Thankful for So Much!! Paying Off My Student Loans at 60 Years of Age

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Today, after turning 60 a few months ago, I finally paid off my student loans—the loans that made it possible for me to get my doctorate from Columbia University. I was in school for eight years from 1988 to 1996, studying with some of the brightest minds in learning, development, and psychology (Rothkopf, Black, Peverly, Kuhn, Higgins, Dweck, Mischel, Darling-Hammond, not to mention my student cohort). If my math is right, that’s 22 years to pay off my student-loan debt. A ton of interest paid too!

I’m eternally grateful! Without the federal government funding my education, my life would have been so much different. I would never have learned how to understand the research on learning. My work at Work-Learning Research, Inc.—attempting to bridge the gap between research and practice—would not have been possible. Thank you to my country—the United States of America—and fellow citizens for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime!! Thanks also must go to my wife for marrying into the forever-string of monthly payments. Without her tolerance and support I certainly would be lost in a different life.

I’ve often reflected on my good fortune in being able to pursue my interests, and wondered why we as a society don’t do more to give our young people an easier road to pursue their dreams. Even when I hear about the brilliant people winning MacArthur fellowships, I wonder why only those who have proven their genius are being boosted. They are deserving of course, but where is our commitment to those who might be teetering on a knife edge of opportunity and economic desperation? I was even lucky as an undergrad back in the late 1970’s, paying relatively little for a good education at a state school and having parents who funded my tuition and living expenses. College today is wicked expensive, cutting out even more of our promising youth from realizing their potential.

Economic mobility is not as easy as we might like it. The World Bank just released a report showing that worldwide only 12% of young adults have been able to obtain more education than their parents. The United States iis no longer the land of opportunity we once liked to imagine.

This is crazy short-sighted, and combine this with our tendency to underfund our public schools, it has the smell of a societal suicide.

That’s depressing! Today I’m celebrating my ability to get student loans two-and-a-half decades ago and pay them off over the last twenty-some years! Hooray!

Seems not so important when put into perspective. It’s something though.

 

 

The Snake Oil Story—Preface to Clark Quinn’s Book on Debunking

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This is my preface to Clark Quinn’s book on debunking the myths in the learning field, Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions: Debunking Learning Myths and Superstitions. (available from Amazon here).

Clark Stanley worked as cowboy and later as a very successful entrepreneur, selling medicine in the United States that he made based on secrets he learned from an Arizona Hopi Indian medicine man. His elixir was made from rattlesnake oil, and was marketed in the 1890’s through public events in which Stanley killed live rattlesnakes and squeezed out their oil in front of admiring crowds. After his medicine gained a wide popularity, Stanley was able to set up production facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with the help of a pharmacist. Stanley made himself a rich man.

You may not know his name, but you’ve certainly heard of his time and place. It was the era of patent medicines—false and sometimes dangerous elixirs sold to men and women of all stripes. Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root. Oxien. Kickapoo Indian Sagwa. Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills. Enzyte. Bonnore’s Electro Magnetic Bathing Fluid. Radithor. Liquozone. And of course, Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment.

These medicines were bought by the millions. Fortunes were made. Millions of people were bamboozled, made sick, killed or murdered depending on how you see it. It turns out that, upon being tested, Stanley’s elixir was found to be made mostly from mineral oil, a worthless potion sold by a charlatan. His story of the medicine man and the rattlesnake juice was a more potent concoction than his famous elixir, which when tested was found to have no snake oil anyway.

What causes men and women to miss the truth, to fail to see, to continue happily in harming themselves and those around them? This, unfortunately, is not a question just for the era of patent medicines. It is eternal. It goes back to the dawn of humanity and continues today as well. I have no answer except to assume that our credulity is part of our humanity—and should guide us to be on guard at all times.

What stopped the patent-medicine pandemic of poison, persuasion, and placebo? Did we the people rise up on our own and throw out the scoundrels, the money-grubbers, the snake-oil salesmen? Did we see that we were deceived, or too hopeful, or too blind? Did we as a community heed our senses and find a way to overcome the dangers hidden from us?

No! We did not!

