action for training’s most important
players. Using the brilliantly diabolical approach of dividing the book in
half—one half for learners, the other for managers—Jefferson, Pollock, and Wick
provide an energizing action-plan to help organizations maximize training’s
impact on job performance.

I’m so impressed with the Fort Hill guys. It seems that they
(1) have looked deeply at the training-and-development trade, (2) found an area
where time and time again we fail to do what’s right, and (3) written the
perfect book to ensure that training maximizes business results. Too often in
today’s organizations, training is seen as magic pill that works without alignment
and support. In this double-dose of a book, Jefferson, Pollock, and Wick
explode that myth, helping both learners and their managers bring potency to
the training effort.

The design of the book tells the story itself. Managers read
from one cover while learners read from the other cover. The book’s title stays
the same—Getting Your Money’s Worth from
Training and Development
—but the subtitles change for the two audiences (i.
e., A Guide to Breakthrough Learning for Managers; A Guide to Breakthrough
Learning for Participants.
). Only
in partnership is training truly effective. The symbolism speaks loudly, but so
too does the content, showing how both learners and their managers can work
together to ensure that training transfers to on-the-job performance

The book is written in a conversational style. It speaks
directly to the audiences in terms that will resonate. No motherhood and apple
pie in the Fort Hill world. It’s all about results, wiifm’s, and tools. The
example worksheets in the back of each book (remember it’s two books in one)
are worth the cover price.

I recommend this book with the greatest enthusiasm. Companies
ought to buy two copies for every training participant. One for the participant
and one for his/her manager.

You can click the link below to learn more about the book (and go directly to Amazon to decide whether to purchase it).

Sharon Shrock and Bill Coscarelli recently completed the third edition of their important book, Criterion-Referenced Test Development: Technical and Legal Guidelines for Corporate Training. If this book isn’t in your collection already, I’ll give you a link below to buy from

In this third edition, Sharon and Bill have updated the book from the second edition (published in 2000) in some critical ways. One of those ways is truly transformational for the workplace learning and performance field. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Also updated is the excellent chapter at the end of the book by Patricia S. Eyres, a lawyer with employment-law credentials. Her chapter covers the legal ramifications and guidelines in dealing with employee testing, especially as that testing affects employee selection, advancement, and retention. She has updated her chapter with new case law and legal precedent from that in the second edition. Most people in the training field have very little knowledge of the legal ramifications of testing, and I’d recommend the book for this chapter alone—it’s a great wakeup call that will spur a new appreciation of the legal aspects of testing.

In the second edition, Shrock and Coscarelli put forward what they call the “Certification Suite.” In criterion-referenced testing, the goal is to decide whether a test taker has met a criterion or not. When they have met the criterion, they are said to be “certified” as competent in the area on which they were tested. The Certification Suite has six levels, some which offer full Certification and some which offer Quasi-Certification:


  1. Real World
  2. High-Fidelity Simulation
  3. Scenarios


  1. Memorization
  2. Attendance
  3. Affiliation

As the authors say in the book (p. 111), “Level C represents the last level of certification that can be considered to assess an ability to perform on the job.”

The truly transformational thing offered by Shrock and Coscarelli is that Level D Memorization, in the second edition of the book, was considered to offer Certification. NO MORE!! That’s right. Two of our leading thinkers on testing say that memorization questions are no longer good enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Disclosure: In speaking with Bill Coscarelli in 2006, I gently encouraged this change. This is mentioned in the book, so it’s not like I’m bragging. SMILE.

I love this, of course, because it follows what we know about human learning. For tests to be predictive of real-world performance, they have to offer similar cues to those that learners will face in the real world. If they offer different cues—like almost all memorization questions do—they are just not relevant. And, from a learning standpoint (as opposed to a certification standpoint) memorization questions won’t spur spontaneous remembering through the triggering mechanism of the real-world cues.

This literal and figurative raising of the bar—to move it beyond memorization—should shake us to our core (especially since this is one of the few books on assessment that covers legal stuff—so it may have some evidentiary heft in court). If the compliance tests at the end of your e-learning programs are based on memorization questions, you are so in trouble. If your credentialing is based on completion (and 85% of our respondents in the eLearning Guild research report said they utilized completion as a learning measure), you are in even worse trouble. And, of course, if you ever thought your memorization-level questions supported learning, well, sorry. They don’t! At least not as strongly as they might.

