21st December 2021

Neon Elephant Award Announcement

Dr. Will Thalheimer, Principal at TiER1 Performance, Founder of Work-Learning Research, announces the winner of the 2021 Neon Elephant Award, given to two people this year, Clark Quinn and Patti Shank. Clark Quinn for writing the book, Learning Science for Instructional Designers. Patti Shank for writing the book Write Better Multiple-Choice Questions to Assess Learning—and for their many years translating learning research into practical recommendations.

Click here to learn more about the Neon Elephant Award…

2021 Award Winners – Clark Quinn and Patti Shank

Clark Quinn, PhD is an internationally-recognized consultant and thought-leader in learning science, learning technology and organizational learning. Clark holds a doctorate in Cognitive Psychology from the University of California at San Diego. Since 2001, Clark has been consulting, researching, writing, and speaking through his consulting practice, Quinnovation (website). Clark has been at the forefront of some of the most important trends in workplace learning, including his early advocacy for mobile learning, his work with the Internet Time Group advocating for a greater emphasis on workplace learning, and his many efforts to bring research-based wisdom to elearning design. With the publication of his new book, Clark again shows leadership—now in the cause of giving instructional designers a clear and highly-readable guide to the learning sciences.

Clark is the author of numerous books. The following are representative:

 

Patti Shank, PhD

Patti Shank, PhD, is an internationally-recognized learning analyst, writer, and translational researcher in the learning, performance, and talent space. Dr. Shank holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation, Instructional Technology from the University of Colorado, Denver and a Masters degree in Education and Human Development from George Washington University. Since 1996, Patti has been consulting, researching, and writing through her consulting practice, Learning Peaks LLC (pattishank.com). As the best research-to-practice professionals tend to do, Patti has extensive experience as a practitioner, including roles such as training specialist, training supervisor, and manager of training and education. Patti has also played a critical role collaborating with the workplace learning’s most prominent trade associations—working, sometimes quixotically, to encourage the adoption of research-based wisdom for learning.

Patti is the author of numerous books, focusing not only on evidence-based practices, but also on online learning, elearning, and learning assessment. The following are her most recent books:


With Gratitude

In their decades of work, both Patti Shank and Clark Quinn have lived careers of heroic effort, perseverance, and passion. Their love for the learning-and-development field is deep and true. They don’t settle for half the truth, they don’t settle for half measures. But rather, they show their mettle even when they get pushback, even when times are tough, even when easier paths might call. It is an honor to recognize Patti and Clark as this year’s winners of the Neon Elephant Award.

 

Click here to learn more about the Neon Elephant Award…

 

 

21st December 2020

Neon Elephant Award Announcement

Dr. Will Thalheimer, President of Work-Learning Research, Inc., announces the winner of the 2020 Neon Elephant Award, given to Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner for writing the book, Evidence-Informed Learning Design: Use Evidence to Create Training Which Improves Performanceand for their many years publishing their blog 3-Star Learning Experiences.

Click here to learn more about the Neon Elephant Award…

2020 Award Winners – Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner

Mirjam Neelen is one of the world’s most accomplished research-to-practice practitioners in the workplace learning field. On the practical side, Mirjam has played many roles. As of this writing, she is the Head of Global Learning Design and Learning Sciences at Novartis. She has been a Learning Experience Design Lead at Accenture and at the Learnovate Centre in Dublin, an Instructional Designer at Google, and Instructional Design Lead at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Mirjam utilizes evidence-informed wisdom in her work and also partners with Paul A. Kirschner in the 3-Star Learning Experience blog to bring research and evidence-informed insights to the workplace learning field. Mirjam is a member of the Executive Advisory Board of The Learning Development Accelerator.