It was not a mass movement back to rationality and truth that saved us. It was the work of a few intrepid agitators who made all the difference. Journalists began reporting on deaths, sicknesses, and addictions resulting from the use of patent medicines. In 1905, Collier’s Weekly published a cover story that exploded the industry. Written by Samuel Hopkins Adams a former crime reporter, with the title, “The Great American Fraud: The Patent Medicine Evil,” the long expose contained sections with headings like, “Medicine or Liquor?”, “The Men Who Back the Fake,” “Absolutely False Claims,” “Drugs that Deprave,” “Prescribing Without Authority,” and “Where the Money Goes.”

The article—or series of articles that today we would call investigative journalism—opened the floodgates and led directly to the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, followed later by additional regulations and requirements that continue to this day, with some success, protecting our health and safety.

The ugly truth is that we need help in seeing what we don’t see. This is true too in the learning industry and has been true since at least the early 1900’s when thought leaders in our industry floated bogus claims that people remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, et cetera. Indeed, it was partly the bogus claims floating around the learning industry in the late 1990’s that made me optimistic that starting a research-based consulting practice would find an audience, that perhaps the learning field could be protected from snake oil charlatans.

Bogus claims are not merely inert flotsam to be navigated around. At a minimum, they take attention away from learning practices that are more fundamental and effective, pushing us to waste time and resources. More insidious is that they proactively cause harm, hurting learners and weakening our learning outcomes.

I wish I could report that starting Work-Learning Research twenty years ago has had the influence that Samuel Hopkins Adams had in his journalism. Alas, I am a faint voice in the howling wind of our industry. Fortunately, there are many muckraking research-to-practice practitioners today, including folks like Paul Kirschner, Patti Shank, Guy Wallace, Pedro De Bruyckere, Julie Dirksen, Donald Clark, Ruth Clark, Mirjam Neelen, Jane Bozarth, and more. There are also legions of academic researchers who do the science necessary to enable research-to-practice wisdom to be compiled and conveyed to trainers, instructional designers, elearning developers and learning executives.

I am especially optimistic now that Clark Quinn has compiled, for the first time, the myths, misconceptions, and confusions that imbue the workplace learning field with faulty decision making and ineffective learning practices. As Clark rightly advises, don’t read the book in one sitting. You will find it too much—too many misconceptions and malingering falsehoods, and too much heartache to think that our field could tolerate so much snake oil.

Here’s what we don’t realize. Today’s workplace-learning snake oil is costing us billions of dollars in wasted effort, misspent resources, ill-advised decisions, and distraction from the science-of-learning fundamentals that have proven to be effective! Every time a trainer reads an article on learning styles and adjusts his or her training to make it suitable for visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and olfactory learners; time is wasted, money is spent, and learning is hurt. Every time an instructional designer goes to a conference and hears that neuroscience should guide learning design, he or she takes this faulty meme back to colleagues and infects them with false hope and ineffective learning strategies. Every time a Chief Learning Officer hears that learning events should be shrunk to 4-minute microlearning videos, that storytelling is everything, that all learning is social, that virtual reality is the future of learning—every time our learning executives jump on a bandwagon and send us to training or conferences or hire experts in these multitudinous fascinations—we are diverted from the veritable essence of learning. We waste our own developmental budgets with snake-oil rostrums. We waste time organizing ourselves around wrong-headed initiatives. We ignore what really works, all the while costing our organizations billions of dollars in waste and ineffective learning practices.

Let us start anew today. We can begin with Clark’s book. It is a veritable treasure chest of wisdom. But let’s keep going. Let’s stay skeptical. Let’s look to the scientific research for knowledge. Let’s become more demanding and knowledgeable ourselves, knowing that we all have more to learn. Let’s look to the research translators who know the work that we do as instructional designers, trainers, and developers. Let’s do our own testing. Let’s improve our evaluation systems so that we get better feedback day by day. Let’s pilot, rework, improve, and continue to learn!

As the history of patent medicine shows, we must be forever vigilant against our own blindness and against those who will sell us the miraculous hope of snake-oil cure-alls.

Dealing with Emotional Readiness — What Should We be Doing?

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I included this piece in my newsletter this morning (which you can sign up for here) and it seemed to really resonate with people, so I’m including it here.

I’ve always had a high tolerance for pain, but breaking my collarbone at the end of February really sent me crashing down a mountain. Lying in bed, I got thinking about the emotional side of workplace performance. I don’t have brilliant insights here, just maybe some thoughts that will get you thinking.