Have you bought the book yet? You should. You ought to at least have it around to show management (or your clients) why it’s important (absolutely freakin’ critical) to use high-value assessment items.

I’ve got some quibbles with the book as well. They list 6 reasons for testing. I’ve recently come up with 18, so it appears they’re missing some, or I’m drinking too much. I also don’t like the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy to index some of the recommendations. In short, Bloom’s has issues. I don’t like the way they talk about learning objectives. They use the methodology of relying on a single objective to guide the process of both instructional design and evaluation. I am now advocating to free instructional-design objectives from the crazy constraint of being super-glued to the evaluation objectives. They need to be linked of course, but not hog-tied. I wish they emphasized more strongly the distinction between testing to assess and testing to support learning. They are different animals and most of us are confused about this.

Overall, it’s a great and thoughtful book. I bought it. You should too.

Here’s a link that will let you click here to buy.

The Learning Measurement Series will continue in January…

(But watch to see who wins this year’s Neon Elephant Award, which I’ll announce on Saturday (December 22nd 2007). The winner(s) is/are all about learning measurement.)

Questioning Strategies for
Audience Response Systems:
How to Use Questions to Maximize
Learning, Engagement, and Satisfaction

by Dr. Will Thalheimer


The buzz in the learning industry is focused on e-learning, m-learning, wikis, and blogs; but one of the most powerful learning technologies is being overlooked, probably because it’s an in-the-classroom technology—audience response systems. In this research-to-practice white paper I offer a blueprint for how to use audience response systems to maximize higher-order learning in the classroom and beyond.

What One Reader Wrote to Me

Dr. Thalheimer,

Just wanted to drop you a little note this morning to express my gratitude for your paper "Questioning Strategies for Audience Response Systems: How to Use Questions to Maximize Learning, Engagement, and Satisfaction."

A friend recommended that I read it to prepare for a Higher Order Questioning staff development class that she and I are teaching together (in conjunction with some CPS [audience response] training we’re offering). To tell you the truth, I really wasn’t looking forward to reading it because I expected it to be dry and full of boring I’m-trying-to-sound-snobbily-intellectual writing, but I LOVED it. 🙂

I enjoyed your approachable style and dry sense of humor so much I read all the way through (including the endnotes!) and had many a good laugh along the way. In addition to being a blast to read, the paper challenged and inspired me to find new ways to push my questioning skills to a higher level for the next school year.

Thanks again, for the inspiration and for the great read. I’ll be checking out your website later today and hope to find that equally enjoyable.


Liz Walhof

Spanish Teacher

From the Paper’s Introduction

"Audience response systems have enormous potential for transforming lectures from dry recitals into rich jam sessions of deeply resonant learning. The technology is widely available, but the key to success is not in the technology; it’s in the instruction. To maximize meaningful learning, instructors must become adept in using questioning and discussion techniques. Unfortunately, some of us may come to believe that we can simply sprinkle our lectures with a few multiple-choice questions. This approach is emphatically inadequate, and is simply not worthy of our profession.

This report provides a near-exhaustive list of questioning strategies, and a comprehensive guide on using questions to facilitate classroom learning. No other resource exists that is research-based and comprehensive, while also being practical and useful. It has been designed specifically to provide practical guidance for trainers, teachers, and professors so that their learners—whether they are eight, forty-eight, or eighty years old—can experience deep and meaningful learning."

Special thanks to eInstruction for agreeing to license the paper for distribution to their clients. Such underwriting helps move the audience-response field forward and demonstrates an enlightened commitment to effective learning in classrooms of all types throughout the world. Other underwriting opportunities are available for research on audience-response learning. Contact Dr. Thalheimer with inquiries.

Additional Information

  • Number of Pages: 124
  • Number of Research Citations: 54
  • Publication Date: March 2007
  • Available to you Immediately as downloadable Electronic file (PDF).
  • Purchasing utilizes industry-leading security.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed.
  • Cost: $40.00 (US)

Click here to purchase…

My list of Best Books of 2006 for the Workplace Learning-and-Performance Field are as follows:

You can purchase these books directly at the Will’s Blog Store

Wick, Pollock, Jefferson, and Flanagan (2006). The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results.

This book is nothing short of revolutionary, providing a comprehensive analysis of how to create learning interventions that have performance impact. I previously reviewed this book and awarded the lead author the 2006 Neon Elephant Award.

Pfeffer and Sutton (2006). Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management.

