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Today, Ulrich Boser released an updated paperback version of his book, Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School… It is available on Amazon (make sure you get the paperback version).

Ulrich does good work and his book has been hailed by Walter Isaacson as “Alternately humorous, surprising, and profound,” and by Amazon Editors as one of the Best Science Books of the Year.

You can learn more about Ulrich’s work at his website.

 

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.

Too often, product training is based on the false assumption that sales people and customer service reps simply need to be fed information about product features and benefits. Fortunately, Dan Bixby has come along and written a book to help design product training that actually works.

Here’s the testimonial I wrote for the book:

“Dan Bixby’s book will help technical experts create training that actually works to improve performance. Backed by years of experience, Bixby connects with practical advice and empathy—and helps experts avoid the most common mistakes in product training.”

You can check out Bixby’s book on Amazon at: https://amzn.to/2wBN110

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!

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:

1.

Will:
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?

 

Connie:
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.

 

2.

Will:
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?

 

Connie:
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.

 

3.

Will:
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?


Connie:

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.

 

4.

Will:
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?

 

Connie:
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.

 

 

 

5.

Will:
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.


Connie:

  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.

 

6.

Will:
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)?

 

Connie:
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.

7.

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

Connie:
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!

 

8.

Will:
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?

Connie:
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.

 

9.

Will:
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?

Connie:
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.

 

10.

Will:
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.

 

Connie:
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.

 

11.

Will:
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?

Connie:
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.

 

12.

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

Connie:
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:

Wow!!

I almost can't believe it. Finally, after 17 years of research and writing, I'm finally a published author.

Today is the day!

It's kind of funny really.

When I began this journey back in 1997 I had a well-paying job running a leadership-development product line, building multimedia simulations, and managing and working with a bunch of great folks.

As I looked around the training-and-development field — that's what we called it back then — I saw that we jumped from one fad to another and held on sanctimoniously to learning methods that didn't work that well. I concluded that what was needed was someone to play a role in bridging the gap between the research side and the practice side.

I had a very naive idea about how I might help. I thought the field needed a book that would specify the fundamental learning factors that should be baked into every learning design. I thought I could write such a book in two or three years, that I'd get it published, that consulting gigs would roll in, that I'd make good money, that I'd make a difference.

Hah! The blind optimism of youth and entrepreneurship!

I've now written over 700 pages on THAT book…without an end in sight.

 

How The Smile-Sheet Book Got its Start

Back in 2007, as I was mucking around in the learning research, I began to see biases in how we were measuring learning. I noticed, for instance, that we always measured at the top of the learning curve, before the forgetting curve had even begun. We measured with trivial multiple-choice questions on definitions and terminology — when these clearly had very little relevance for on-the-job performance. I wrote a research-to-practice report on these learning measurement biases and suddenly I was getting invited to give keynotes…

In my BIG book, I wrote hundreds of paragraphs on learning measurement. I talked about our learning-measurement blind spots to clients, at conferences, and on my blog.

Where feedback is the lifeblood of improvement, we as learning professionals were getting very little good feedback. We were practicing in the dark.

I'd also come to ruminate on the meta-analytic research findings that showed that traditional smile sheets were virtually uncorrelated with learning results. If smile sheets were feeding us bad information, maybe we should just stop using them.

It was about three or four years ago that I saw a big client get terrible advice about their smile sheets from a well-known learning-measurement vendor. And, of course, because the vendor had an industry-wide reputation, the client almost couldn't help buying into their poor smile-sheet designs.

I concluded that smile-sheets were NOT going away. They were too entrenched and there were some good reasons to use them.

I also concluded that smile sheets could be designed to be more effective, more aligned with the research on learning, and designed to better support learners in making smile-sheet decisions.

I decided to write a shorter book than the aforementioned BIG book. That was about 2.5 years ago.

I wrote a draft of the book and I knew I had something. I got feedback from learning-measurement luminaries like Rob Brinkerhoff, Jack Phillips, and Bill Coscarelli. I got feedback from learning gurus Julie Dirksen, Clark Quinn, and Adam Neaman. I made major improvement based on the feedback from these wonderful folks. The book then went through several rounds of top-tier editing, making it a much better read. 

As the publication process unfolded, I realized that I didn't have enough money on hand to fund the printing of the book. Kickstarter and 227 people raised their hands to help, reserving over 300 books in return for their generous Kickstarter contributions. I will be forever indepted to them.

Others reached out to help as well, from people on my newsletter list, to my beloved clients, to folks in trade organizations and publications, to people I've met through the years, to people I haven't met, to followers on Twitter, to the industry luminaries who agreed to write testimonials after getting advanced drafts of the book, to family members, to friends.

Today, all the hard work, all the research, all the client work, all the love and support comes together for me in gratitude.

Thank you!

 

= Will Thalheimer

 

P.S. To learn more about the book, or buy it:  SmileSheets.com

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.

It has been my pleasure and privilege to co-teach several learning measurement workshops with Dr. Roy Pollock, and to follow the important work that he and his colleagues have done at The Fort Hill Company over the years. I acknowledged their work by awarding Cal Wick, Fort Hill's Founding Father, the Neon Elephant Award back in 2006. I've also reviewed their ground-breaking book, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, and have recently reviewed their new book, Getting Your Money's Worth from Training and Development.

Now, I have captured Roy in a video interview, that I think you'll enjoy and learn from.

You can purchase the book by clicking on the Amazon.com link below:

Again, I highly recommend the book. Read my book review to see how much.