Neuroscience and Learning

The Debunker Club, formed to fight myths and misconceptions in the learning field, is currently seeking public comment on the possibility that so-called neuroscience-based recommendations for learning and education are premature, untenable, or invalid.


Click here to comment or review the public comments made so far…


Click here to join The Debunker Club…


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


Areas Covered in this Research Effort:

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

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

Send me names and contact information to


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

If you're organization would like to participate in this effort — and be among the first to see the results of the research — check out the full announcement on my book's website:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


Things that require the courage to push for change:


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


Wisdom to know the difference:


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


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

To Magazine Editors, Bloggers, Tweeters, and other Opinion Leaders in the learning field:

I’m wondering if you’d help publicize The Debunkers Club (www.Debunker.Club)

Launched just two months ago, we’ve already enrolled members from every continent except for Antarctica and South America.

The Debunker Club is dedicated to fighting myths and misconceptions in the learning field. In the past, individuals and organizations have taken on the responsibility of improving the information in the field, but still, bad information—sometimes dangerous information—continues to be conveyed.

The Debunker Club is taking a more proactive approach, hoping that we can make more of a difference. To check out the types of motivations that inspire members of The Debunker Club, we have a webpage that highlights their testimony.

I’d especially like you to publicize our upcoming April Fool’s Week, a week dedicated to debunking the myths in our field, one at a time. You can read about it here:

Thank you for considering this request!

We need your help! We're all in this together!


= Will Thalheimer

Organizer of The Debunker Club

This list will be updated periodically.

WILL’S NOTE:  Previously, I had given up trying to keep this list current because it was nearly impossible to research and catalog the “gazillions” of new providers entering this category. I’m going to make another effort to keep this list, but I need your help through the contact form below. THANKS!


To link to their websites, move your mouse above the name.

Subscription-Learning Authoring Tools — General Purpose

  • Ed (subscription and mobile-learning authoring tool)
  • KnowledgeGuru (subscription and game-based learning authoring tool)
  • Moblrn (subscription learning authoring tool)
  • Cameo (subscription-learning authoring tool, scenario-based questions, email, tracks learning)
  • Q MINDshare (subscription learning authoring tool)
  • Mindsetter (subscription-learning authoring tool)
  • Memrise (subscription-learning authoring tool, crowdsourcing, mnemonics, gamification)
  • Mindmarker (subscription learning authoring tool)
  • SimWriter (scenario-based simulation authoring tool)
  • Zunos (learning and knowledge-management authoring tool)
  • DailyBitsOf (subscription-learning authoring tool and course catalog)
  • Cerego (subscription-learning authoring tool and course catalog)
  • Trivie (subscription learning authoring tool focused on retrieval practice)
  • Flip Training (subscription-learning authoring tool)
  • Otto Learn (subscription-learning authoring tool)

Subscription-Learning Authoring Tools — Drill and Practice

Subscription-Learning Developers

  • Axonify (custom developer, utilizes spacing effect)
  • NexLearn (custom developer of simulations)
  • Wranx (subscription-learning provider)
  • GamEffective (gamified and performance-focused engagements with subscription learning).

Subscription-Learning Single-Focus Applications

Subscription-Learning Repositories of Courses

  • MyTools2Learn (subscription learning course repository)
  • Cerego (flashcard authoring tool and course catalog)
  • DailyBitsOf (subscription-learning authoring tool and course catalog)
  • Memrise (subscription-learning authoring tool, crowdsourcing, mnemonics, gamification)
  • Ed (subscription and mobile-learning authoring tool)
  • EdX (MOOC available as subscription and mobile learning)
  • Coursera (MOOC available as subscription and mobile learning)
  • Class Central (a repository and rating compilation of university courses)

Subscription-Learning After-Training Follow-up Tools

Microlearning — Without Threaded Content

Social Media is hot, but it is not clear how well we are measuring social media.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for the eLearning Guild about measuring social media. But it's not clear that we've got this nailed yet.