This book provides an evidence-based critique of many of today’s most common management fads. The information in the book is critical to learning-and-performance professionals responsible for leadership and management development efforts (BECAUSE CONTENT MATTERS), but also as a shining example for our field (BECAUSE IF WE’RE NOT USING EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES, WE’RE NOT GETTING OPTIMAL RESULTS).

Clark, Nguyen, AND Sweller (2005). Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load

Another in Ruth Clark’s excellent series of research-to-practice books where she partners with leading learning researchers. Here she joins with Frank Nguyen and partners with John Sweller, developer of cognitive load theory. The book tells us how to create learning interactions that avoid overloading our learners’ limited working memory and perceptual-channel capacities.

Rossett and Schafer (2006). Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving From Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere

Allison Rossett and Lisa Schafer have created a great book on performance-support systems. With an introduction from Gloria Gery, this book nicely outlines the power and potential of performance support to replace and/or augment traditional training interventions. The book is written using a sensible, research-based approach. It describes when performance support is valuable, and when it’s not.

Israelite (2006). Lies About Learning: Leading Executives Separate Truth from Fiction In a $100 Billion Industry

Larry Israelite edits this book as the various authors take on many of the most important myths in our field. This kind of book is critical in our typically lost-in-denial field.

Allen (2006). Michael Allen’s E-Learning Library: Creating Successful E-Learning: A Rapid System For Getting It Right First Time, Every Time

Michael Allen knows instructional design from the ground floor up. For four decades he’s led the field. Now he shares his hard-earned knowledge with the rest of us. This book provides a model for real-world instructional designers to create effective e-learning. This is the first in Michael Allen’s ongoing Pfeiffer e-learning series.

You can purchase these books directly at the Will’s Blog Store

The book, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results; by Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan; is one of the most important books published in the training and development industry in a very long time.

Book: The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results

Authors: Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan

Publisher: Pfeiffer

Publication Date: April 2006


The learning-and-performance field—of which I am a devoted member—hasn’t had a really big idea since the performance-improvement crusade began gathering momentum in the 1980’s. But now, thanks to the work of Cal Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, Richard Flanagan and their colleagues at the Fort Hill Company, we finally have a new innovation—a systematic method for training follow-through.

It’s not a surprise that training can only be effective if learners put what they learn into practice. What Wick and company have done is demonstrate the feasibility of driving training transfer into the flow of work. Their book is really a culmination of years of exploration as they bravely embraced the exhausting and dangerous work of pioneers.

They’ve taken an evidence-based approach to learning design—grappling with real-world clients, making careful observations, gathering data, utilizing research findings, and fine-tuning their practices. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve created a breakthrough technology that enables training-and-development leaders to push learning results into the actual workplace.

E-learning pundits haven’t recognized it yet, but Fort Hill’s Friday5s training-follow-through software (along with competitive products like ZengerFolkman’s ActionPlan Mapper) may be the most disruptive e-learning technology yet devised. While web-meeting platforms, LMS’s, rapid authoring tools, and even Google may seem potent, they don’t change training effectiveness as much as a good training follow-through system.

Wick, Pollock, Jefferson, and Flanagan may enjoy promoting Fort Hill products, but they go out of their way to craft a broader message in their brilliant new book, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results. The authors lay out a devastating analysis of the current state of training practice—not by being negative—but by illustrating with cases, examples, and research how to do training right.

The book is nothing short of revolutionary. Unfortunately, in our dysfunctional field not everyone will take up arms against their own ineffective practices, but the book provides solid guidance to the enlightened soldiers in our midst. If you want to improve on-the-job performance and business results, this book is a guiding light.

Changing the Paradigm and Technology of Learning

In the flow of our everyday lives, the world as we know it follows predictable patterns. Things change, but they change predictably. Every once in while, however, something new appears—an innovation or idea so strange and yet so perfectly in tune with the cravings, resources, and zeitgeist of the time that it changes everything.

Disruptive technologies like electricity, phones, computers, and the internet have produced powerful ripples through the human fabric. Automobiles not only displaced the horse, they enabled the rise of the middle class, the building of suburbs, and intellectual and social freedom for young adults. Paradigm shifts and scientific discoveries create the same effects, changing the way we see the world—changing the possibilities. If not for the ideas of Jesus, Darwin, Gandhi, Confucius, Freud, Einstein, Watson and Crick, Kuhn, and others, we would live in a different world.