Paul A. Kirschner is Professor Emeritus at the Open University of the Netherlands and owner of kirschner-ED, an educational consulting practice. Paul is an internationally recognized expert in learning and educational research, with many classic studies to his name. He has served as President of the International Society for the Learning Sciences, is an AERA (American Education Research Association) Research Fellow (the first European to receive this honor). He has published several very successful books: Ten Steps to Complex Learning, Urban Myths about Learning and Education. More Urban Myths about Learning and Education, and this year he published How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice with Carl Hendrick — as well as the book he and Mirjam are honored for here. Kirschner previously won the Neon Elephant Award in 2016 for the book Urban Myths about Learning and Education written with Pedro De Bruyckere and Casper D. Hulshof. Also, Paul’s co-author on the Ten-Steps book, Jeroen van Merriënboer, won the Neon-Elephant award in 2011.

Relevant Websites

Mirjam’s and Paul’s book, Evidence-Informed Learning Design was published only ten months ago, but has already swept the world as a book critical to learning architects and learning executives in their efforts to build the most effective learning designs. In my book review earlier this year I wrote, “Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner have written a truly beautiful book—one that everyone in the workplace learning field should read, study, and keep close at hand. It’s a book of transformational value because it teaches us how to think about our jobs as practitioners in utilizing research-informed ideas to build maximally effective learning architectures.”

Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner are the kind of research translators we should honor and emulate in the workplace learning field. They are unafraid in seeking the truth, passionate in sharing research- and evidence-informed wisdom, dogged in compiling research from scientific journals, and thoughtful in making research ideas accessible to practitioners in our field. It is an honor to recognize Mirjam and Paul as this year’s winners of the Neon Elephant Award.

 

Click here to learn more about the Neon Elephant Award…

The LEARNNOVATORS team (specifically Santhosh Kumar) asked if I would join them in their Crystal Balling with Learnnovators interview series, and I accepted! They have some really great people on the series, I recommend that you check it out!

The most impressive thing was that they must have studied my whole career history and read my publication list and watched my videos because they came up with a whole set of very pertinent and important questions. I was BLOWN AWAY—completely IMPRESSED! And, given their dedication, I spent a ton of time preparing and answering their questions.

It’s a two part series and here are the links:

Here are some of the quotes they pulled out and/or I’d like to highlight:

Learning is one of the most wondrous, complex, and important areas of human functioning.

The explosion of different learning technologies beyond authoring tools and LMSs is likely to create a wave of innovations in learning.

Data can be good, but also very very bad.

Learning Analytics is poised to cause problems as well. People are measuring all the wrong things. They are measuring what is easy to measure in learning, but not what is important.

We will be bamboozled by vendors who say they are using AI, but are not, or who are using just 1% AI and claiming that their product is AI-based.

Our senior managers don’t understand learning, they think it is easy, so they don’t support L&D like they should.

Because our L&D leaders live in a world where they are not understood, they do stupid stuff like pretending to align learning with business terminology and business-school vibes—forgetting to align first with learning.

We lie to our senior leaders when we show them our learning data—our smile sheets and our attendance data. We then manage toward these superstitious targets, causing a gross loss of effectiveness.

Learning is hard and learning that is focused on work is even harder because our learners have other priorities—so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much.

We know from the science of human cognition that when people encounter visual stimuli, their eyes move rapidly from one object to another and back again trying to comprehend what they see. I call this the “eye-path phenomenon.” So, because of this inherent human tendency, we as presenters—as learning designers too!—have to design our presentation slides to align with these eye-path movements.

Organizations now—and even more so in the near future—will use many tools in a Learning-Technology Stack. These will include (1) platforms that offer asynchronous cloud-based learning environments that enable and encourage better learning designs, (2) tools that enable realistic practice in decision-making, (3) tools that reinforce and remind learners, (4) spaced-learning tools, (5) habit-support tools, (6) insight-learning tools (those that enable creative ideation and innovation), et cetera

Learnnovators asked me what I hoped for the learning and development field. Here’s what I said:

Nobody is good at predicting the future, so I will share the vision I hope for. I hope we in learning and development continue to be passionate about helping other people learn and perform at their best. I hope we recognize that we have a responsibility not just to our organizations, but beyond business results to our learners, their coworkers/families/friends, to the community, society, and the environs. I hope we become brilliantly professionalized, having rigorous standards, a well-researched body of knowledge, higher salaries, and career paths beyond L&D. I hope we measure better, using our results to improve what we do. I hope we, more-and-more, take a small-S scientific approach to our practices, doing more A-B testing, compiling a database of meaningful results, building virtuous cycles of continuous improvement. I hope we develop better tools to make building better learning—and better performance—easier and more effective. And I hope we continue to feel good about our contributions to learning. Learning is at the heart of our humanity!

Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner have written a truly beautiful book—one that everyone in the workplace learning field should read, study, and keep close at hand. It’s a book of transformational value because it teaches us how to think about our jobs as practitioners in utilizing research-informed ideas to build maximally effective learning architectures.

Their book is titled, Evidence-Informed Learning Design: Use Evidence to Create Training Which Improves Performance. The book warns us of learning myths and misconceptions—but it goes deeper to bring us insights in how these myths arise and how we can disarm them in our work.

Here’s a picture of me and my copy! The book officially goes on sale today in the United States.

 

Click to get your copy of the book from Amazon (US).

The book covers the most powerful research-informed learning factors known by science. Those who follow my work will hear familiar terms like Feedback, Retrieval Practice, Spacing; but also, terms like double-barreled learning, direct instruction, nuanced design, and more. I will keep this book handy in my own work as a research-inspired consultant, author, provocateur—but this book is not designed for people like me. Evidence-Informed Learning Design is perfect for everyone with more than a year of experience in the workplace learning field.

The book so rightly laments that “the learning field is cracked at its foundation.” It implores us to open our eyes to what works and what doesn’t, and fundamentally to rethink how we as practitioners work in our teams to bring about effective learning.

The book intrigues as can be seen in sections like, “Why myths are like zombies,” and “No knowledge, no nothing,” and “Pigeonholing galore.”

One of my favorite parts of the book is the interviews of researchers that delve into the practical ramifications of their work. There are interviews with an AI expert, a neuroscientist, and an expert on complex learning, among others. These interviews will wake up more than a few of us.

What makes this book so powerful is that it combines the work of a practitioner and a researcher. Mirjam is one of our field’s most dedicated practitioners in bringing research inspirations to bear on learning practice. Paul is one of the great academic researchers in doing usable research and bringing that research to bear on educational practice. Together, for many years, they’ve published one of the most important blogs in the workplace learning field, the Three-Star Learning blog (https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/).

Here are some things you will learn in the book:

Big Picture Concepts:

  • What learning myths to avoid.
  • What learning factors to focus on in your learning designs.
  • How to evaluate research claims.

Specific Concepts:

  • Whether Google searches can supplant training.
  • What neuroscience says about learning, if anything.
  • How to train for complex skills.
  • How AI might help learning, now and in the future.
  • Types of research to be highly skeptical of.
  • Whether you need to read scientific research yourself.
  • Whether you should use learning objectives, or not, or when.
  • Whether learning should be fun.
  • The telltale signs of bad research.

This book is so good that it should be required reading for everyone graduating at the university level in learning-and-development.

 

 

Click on the book image to see it on Amazon (US).

 

I’m thrilled and delighted to share the news that Jane Bozarth, research-to-practice advocate, author of Show Your Work, and Director of Research for the eLearning Guild, is pledging $1,000 to the Learning Styles Challenge!!

 

 

Jane has been a vigorous debunker of the Learning-Styles Myth for many, many years! For those of you who don’t know, the Learning-Styles Notion is the idea that different people have different styles of learning and that by designing our learning programs to meet each style—that is, to actually provide different learning content or activities to different learners—learning will be improved. Sounds great, but unfortunately, dozens and dozens of research studies and many major research reviews have found the Learning-Styles Notion to be untrue!

 

“Decades of research suggest that learning styles, or the belief that people learn better when they receive instruction in their dominant way of learning, may be one of the most pervasive myths about cognition.”

Nancekivell, S. E., Shah, P., & Gelman, S. A. (2020).
Maybe they’re born with it, or maybe it’s experience:
Toward a deeper understanding of the learning style myth.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(2), 221–235.

