Archive for May, 2010

by Reni Gorman and Rich Mesch


55 and Older Execs Don’t Like Training

Reni: I read an article on The Economist titled: Executive education and the over-55s: Never too old to learn. The focus was about the trend that older executives are shunning corporate training. The reason? To put it bluntly: They are sick and tired of going and sitting in training. Why? Many assume they will not learn anything earth shattering, while others just don’t have the patience/time away from their job. Training has to be “worth it”. The article goes on to discuss what does work, one being sending executives to prestigious schools. They won’t go to internal training, but they will go to external training at reputable institutions. Why? Probably because they feel like they will really learn. So, it is not really that they don’t like learning, rather they don’t like corporate training.

The Generational Lie

Rich: I attended several learning conferences this year, and at each one, I heard some variation on this message: it’s time to get past old school training models, because the generation of 20-somethings entering the work force don’t learn that way. We need social media for the 20-somethings,  because that’s how they learn. We need virtual environments for the 20-somethings, because that’s how they learn.  And every time, I wanted to scream from the back of the room, “HEY! I’M A 40-SOMETHING, AND I LEARN THAT WAY, TOO!”

Where on earth did we get the notion that because employees of a certain age have greater exposure to “traditional” learning methods that we like it better? Or that we’re somehow resistant or techno-phobic? Every generation has its share of resisters, but most of us like trying new things, and we especially like making good use of our time and being successful.



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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

Is there such a thing as too much reality?

In my first post on this topic, I said this:

“So how do you apply some of the rules of storytelling to our training initiatives? The key is to focus on how the world works in real life.”

The great thing about writing novels or screenplays is that you can make everything up. You’re not bound by the reality of what’s possible. But in a learning story, there needs to be some grounding in reality, however tenuous. In my simulation work, we often get hung up on reality. Does the simulation environment need to be a carbon copy of the real world? Arguably, the answer is no; one of the reasons we don’t always learn effectively is because our environments are full of distracters; your learning story can focus people on what’s important. But aren’t those distracters part of the learning experience? If you give me a nice clean environment to learn in, won’t I just have difficulty applying it in real life?

So how real do you need to get? The answer is, it depends. And not in a philosophical way. The real question is, what are the variables that need to be considered to tell the story effectively?

The most recognizable kind of simulation is probably the flight simulator. The failure to fly a plane properly will likely lead to mechanical failure, damage, and death. There are so many factors that can lead to failure (gauges, mechanics, alertness, weather, etc,) that flight simulators need to be completely realistic. The adherence to reality in a flight simulator is remarkable.

But in many environments, we want learners to focus on specific items. Where, in fact, presenting the whole reality of the job might actually be confusing. So it’s generally okay to leave stuff out or consolidate stuff. How do you that? Well, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but here are some guidelines:

1. Make sure you the stuff you leave out won’t distract the learner.

For example, if the learner works on a team where all of the members are in different cities, they might be distracted by a story that involves a scenario where everybody is co-located; however, they might be fine with a story where some team members are co-located and some are distributed.

I worked on a customer service simulation design with a company that made many different types of paper and packaging products. The client was very concerned that no one scenario (food packaging, office paper, print stock, etc.) would resonate with every member of the audience. Ultimately, we made the decision that the company in the simulation made bottles instead of paper. This way, the manufacturing and customer service environment was very recognizable to learners, but they weren’t distracted by the fact that the company didn’t make their exact paper product.


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by Reni Gorman

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

Tip #4: Find out what your learners know, or think they know.

Cognitive Psychology: Draw out pre-existing conceptions and, more importantly pre-existing misconceptions.

Why (Justification):

“Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 14-15) An excellent example comes from Vosniadou and Brewer (1989). Children think the earth is flat because of their pre-existing experiences with it such as walking on it and looking at it. When told the earth is round children picture a pancake instead of a sphere. They must be told it is spherical along with explanations as to why they have experienced it as flat in order for them to really learn and accept this new information.

New information learned can have an effect on how well you remember older information learned especially if the new information causes a conflict with the old and creates interference. (Anderson, 2000) The good news is that if we learn something new that contradicts what we thought in the past (retroactive interference), we will eventually forget the old information and remember the new information.

If learners have misconceptions that are not brought to light and corrected, they will never be able to effectively build on that knowledge in the future. Knowing what your learners know will also help you set the base-line and pace for the course. Many times instructors assume that their learners have a certain baseline knowledge, when in fact they do not… or they may think they know but their base line understanding is incorrect.

How (Application):

When designing your course, you must learn as much as you can about your learners. Are they beginners, intermediate, or advanced? What do they know, what do they need to know and what may they think they know or know incorrectly? If you can’t reach out to your learners before class then anticipate as much as you can… For example, you can think about the most common misconceptions about each of your main points. Try to come up with a question for each main point, the answer to which will clarify the misconception. For example: Do you think that pre-existing knowledge makes a difference in how people learn?