Skiing with my family in Vermont, it had been a very good week. My wife and I, skiing together on our next-to-last day on the mountain, went to look for the kids who told us they’d be skiing in the terrain park (where the jumps are). My wife skied down first, then I went. There was a little jump, about a foot high, of the kind I’d jumped many times. But this time would be different.

As I sailed over the jump — slowly because I’m wary of going too fast and flying too far — I looked down and saw, NOT snow, but stairs. WTF? Every other time I took a small jump there was snow on the other side. Not metal stairs. Not dry metal stairs. In mid-air my thought was, “okay, just stay calm, you’ll ski over the stairs back to snow.” Alas, what happened was that I came crashing down on my left shoulder, collarbone splintering into five or six pieces, and lay 20 feet down the hill. I knew right away that things were bad. I knew that my life would be upended for weeks or months. I knew that miserable times lay ahead.

I got up quickly. I was in shock and knew it. I looked up the mountain back at the jump. Freakin’ stairs!! What they hell were they doing there? I was rip-roaring mad! One of my skis was still on the stairs. The dry surface must have grabbed it, preventing me from skiing further down the slope. I retrieved my ski. A few people skied by me. My wife was long gone down the mountain. I was in shock and I was mad as hell and I couldn’t think straight, but I knew I shouldn’t sit down so I just stood there for five or ten minutes in a daze. Finally someone asked if I was okay, and I yelled crazy loud for the whole damn mountain to hear, “NO!” He was nice, said he’d contact the ski patrol.

I’ll spare you the details of the long road to recovery — a recovery not yet complete — but the notable events are that I had badly broken my collarbone, badly sprained my right thumb and mildly sprained my left thumb, couldn’t button my shirts or pants for a while, had to lie in bed in one position or the pain would be too great, watched a ton of Netflix (I highly recommend Seven Seconds!), couldn’t do my work, couldn’t help around the house, got surgery on my collarbone, got pneumonia, went to physical therapy, etc… Enough!

Feeling completely useless, I couldn’t help reflect on the emotional side of learning, development, and workplace performance in general. In L&D, we tend to be helping people who are able to learn and take actions — but maybe not all the people we touch are emotionally present and able. Some are certainly dealing with family crises, personal insecurities, previous job setbacks, and the like. Are we doing enough for them?

I’m not a person prone to depression, but I was clearly down for the count. My ability to do meaningful work was nil. At first it was the pain and the opiates. Later it was the knowledge that I just couldn’t get much work done, that I was unable to keep up with promises I’d made, that I was falling behind. I knew, intellectually, that I just had to wait it out — and this was a great comfort. But still, my inability to think and to work reminded me that as a learning professional I ought to be more empathetic with learners who may be suffering as well.

Usually, dealing with emotional issues of an employee falls to the employee and his or her manager. I used to be a leadership trainer and I don’t remember preparing my learners for how to deal with direct reports who might be emotionally unready to fully engage with work. Fortunately today we are willing to talk about individual differences, but I think we might be forgetting the roller-coaster ride of being human, that we may differ in our emotional readiness on any given day. Managers/supervisors rightly are the best resource for dealing with such issues, but we in L&D might have a role to play as well.

I don’t have answers here. I wish I did. Probably it begins with empathy. We also can help more when we know our learners more — and when we can look them in the eyes. This is tricky business though. We’re not qualified to be therapists and simple solutions like being nice and kind and keeping things positive is not always the answer. We know from the research that challenging people with realistic decision-making challenges is very beneficial. Giving honest feedback on poor performance is beneficial.

We should probably avoid scolding and punishment and reprimands. Competition has been shown to harmful in at least some learning situations. Leaderboards may make emotional issues worse, and generally the limited research suggests they aren’t very useful anyway. But these negative actions are rarely invoked, so we have to look deeper.

I wish I had more wisdom about this. I wish there was research-based evidence I could draw on. I wish I could say more than just be human, empathetic, understanding.

Now that I’m aware of this, I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open to learning more about how we as learning professionals can design learning interventions to be more sensitive to the ups and downs of our fellow travelers.