 

 

“Several reviews that span decades have evaluated the literature on learning styles (e.g., Arter & Jenkins, 1979; Kampwirth & Bates, 1980; Kavale & Forness, 1987; Kavale, Hirshoren, & Forness, 1998; Pashler et al., 2009; Snider, 1992; Stahl, 1999; Tarver & Dawson, 1978), and each has drawn the conclusion that there is no viable evidence to support the theory.”

Willingham, D. T., Hughes, E. M., & Dobolyi, D. G. (2015).
The scientific status of learning styles theories.
Teaching of Psychology, 42(3), 266-271.

 

With Jane’s contribution, the Learning Styles Challenge is up to $6,000! That is, if someone can demonstrate a beneficial effect from using learning styles to design learning, the underwriters will pay that person or group $6,000.

The Learning Styles Challenge began on August 4th 2006 when I offered $1,000 for the first challenge. In 2014, it expanded to $5,000 when additional pledges were made by Guy Wallace, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan, Bob Carleton, and Bob’s company, Vector Group.

Thank you to Jane Bozarth for her generous contribution to the cause! And check out her excellent research review of the learning-styles literature. Jane’s report is filled with tons of research, but also many very practical recommendations for learning professionals.

For over two years I’ve been compiling and analyzing the research on learning transfer as it relates to workplace learning and development. Today I am releasing my findings to the public.

Here is the Overview from the Research-to-Practice Report:

Learning transfer—or “training transfer” as it is sometimes called—occurs when people learn concepts and/or skills and later utilize those concepts/skills in work situations.1 Because we invest time, effort, and resources to create learning interventions, we hope to get a return on those investments in the form of some tangible benefit—usually some form of improved work outcome. Transfer, then, is our paramount goal. When we transfer, we are successful. When we don’t transfer, we fail.

To be practical about this, it is not enough to help our learners comprehend concepts or understand skills. It is not enough to get them to remember concepts/skills. It is not enough to inspire our learners to be motivated to use what they’ve learned. These results may be necessary, but they are not sufficient. We learning professionals hold transfer sacrosanct because it is the ultimate standard for success and failure.

This research review was conducted to determine factors that can be leveraged by workplace learning professionals to increase transfer success. This effort was not intended to be an exhaustive scientific review, but rather a quick analysis of recent research reviews, meta-analyses, and selected articles from scientific refereed journals. The goal of this review was to distill validated transfer factors—learning design and learning support elements that increase the likelihood that learning will transfer—and make these insights practical for trainers, learning architects, instructional designers, elearning developers, and learning professionals in general. In targeting this goal, this review aligns with transfer researchers’ recent admonition to ensure the scientific research on learning transfer gets packaged in a format that is usable by those who design and develop learning (Baldwin, Ford, Blume, 2017).

Unfortunately, after reviewing the scientific articles referenced in this report as well as others not cited here, my conclusion is that many of the most common transfer approaches have not yet been researched with sufficient rigor or intensity to enable us to have full certainty about how to engineer transfer success. At the end of this report, I make recommendations on how we can have a stronger research base.

Despite the limitations of the research, this quick review did uncover many testable hypotheses about the factors that may support transfer. Factors are presented here in two categories—those with strong support in the research, and those the research identifies as having possible benefits. I begin by highlighting the overall strength of the research.

Special Thanks for Early Sponsorship

Translating scientific research involves a huge investment in time, and to be honest, I am finding it more and more difficult to carve out time to do translational research. So it is with special gratitude that I want to thank Emma Weber of Lever Transfer of Learning for sponsoring me back in 2017 on some of the early research-translation efforts that got me started in compiling the research for this report. Without Lever’s support, this research would not have been started!

Tidbits from the Report

There are 17 research-supported recommended transfer factors and an additional six possible transfer factors. Here are a subset of the supported transfer factors:

  • Transfer occurs most potently to the extent that our learning designs strengthen knowledge and skills.
  • Far transfer hardly ever happens. Near transfer—transfer to contexts similar to those practiced during training or other learning efforts—can happen.
  • Learners who set goals are more likely to transfer.
  • Learners who also utilize triggered action planning will be even more likely to transfer, compared to those who only set goals alone.
  • Learners with supervisors who encourage, support, and monitor learning transfer are more likely to successfully transfer.
  • The longer the time between training and transfer, the less likely that training-generated knowledge create benefits for transfer.
  • The more success learners have in their first attempts to transfer what they’ve learned, the more likely they are to persevere in more transfer-supporting behaviors.

