Building the Bridge to Performance in the Brain

Isn’t it interesting that neuroscience has become a buzz topic of the L&D space? The brain itself has always been a part of learning and yet there has been a resurgence of research regarding learning, memory and cognitive approaches in neuroscience. There are many neuroscience tools that we can use to assist us in designing better learning and I find that the best come from science, not vendors trying to sell you neuroscience. Read on.

Everlasting performance

Knowledge retention is a huge factor when designing learning. It can become a challenge because we have to come up with ways for successful knowledge transfer. There needs to be techniques that shorten the transfer rate from learning to application. Once employees retain this information, it can be retrieved quickly when they need it to perform. Thanks to science we can rely on some cognitive learning strategies that can be applied to the learning solutions we are creating.

Repeated Retrieval

This is an approach where learners will recall information from memory. The learner does this a few times to help strengthen the connection of the information stored in memory. This allows the curve of forgetting to become more gentle.  An example of this is bite sized pieces of Q&A being sent to learners to reinforce what they learned. This enables them to practice retrieving the information while they are in their jobs rather then taking them out of the contextual environment. This could be an app on their mobile device or even an email to them.

Duolingo is an app that does this very well. It starts out the learning with an assessment and asks questions upfront and based on the answer either moves them to the next question or provides them with remedial training until they are successful. It also requires them to use the language in all modalities, speech, reading and writing for full comprehension.

The Spacing Effect

Also known as spaced practice, this proven method has a learner review the same information or slight increase of information in specific period of time. We all know how cramming is the college method, this is the antithesis of that. I have seen many solutions where the learner is given short bursts of information for as little as 5 minutes a day. Then the next burst will be the same information to help strengthen that connection so it can be stored into long term memory. This also allows the learning to be embedded into their work day, keeping them in context.


The process of reflection allows learners to stop and digest the information they were given to learn. So perhaps after taking that elearning course or session they will be given time to review what they learned but also will create their own understanding of it as it resonates with them. When you can understand something in your own way, there is better encoding of the information. It’s easier to retain your own understanding than someone else’s because you’ve re-wired to your brain.

These are a just a few of the areas that I am working on implementing into my work everyday. I continue to do research on various neuroscience topics in the areas of memory, learning, cognitive load, and theories.


What Does Lady Gaga Have in Common With Today’s Learning Design?…Performance!

I was thinking about how much the industry has changed for those of us in the learning and performance (L&P) arena. Now I will tell you that I was able to get on the ground early and skip a lot of what this article is mostly about, but I feel that I should address it anyhow. So what do I mean by the title of this blog post? Well a few things…

One is that I see a parallel between the music industry and the L&P industry in that they both have had to grow up a little bit in terms of what they stand for. If we go back to 1999 when Britney Spears and N’Sync were all the rage we were so dazzled (some of us anyway) by how they were “performing” with all the lights and back up dancers we didn’t miss the most crucial piece: they weren’t actually singing.

During that time “trainers” were delivering mostly classroom instruction and printing lots of workbooks for our “trainees”. Most of them had a corporate account with Trainer’s Warehouse. They handed out the smile sheets at the end of the class. The best part? Just like when Britney hit us one more time, the training department was in awe and excitement when their attendance rate was greater than 50%.

While both of our industries were excelling at the time, I feel that now both of our industries have changed. As learning professionals we are moving in the direction of what real performance looks like and how we get our organizations there. We are designing for performance while keeping learning in mind. We are all becoming increasingly innovative in the discoveries and strides we are making to progress forward. We are rejecting the fakers like the smile sheet for a better outcome, better performance.

In the music industry the same thing is happening. Singers are being criticized for their use of autotune on their records and the fact that 80% of their live shows are lip synced. Now singers like Lady Gaga (personal bias) have arrived pushing what it means to be a performer. Singing live, carrying a message, and keeping fans engaged. Our equivalent of that is making the learning experience real and measuring performance all while providing them with the tools and information they need for success.

So the need for real performance in both industries is very much alive and is the new norm that is expected among “supporters”. What it ends up being is the proof that we are all the real deal in our respective professions.

I was always taught to know better regarding performance because I stayed current in the industry and applied it to everyday life. It’s interesting when you start working with people who are not there yet. I sometimes ask myself “Why are they doing it that way, don’t they know it’s outdated?” Then you have the people that know what they need to do but for some reason they don’t change their behavior…

I hope that this helps to elaborate on how far we have come in the L&P industry and shed some light on what we are now expected to be working towards for now and especially the future in our profession.