The last great disruptive innovation to arise within the learning-and-performance field was the move away from “training” and toward “performance improvement.” Unfortunately, that movement is not yet complete. The hard truth is that we talk more about on-the-job results than we achieve them.

In the move from training to performance improvement, something got lost. Performance gurus often badmouth training as inadequate, but they give short shrift to its strengths, and are blind about how to design the complete training experience to make training work. This kind of blindness is endemic in our field for two reasons, (1) because we have so little understanding of the basics of human learning, and (2) because we rarely evaluate our performance.

Thankfully, Cal Wick and his team (as well as a few others) have tired of training’s big lie. They know that training can be powerful—if only the right processes and procedures are put into place. Because they understand learning, they can envision a systematic set of guidelines that work. Because they measured the performance of their learners, they have been able to fine-tune their recommendations.

The Six Disciplines is poised to become one of the most important books in the learning-and-performance field. Not since the publication of Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson’s book on performance consulting or the seminal work of Bob Mager on performance-based instructional design, has our field been offered a new system of thinking—a new way to do our jobs as learning-and-performance professionals.

The Book’s Overarching Message

The book proposes six disciplines and offers scores of recommendations, but it’s central message is that what happens after training is just as important—and probably more important—than the training itself.

The six disciplines are:

1. Define Outcomes in Business Terms
2. Design the Complete Experience
3. Deliver for Application
4. Drive Follow-Through
5. Deploy Active Support
6. Document Results

Wick, Pollock, Jefferson, and Flanagan suggest that training ought to be conceptualized with a new finish line.

The “finish line” for learning and development has been redefined. It is no longer enough to deliver highly rated and well-attended programs; learning and development’s job is not complete until learning has been converted into results that matter to the business. (p. 13)

This new finish line enables us to see possibilities beyond the completion of smile sheets. A learner’s job—indeed an organization’s job—is not done when the classroom door swings shut.

The authors also emphasize the importance of visualizing training as something that occurs within an expanded timeline. Before-training efforts and after-training efforts are just as critical as the training efforts themselves. Particularly important are the after-training efforts because they focus learner attention on implementing the learning, reinforce fading memories, and transform the process of learning from an individual pursuit to an organizational responsibility. Learning changes from a love-it-and-leave-it experience to a system of reciprocal reinforcement where the results are measured in on-the-job performance.

The Book’s Evidence

The authors cite lots of organizational research to back up their claims, from thinkers and researchers like Broad, Brinkerhoff, and Newstrom. And, the notion of a new finish line is entirely consistent with the research on fundamental learning factors—the kind of research I’ve been working with for almost a decade. For example, we know learners forget most of what they learn—unless that information is reinforced in the workplace. Each one of the six disciplines push us to design an expanded learning experience, one that focuses on workplace implementation, not training per se.

Other forms of evidence are equally important. In addition to research from refereed journals, the book details dozens of real-world learning executives describing their successes in broadening the conception of training and implementing the six disciplines. Wisdom from learning leaders was relayed from these and other organizations: Sony, Gap, 3M, Humana, BBC, Center for Creative Leadership, General Mills, Corning, Forum, University of Notre Dame, Honeywell, AstraZeneca, Pfizer.

Evidence of the effectiveness of technology-based training follow-through is described using data from the powerful methodology of control-group designs. Graphs and text clearly illustrate the results. For example, page 128 conveys how “Use of a Follow-Through Management System Increased Managers’ Awareness of Their Direct Reports’ Development Goals from 40 Percent to 100 Percent.”

While the majority of books in our field fail to convey more than a few breadcrumbs of credible evidence, The Six Disciplines hits for the triple crown, utilizing refereed research, experience of real-world learning leaders, and data from control-group studies. In our field, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.

The Book’s Design

The book is well organized, with an introductory chapter, a summary chapter, and one chapter for each of the six disciplines described in the title. Each chapter ends with a nice twist—two lists of action points; one for “learning leaders” and one for “line leaders.” There are many design examples such as this that demonstrate that the authors are really serious about on-the-job performance. The book utilizes some valuable repetitions of key points. The text design makes reading a pleasure. Quotations are pithy and relevant. Examples are illustrative of the main points in the text.