The remaining recommendations can be viewed in the report (available below).

Recommendations to Researchers

While transfer researchers have done a great deal of work in uncovering how transfer works, the research base is not as solid as it should be. For example, much of the transfer research uses learners’ subjective estimates of transfer—rather than actual transfer—as the dependent measure. Transfer researchers themselves recognize the limitations of the research base, but they could be doing more. In the report, I offer several additional recommendations to the improvements they’ve already suggested.

The Research-to-Practice Report

 

Access the report by clicking here…

 

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12th December 2019

Neon Elephant Award Announcement

Dr. Will Thalheimer, President of Work-Learning Research, Inc., announces the winner of the 2019 Neon Elephant Award, given to David Epstein for writing the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and for his many years as a journalist and science-inspired truth teller.

Click here to learn more about the Neon Elephant Award…

 

2019 Award Winner – David Epstein

David Epstein, is an award-winning writer and journalist, having won awards for his writing from such esteemed bodies as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the National Center on Disability and Journalism—and has been included in the Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. David has been a science writer for ProPublica and a senior writer at Sports Illustrated where he helped break the story on baseball legend Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use. David speaks internationally on performance science and the uses (and misuses) of data and his TED talk on human athletic performance has been viewed over eight million times.

Mr. Epstein is the author of two books:

David is honored this year for his new book on human learning and development, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. The book lays out a very strong case for why most people will become better performers if they focus broadly on their development rather than focusing tenaciously and exclusively on one domain. If we want to raise our children to be great soccer players (aka “football” in most places), we’d be better off having them play multiple sports rather than just soccer. If we want to develop the most innovative cancer researchers, we shouldn’t just train them in cancer-related biology and medicine, we should give them a wealth of information and experiences from a wide range of fields.

Range is a phenomenal piece of art and science. Epstein is truly brilliant in compiling and comprehending the science he reviews, while at the same time telling stories and organizing the book in ways that engage and make complex concepts understandable. In writing the book, David is debunking the common wisdom that performance is improved most rapidly and effectively by focusing practice and learning toward a narrow foci. Where others have only hinted at the power of a broad developmental pathway, Epstein’s Range builds up a towering landmark of evidence that will remain visible on the horizon of the learning field for decades if not millennium.

We in the workplace learning-and-development field should immerse ourselves in Range—not just in thinking about how to design learning and architect learning contexts, but also in thinking about how to evaluate prospects for recruitment and hiring. It’s likely that we currently undervalue people with broad backgrounds and artificially overvalue people with extreme and narrow talents.

Here is a nice article where Epstein wrestles with a question that elucidates an issue we have in our field—what happens when many people in a field are not following research-based guidelines. The article is set in the medical profession, but there are definite parallels to what we face everyday in the learning field.

Epstein is the kind of person we should honor and emulate in the workplace learning field. He is unafraid in seeking the truth, relentless and seemingly inexhaustible in his research efforts, and clear and engaging as a conveyor of information. It is an honor to recognize him as this year’s winner of the Neon Elephant Award.

 

Click here to learn more about the Neon Elephant Award…

Christian Unkelbach and Fabia Högden, researchers at the Universität zu Köln, reviewed research on how pairing celebrities—or other stimuli—can imbue objects with characteristics that might be beneficial. Their article in Current Directions in Psychological Science (2019, 28(6), 540–546), titled Why Does George Clooney Make Coffee Sexy? The Case for Attribute Conditioning, described earlier research that showed how REPEATED PAIRINGS of George Clooney and the Nespresso brand, in advertisements, imbued the coffee brand with attributes such as cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and seductive. Research on persuasion (see Cialdini, 2009 and here’s a nice blog-post review), also has demonstrated the power of celebrities to gain attention and be persuasive.

 

Can we use the power of celebrity to support our training?

Yes! And first realize that you don’t have to have access to worldwide celebrities. There are always people in our organizations who are celebrities as well; people like our CEOs, our best and brightest, our most beloved. You don’t even really need celebrities to get some kind of transference.