With this worry in mind, I've created a research survey to begin a process to see how best social-media (of the kind we might use to bolster workplace learning-and-performance) can be measured.

Here's the survey link. Please take the survey yourself. You don't have to be an expert to take it.

Here's my thinking so far on this. Please send wisdom if I've missed something.

  1. We can think about measuring social media the same way we measure any learning intervention.
  2. We can also create a list of all the proposed benefits for social media, and the proposed costs, and all the proposed harms, and we can see how people are measuring these now. The survey will help us with this second approach.

Note: Survey results will be made available for free. If you take the survey, you'll get early releases of the survey results and recommendations.

Also, this is not the kind of survey that needs good representative sampling, so feel free to share this far and wide.

Here is the direct link to the survey:

Here is the direct link to this blog post:

In 2006, I reviewed the research on the spacing effect and published a research-to-practice report, Spacing Learning Over Time: What the Research Says…

Since then I have been buoyed by the enthusiastic response to that report and by the changes that it  engendered. More training and e-learning has been built using spacing and more and more learning software has been built that incorporates the spacing effect as an inherent part of its design. If I died today, I would at least know that I'd made a small difference in our field.

Examples Wanted

I am working on an updated version of the report to include the latest research and new examples.

If you know of any examples of the use of spacing effect, please let me know. Send me demo links or disks so that I can see for myself how the spacing effect has been used. Or, just write me an email.

Testimonials Wanted

Also, if you read the original version and want to write a short testimonial about how it changed the way you build learning, that would be awesome. Just write me an email.

One Product Example: A Cameo Appearance

Just to get your juices flowing, check out this YouTube Video produced by a company who built a product with the spacing effect in mind, Yukon Learning. Yukon has built a very nice tool to support learning using the spacing effect. The product name is Cameo and the link below will take you to the Cameo website.

You can check out Cameo at this website.

Are you an independent consultant or contractor in the workplace learning-and-performance field?

Worried about the economy or energized by it?

There is a lot of anecdotal worry that the economy is hitting the training-and-development field hard, perhaps especially so for independent consultants and contractors.

I decided we ought to gather our own data to see what's really going on.

If you're an independent in our field, take my survey at the link below.

In addition to getting a snapshot of the current situation, the survey will help us look at how 2009 is shaping up, and share strategies we independents are employing to survive/thrive.

I'm also asking whether independents might be interested in forming a group for mutual benefit.



Please let
people know about this so we get as wide an audience as possible.
Consider notifying people at both the center and periphery of your
social network so that we get a wider cross section of respondents.
Please also send notifications spread out over time so that we widen
our net as well. I will keep the survey open for two weeks or so (or
longer if responses are still rushing in).

Here is the link to send to others:

1. Send to your independent colleagues.
2. Post in groups you belong to.
3. Send to your social-network friends.
4. Post on your blog, twitter, etc.
5. Send to your email newsletter.

For the last three or four years, I have provided a quiz on the Work-Learning Research website so that you can test your knowledge of research-based instructional-design fundamentals. The 15-item quiz presents you with realistic instructional-design scenarios and asks you to make decisions about which design will produce the best learning. The quiz also provides detailed feedback on each question, so that by taking the quiz, you’re really getting a great learning opportunity for yourself.

When I compiled the results several years ago, the results were astonishing. I won’t tell you how they were astonishing—because I don’t want to bias your input—but they were astonishing. I will leave the quiz up for some time, but I’d like to make a big push in the first two weeks of February of 2007 so that I can publish the results on this blog. So, please take the quiz, and encourage everyone you know who is a learning professional (training, learning, instructional design, e-learning, performance improvement, education) to take the quiz now.

Take the Quiz by Clicking Here

Please take the Quiz by February 15th, 2007 so that I can do a large compilation by the end of the month.

Tell All Your Fellow Learning Professionals to take the Quiz. Send them this Link:

(Hmmm. It’s a little long, so you may have to click on it and then copy it from your address bar.)

And feel free to comment on the quiz below.