My Encounter With 70-20-10

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a Fortune 500 company about their learning strategy. Like many companies, they adapted their strategy from an existing model and used it to fit their organization. One of those models was the 70-20-10 rule of thought. While I did like their use of the model I didn’t like the misconceptions the model gave.

It wasn’t the first I had heard of it, but the first time that I saw it being used in an actual organization. As I discovered more about it I realized that I liked the recognition of all the available learning means to a learner and not necessarily the model itself. I decided to do some more research about it just to back up my own opinion.

There is a whole backchannel of articles and information that I found on 70-20-10 from Guy Wallace that you might find insightful.

Basically what I found was that 70-20-10 is really a prescriptive remedy for managers to be developed into senior managers & executives. But I don’t see it useful for daily learning workflows. It really separates each modality into sections and pushes the use of staying in line with those numbers. I don’t think that you should follow this as a rule of thumb with today’s learning strategies. To conform to these numbers would be, in the words of Will Thalheimer, making it more bogus and dangerous.

Another interesting thing that I didn’t think of was the Amplifier Effect which says that formal training actually clarifies and boosts the 90% of informal training. Then I think of the role performance support plays in this. I think that it supports that boost and clarification to translate to actual use of the training on the job (formal training should also relate to the context of the job if you have designed it effectively, but that is another story). To me it seems that this is more of a reflective trend in learning versus the go-to model to follow. All three work together, it doesn’t make one more important than the other. Is it simply the state of learning or is it an actual validation?

I will end this post with a quote from Michael Stanford in his article, Curse of 70-20-10.

“70-20-10? How about 100. Every learning experience, whether it takes place in a structured setting or in the chaos of every day work, should apply a disciplined learning mindset to real-world challenges.”

I agree with this statement because now more than ever learning should be embedded into the context of the actual work that is being done. I also think that learning in an organization, as we know it is still evolving more and more each year as we are discovering new ways to make learning more nimble for the workforce.


Sharing by Learning

For a little while now I have been trying to put together a learning technology portfolio that really showcases my skills in the best way possible. On top of that there is also many things that I wish to do deeper research on, (xAPI, UX, UI, neuroscience and learning) but I haven’t had the time to do any of it. Probably because my schedule is out of order now that I have client projects that I am working on. No excuses Will!

So last night I returned home from a NYC dinner with Trish Uhl and we had a great discussion about the state of the industry in learning and a various array of topics. I was a little wired from having two cappuccinos and the conversation so my mind began to wander. I had an insight to not only build my portfolio but also research deeper in the process: sharing by learning.

If we flip that phrase to learning by sharing it means we can learn from other people in the context of community-based learning or a PLN (personal learning network). By having open discussion we can learn from other people about not only how to make something better, but we also help others by sharing knowledge. Another resource for knowledge sharing and management is from Jane Bozarth’s Show Your Work.

So what is sharing by learning? The way I see it is you have a topic that you want to learn more about or a skill to learn. As you are learning, you not only keep track of how you learn the skill, but also keeping in mind that while you’re learning you’re going to share this with your network of people so they can learn from it. So not only do you learn the skills you need/want, you can also share your findings with your cohorts.

For example, as the upcoming president for Northern NJ ATD I conduct board meetings, naturally. One of the skills that I know I lack is following Robert’s Rules of Order or Parliamentary Procedure. I have a little booklet that tells me how to follow them, but it seems to be all over the place. So one of the ways I’ll learn to use the rules is by creating a mobile solution so I can access it when I need it during the board meetings. There is so much more that will go into that and as I begin to create I will show my work with everyone.

By creating this solution for myself, I not only will learn how to use the rules, but then I can share what I have learned through this mobile tool. As a second point, I also will build my skills as a learning technologist by creating this mobile solution.

This gives me a new perspective on learning in general because if we start to think about learning and how it is distributed this shakes the cage a little bit. Imagine starting out to learn a new skill or concept knowing that you will be sharing it with someone in the future. How will that change our attitude towards learning? Would this help knowledge sharing and performance improvement?

I have a bookmark in my browser that allows me to use xAPI to track everything that I am learning (That is if I remember to click on the bookmark!) and it will add the resource to my learning record store (LRS) for later review or analysis. That could potentially be where we source the content for the learning in which we are going to share. Alternatively, what if our LRS can be viewed by people other than ourselves? How does that fit into knowledge sharing?

It is an exciting time in our industry because we are shifting our thinking away from traditional methods that are a sign of the times and moving toward a more open and community supported learning network. There is definitely more to expand on and I will continue to share as I learn!