What could celebrity do for us? It could make employees more interested in our training, more likely to pay attention, more likely to apply what they’ve learned, etc.

The only catch I see is that this kind of attribute transference may require multiple pairings, so we’d have to figure out ways to do that without it feeling repetitive.

I, Will Thalheimer, am Available!

George Clooney shouldn’t have all the fun. If you’d like to imbue your learning product or service with a sense of sexy research-inspired sophistication, my services are available. I’m so good, I can even sell overhead transparencies to trainers!

 

I’m joking! Please don’t call! SMILE

Will’s Note: ONE DAY after publishing this first draft, I’ve decided that I mucked this up, mashing up what researchers, research translators, and learning professionals should focus on. Within the next week, I will update this to a second draft. You can still read the original below (for now):

 

Some evidence is better than other evidence. We naturally trust ten well-designed research studies better than one. We trust a well-controlled scientific study better than a poorly-controlled study. We trust scientific research more than opinion research, unless all we care about is people’s opinions.

Scientific journal editors have to decide which research articles to accept for publication and which to reject. Practitioners have to decide which research to trust and which to ignore. Politicians have to know which lies to tell and which to withhold (kidding, sort of).

To help themselves make decisions, journal editors regular rank each article on a continuum from strong research methodology to weak. The medical field regularly uses a level-of-evidence approach to making medical recommendations.

There are many taxonomies for “levels of evidence” or “hierarchy of evidence” as it is commonly called. Wikipedia offers a nice review of the hierarchy-of-evidence concept, including some important criticisms.

Hierarchy of Evidence for Learning Practitioners

The suggested models for level of evidence were created by and for researchers, so they are not directly applicable to learning professionals. Still, it’s helpful for us to have our own hierarchy of evidence, one that we might actually be able to use. For that reason, I’ve created one, adding in the importance of practical evidence that is missing from the research-focused taxonomies. Following the research versions, Level 1 is the best.

  • Level 1 — Evidence from systematic research reviews and/or meta-analyses of all relevant randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that have ALSO been utilized by practitioners and found both beneficial and practical from a cost-time-effort perspective.
  • Level 2 — Same evidence as Level 1, but NOT systematically or sufficiently utilized by practitioners to confirm benefits and practicality.
  • Level 3 — Consistent evidence from a number of RCTs using different contexts and situations and learners; and conducted by different researchers.
  • Level 4 — Evidence from one or more RCTs that utilize the same research context.
  • Level 5 — Evidence from one or more well-designed controlled trial without randomization of learners to different learning factors.
  • Level 6 — Evidence from well-designed cohort or case-control studies.
  • Level 7 — Evidence from descriptive and/or qualitative studies.
  • Level 8 — Evidence from research-to-practice experts.
  • Level 9 — Evidence from the opinion of other authorities, expert committees, etc.
  • Level 10 — Evidence from the opinion of practitioners surveyed, interviewed, focus-grouped, etc.
  • Level 11 — Evidence from the opinion of learners surveyed, interviewed, focus-grouped, etc.
  • Level 12 — Evidence curated from the internet.

Let me consider this Version 1 until I get feedback from you and others!

Critical Considerations

  1. Some evidence is better than other evidence
  2. If you’re not an expert in evaluating evidence, get insights from those who are–particularly valuable are research-to-practice experts (those who have considerable experience in translating research into practical recommendations).
  3. Opinion research in the learning field is especially problematic, because the learning field is comprised of both strong and poor conceptions of what works.
  4. Learner opinions are problematic as well because learners often have poor intuitions about what works for them in supporting their learning.
  5. Curating information from the internet is especially problematic because it’s difficult to distinguish between good and poor sources.

Trusted Research to Practice Experts

(in no particular order, they’re all great!)

  • (Me) Will Thalheimer
  • Patti Shank
  • Julie Dirksen
  • Clark Quinn
  • Mirjam Neelen
  • Ruth Clark
  • Donald Clark
  • Karl Kapp
  • Jane Bozarth
  • Ulrich Boser