If you’ve got good ideas, please send them my way or use the LinkedIn Post generated from this to join the discussion.

Will Thalheimer Interviewed by Jeffrey Dalto

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Series of Four Interviews

I was recently interviewed by Jeffrey Dalto of Convergence Training. Jeffrey is a big fan of research-based practice. He did a great job compiling the interviews.

Click on the title of each one to read the interview:

Recording of Webinar — On Transfer Research for 2018

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Holy Cow Batman! Yesterday’s Webinar, which I co-hosted with Emma Weber of Lever Learning, was overbooked and some people were unable to connect. To help make amends, here is the recording of the webinar:

 

 

Click Here to View Webinar on YouTube

 

Apologies in advance that we were not able to record the actual polling results (the responses of those who attended live — to the questions we asked). Still, I think it’s pretty good as webinar recordings go.

Emma and I send our heartfelt apologies. We know some of you notified your teams, changed your schedules, and stayed up late or stayed late at work to watch. We are considering offering an encore engagement in January for those who might want to participate more intimately than a recording can provide. Watch this blog for details or sign up for my list to be notified.

Learner-Feedback Current Practices Survey 2017-2018

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Will Thalheimer Interviewed on HRD TV in Belgium

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I had the great pleasure of being invited to provide a keynote in Leuven, Belgium at the VOV Congress. There were two highlights in my day, my keynote and being interviewed on HRD TV by Sandra De Milliano.

Audience members asked me questions and I did my best to answer them. We had questions about elearning, microlearning, PowerPoint, learning styles, rewards for learners, the spacing effect, remembering and application, and more.

Take a look…


Major Research Review on eLearning Effectiveness

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Is elearning effective? As effective as classroom instruction — more or less effective? What about blended learning — when elearning and classroom learning are combined?

ELearning Research Report Cover 2017.


These critical questions have now been answered and are available in the research report, Does eLearning Work? What the Scientific Research Says!

In this research review, I looked at meta-analyses and individual research studies, and was able to derive clear conclusions. The report is available for free, it includes an executive summary, and research jargon is kept to a minimum.

Click here to download the report…

 

 

 

Note that the August 10, 2017 version of this report incorrectly cited the Rowland (2014) study in a footnote and omitted it from the list of research citations. These issues were fixed on August 11, 2017. Special thanks to Elizabeth Dalton who notified me of the issues.

Is My Book Award Worthy?

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Is my book, Performance-Focused Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking of a Dangerous Art Form, award worthy?

I think so, buy I'm hugely biased! SMILE.

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Here's what I wrote today on an award-submission application:

Performance-Focused Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking of Dangerous Art Form is a book, published in February 2016, written by Will Thalheimer, PhD, President of Work-Learning Research, Inc.

The book reviews research on smile sheets (learner feedback forms), demonstrates the limitations of traditional smile sheets, and provides a completely new formulation on how to design and deploy smile sheets.

The ideas in the book — and the example questions provided — help learning professionals focus on "learning effectiveness" in supporting post-learning performance. Where traditional smile sheets focus on learner satisfaction and the credibility of training, Performance-Focused Smile Sheets can also focus on science-of-learning factors that matter. Smile sheets can be transformed by focusing on learner comprehension, factors that influence long-term remembering, learner motivation to apply what they've learned, and after-learning supports for learning transfer and application of learning to real-world job tasks.

Smile sheets can also be transformed by looking beyond Likert-like responses and numerical averages that dumb-down our metrics and lead to bias and paralysis. We can go beyond meaningless averages ("My course is a 4.1!") and provide substantive information to ourselves and our stakeholders.

The book reviews research that shows that so-called "learner-centric" formulations are filled with dangers — as research shows that learners don't always know how they learn best. Smile-sheet questions must support learners in making smile-sheet decisions, not introduce biases that warp the data.

For decades our industry has been mired in the dishonest and disempowering practice of traditional smile sheets. Thankfully, a new approach is available to us.

Sure! I'd love to see my work honored. More importantly, I'd love to see the ideas from my book applied wisely, improved, and adopted for training evaluation, student evaluations, conference evaluations, etc. 

You can help by sharing, by piloting, by persuading, by critiquing and improving! That will be my greatest award!

Smile-Sheet Workshop in Suffolk, VA — June 10th, 2016

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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.