Anderson, J. R. (2000). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications: Fifth Edition. New York, N.Y.: Worth Publishers.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Vosnaidou, S., & Brower, W. F. (1989). The Concept of the Earth’s Shape: A study of Conceptual Change in Childhood. Unpublished paper. Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois.

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By Dawn Francis, Ed.D.

Years ago, I read a novel entitled Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. There was a passage in the book that struck me so poignantly that I copied it down and committed it to memory. It read:

“I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.”

This quote came to mind for me today as I was reading a different book on the topic of coaching. It made the point that all information resides with the coachee. The coachee is truly the only person who has the answers. A skillful coach recognizes this fact. A skillful coach helps coachees critically probe their habits of mind. A skillful coach leads coachees to their own answers by applying powerful questioning techniques.

Several of these techniques appear in the aforementioned coaching text, which is entitled Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus. If you are a manager with coaching responsibilities, or if you often engage in peer coaching with your colleagues, you may want to increase your ability to ask coaching questions. Here is a brief summary of a few of Stoltzfus’ recommendations:

  • Ask open questions (e.g., “What options do you have?”) versus closed ones (e.g., “Do you have other options?”)
  • Pose “what” questions instead of “why” questions, which can appear judgmental (e.g., “Why can’t you ask for the sale?” to “Why do you need in order to ask for the sale?”)
  • Feel empowered to challenge goals that appear too small (e.g., “What if you set out to accomplish that goal in two years instead of five?”)
  • Avoid searching for the perfect question; instead, ask coachees to reflect more deeply on something significant that they have already mentioned (e.g., “What is behind that?”)


Remember to keep Ellison’s quote in mind the next time you engage in a coaching conversation with a direct report or peer. Allow the coachee to discover his/her own answers. Help the coachee discover that these answers lie within, as Ellison says, and that you are there to help unearth them.

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by Rich Mesch

I was first exposed to the concept of mirror neurons when I attended the NASAGA (North American Simulation and Gaming Association) Conference in Vancouver in 2007.  I was privileged to hear a talk by Dave Chalk. Chalk is an interesting guy on a number of levels, but most notably because he has had a highly successful career, including being a pilot, an entrepreneur, and a broadcasting personality, despite having been diagnosed at an early age of having a profound learning disorder.

One of the concepts Chalk discussed was the idea of mirror neurons. Research has demonstrated that in primates, our nervous systems react in certain ways when we engage in certain behaviors. The research further demonstrates that they react the same way when we observe the behavior or when we engage in a simulated version of the behavior. As noted by Rizzolatti & Craighero in Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27:

Each time an individual sees an action done by another individual, neurons that represent that action are activated in the motor cortex. This automatically induced, motor representation of the observed action corresponds to what is spontaneously generated during active action and whose outcome is known to the acting individual. Thus, the mirror system transforms visual information into knowledge 1

This is incredibly intriguing, because it seems to demonstrate a biological basis for the benefits of simulation. As simulation designers, we always make the argument that engaging in behaviors in simulation prepares us to engage in behaviors in the real world. But the argument has always been from a cognitive perspective—it helps us form the way we think. The mirror neuron research would suggest that it’s deeper than cognition. And for that matter, that simulation may not just be the next best thing to real world experience—it may be nearly equivalent.


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by Reni Gorman

A Great Non-Learning Example

A colleague of mine sent me this video depicting a pianist incorporating social media into his songs on the fly—yes on the fly! You have got to see this video—it is incredible, and it really made me think about social media and teaching/learning (Warning: video contains some mature content). http://www.good.is/post/intermission-ben-folds-s-live-chat-roulette-piano-ode-to-merton My first reaction was: Wouldn’t it be great if you could do this for an online course, and I had to catch myself; because this, in fact, is how synchronous online courses should be taught and why couldn’t they be? And, more importantly why am I, a learning professional, thinking of this approach as so utopic?

Do We All Think of Synchronous Online Learning as Dull?

My mental model of synchronous learning is not nearly this engaging, and now that I am realizing this, it really saddens me because it should not be that hard. Great instructors have been engaging learners for centuries. I am sure we can all think back on our experiences and remember teachers who stood out. But, let’s be honest: most of them just sort of blend together. This problem was made even worse with online learning; I have seen good instructors become bad instructors online. I personally remember giving a presentation on the authoring and use of learning objects that was well received in the classroom, with lots of brainstorming and dialog; but online, it went totally flat. So what can we do?

A Great Learning Example

I recently saw an eLearning Guild online learning presentation on virtual worlds with Dr Karl Kapp. The format of the presentation had a bar on the left where participants can chat during the presentation—not uncommon. During the presentation, Dr Kapp used all the techniques great designers/instructors do: he asked questions, ran polls, had the audience give him their current understanding/frame of mind in the topic so he could build upon it, threw out ideas/concepts to think about and paused to make sure people had time to respond. All was going well enough, but then, he did something that made the whole group come to life: he started reading the chat stream and joining the conversation. He would say things like: “Yes, I agree, Susan just said XYZ, and I think…” The more he did that, the more the group came to life. Suddenly, instead of the chat being a side conversation, it became part of the course.


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