I read every page of the book, so I can tell you with confidence that it is well written. There are hundreds of specific recommendations throughout the book. I found many insights that I hadn’t thought of—ideas that I will use in my work as a consultant, instructional-design strategist, and creator of training. The graphs and charts are clear and there are some very useful templates. For example, the first chapter concludes with the “Learning Transfer and Application Scorecard,” a 10-item questionnaire. It’s a powerful tool because—and this is my opinion not the authors’—most current training programs will fail miserably when measured by these questions. I’d bet that most training programs will have low scores on ALL 10 items of the scorecard.

I have two almost insignificant complaints about the book. First, the cover is uninspired. The book deserves better. Second, the six disciplines are shoehorned into starting with the letter “D,” in a way that is more misleading than it should be. For example, the second “D” stands for Design the Complete Experience. The author’s emphasis is on the complete experience, but the shorthand version “Design” connotes the traditional instructional-design notion of design—a notion completely inadequate; as the authors argue persuasively in the actual text.

The Book’s Recommendations

The book is jam-packed with recommendations, so I’ll only convey a few of the specific recommendation here. You really ought to buy The Six Disciplines and read it and share it with everyone you know who cares about doing training right. Here’s my short list:

  1. View training follow-up as part of every training intervention.
  2. Get learners’ managers involved before and after training.
  3. Evaluate your training programs to determine whether they’re working and to improve subsequent training.
  4. Before designing a training program, determine what learners will be doing better and differently after the program. Be clear about what evidence will be acceptable to determine success.
  5. Understand the business. Be proactive in suggesting training-and-development solutions. Check your understanding with line leaders.
  6. Utilize a technology-based training-follow-through system to drive learning application and accountability.
  7. Utilize evidence-based practices, including research-based instructional design and after-training evaluation.
  8. Avoid “dense-pack education—the tendency to cram every conceivable topic into a program of a few days.”
  9. Focus on creating transfer during all phases of training—while designing the training, while delivering it, and during follow-up.
  10. Consider using senior executives to teach leadership—it is one of the fastest- growing trends in executive education.
  11. During training, stop after each topic and ask participants questions that challenge them to think about applying what they know.
  12. Learners should develop “learning transfer objectives” and be prepared to work toward them while back on the job.
  13. Send learners’ objectives to the learners’ managers to increase follow-up application and accountability.
  14. Utilize Marshall Goldsmith’s “feedforward” techniques to help learners generate ideas for training application.
  15. Recognize that there are factors that decrease the likelihood that learners will put their learning into practice, and that the impact of these factors can be minimized only through a systematic follow-through process.
  16. Utilize reminders to facilitate memory and spur on-the-job application of training.
  17. Hold employees accountable for making effective use of the training they receive.
  18. Consider coaching as a complement to training, providing learners with coaches to increase the likelihood of energetic and appropriate application.
  19. Learning programs that “demonstrate sound, thorough, credible, and auditable evidence of results are able to garner additional investment; those that cannot are at risk.”
  20. Learning and development units within companies need to communicate their results to the organization using multiple communication attempts and various communication channels.

How do Your Learning Programs Rate?

As I mentioned earlier, the Fort Hill Company has developed a Learning Transfer and Application Scorecard (displayed on pages 10 and 11) that targets the most important and leveragable characteristics that make training effective. Every training program ought to be measured with this scorecard. To get an idea of how well your training stacks up, I’ve included three of the ten items. I changed the wording slightly to help you make sense of the items before you read the book. How well do your training programs do the following?

  • After the program, participants are reminded periodically of their post-learning objectives and of opportunities to apply what they learned.
  • Participants’ managers are actively engaged during the postprogram period. They review and agree on after-learning objectives, and expect and monitor the progress that learners are making in applying what they’ve learned.
  • The design of the learning program covers the entire process from initial invitation to attend, through the learning sessions, and through on-the-job application and measurement of results.


The Six Disciplines is the most important book written in our field in quite some time. It provides a comprehensive system to make training effective. Its radical new nugget of truth is its insistence on training follow-through. The book’s ideas are evidence-based and are consistent with the human learning system. The messages in the book have been tested and refined in the real world. Tools are available (for example, Fort Hill’s Friday5s follow-through management system) that make the recommendations actionable.

Training Follow-Through Systems

I am aware of two training follow-through systems, Fort Hill’s Friday5s, and ZengerFolkman’s ActionPlan Mapper. I have formally reviewed the ZengerFolkman product, but have yet to put my review of Friday5s on paper. Both are powerful programs. Friday5s may have an edge given its longer tenure in the marketplace and its ability to provide learning reminders, not just reminders about learning transfer objectives. My recommendation is that you test them for yourself.