To mark the release of Telling Ain’t Training: Updated, Expanded, Enhanced, Harold Stolovich gave an informal author chat at ASTD 2011 in Orlando, where listeners enjoyed activities, listened to the personal experiences of the authors, and got the chance to ask their own questions about the second edition. Stolovich and Keeps spoke with The Conference Daily after the event and offered some insight into what’s changed and what remains solid in the classic learning book.
Q: How has world of technological innovations impacted the Telling Ain’t Training models?
Keeps: Technology hasn’t affected Telling Ain’t Training models at all. We’re more focused on how people learn and the triggers for learning than the delivery mechanisms. Technology is the delivery mechanism. As such, technology can improve efficiency of instruction, but not the effectiveness of learning.
Stolovich: The key thing is that frequently, we substitute the means for end-thinking. Technology is a means for increasing productivity and efficiency with fewer errors. Technology does all that. But when you choose outputs poorly, you’ll get the learning efficiently, but you won’t get what you’re looking for. For example, organizations buy large technology systems with libraries of e-learning courses, or they try to save money by delivering to learners’ desktops rather than them all travel. But the libraries they purchase may not be totally appropriate to the jobs people do. This turns people off, and we see that completion rates of these courses are very low. Another problem is that the environments of learners’ desktops are not always conducive for learning. They may be in an office where workers need to be on the phone selling. Who will give them time off (or will they even give themselves time-off) to actually take the courses?
So technology gives us delivery and access means, but what’s provided maybe inappropriate or boring, or the conditions don’t give learners the opportunity to use it. One banking company planned to deliver e-learning directly to its branches so that part-time employees didn’t have to come to a central location for training. Sounds good! But the problem was that the managers (trying to save money) only brought these part-timers in during peak periods when there was no time for training; or there weren’t terminals available for workers to learn on because they were being used for other things. Additionally, the environments just weren’t conducive for learning—they were overloaded with noise, confusion, and interruptions. In our book, we talk about the potential things technology can do, and the realities show us some enormous discrepancies. So what a training vendor might tell you is possible, in your environment, may not be. In other words, you have access, but you don’t have bandwidth.
Q: What’s new in the 2011 edition of TAT in terms of what we understand about human cognition and knowledge retention?
Keeps and Stolovich: There have been numerous discoveries since 2002 in the neurosciences. Some of these confirm or add weight to what we know, and there are others that modify our knowledge of learning.
Many critical new findings support what we wrote previously about how we learn and process information. And some of what we know about what it takes to retain knowledge by attaching new learning to things we already know—analogies, mnemonic devices, mental engagement—these have changed. More and more, neuroscience, and specifically, very refined neuroimaging, allows us to see more concretely how humans process information. For example, with short-term memory, previous studies showed that we can remember seven, plus-or-minus two, chunks or items at a time. This is what we believed for roughly 50 years. But more recent studies show that this number is actually closer to four chunks unless we do something with the information coming into our short-term memory. If we keep it stagnant, we can holder fewer than we thought before. We also used to believe seven plus-or-minus two was a static number for everyone. But there is evidence of individual divergence, and expertise may affect the number that you can hold on a particular topic as well. So it’s more varied than we believed before, but also more modest.
Also, many have been drawn to ideas about the right versus left brain hemisphere. The research done on it even won a Nobel prize. But in retrospect, the original researchers have noted that the study was done on people in whom there was some pathology, illness, or damage done in the brain. When we look at normal people, the right-versus-left principle doesn’t seem to hold true. There is much more fluidity of interaction between the right and left brain. Each hemisphere supports the other in a much more complex way than the simplistic view of “right brain=creative” and “left brain=logical.”
We also now see some specific differences between men and women from a physiologic point of view in brain structure. A recent study pointed to six of these differences. But from a functional view, they don’t seem to be important. Although there is evidence in one area—the listening area. Apparently, language and listening is done in both hemispheres in women, but then tends to be more localized in one hemisphere in men. And this may have some impact. But it’s all a bit dodgy. You take a bit of science and then generalize. What we are finding is much more refined. It’s the same with learning styles and sensory modes. There are endless varieties of tests for what sensory mode is yours. Yet, what seems to be the accumulated evidence is that these tests aren’t stable. It’s also the same with enjoyment. Some think enjoyable training means better learning. That’s not substantiated by the literature anymore, and a great deal of evidence shows that its not so. It’s probably more so that how well you do in your learning generates more enjoyment of the learning. These are new things and there are many many more explained in the book.
Q: “Trainers” aren’t the only ones relied upon to impart knowledge. How can people such as line managers, for example, use this book to make an impact in employee performance?
Keeps: Everyone trains. And there is a lot of training that goes on in an on-the-job fashion as well. We can divide trainers into two groups. There are professional trainers, and most of their job is associated with training others or creating instruction and using it to train others. And then there are those whom we call occasional trainers, who are brought into the training realm to deliver some form of learning. They may do it once or twice a year, or once or twice across their entire career. The book’s original 5-Step Model, which then continues in the second edition, can be used for multiple situations—one-on-one, informal, as well as formal training. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a classroom of seven or a thousand. The size is not relevant to the model itself. Then, the activities presented can also be incorporated, for almost any aspect of skill and knowledge development, and appropriate to small groups as well as large ones.
And we must not forget that the Beyond Telling Ain’t Training Fieldbook is really a guide for how you can incorporate the principles of Telling Ain’t Training into your organization in a planned way, moving chapter by chapter in terms of what you can do to own these principles and make them work for you. It allows for the kind of adoption and adaptation that one would expect when you bring them into different organizations in different places on the path to becoming more learner-centered and performance-based.
Stolovich: There are several messages in the book for managers. First, training does not equal performance improvement. It may be necessary but it is never sufficient. Second, it is in the active engagement of trainees that learning occurs. It is important that managers not cut these out in an effort to save time. Also managers must remember to work with those whom they ask to train to “do it right.” We know that expertise does not produce learning in others. On the contrary. The greater the expertise, the greater the distance in the way that experts and novices process information. A final caution to managers: Don’t rely on technology to produce superior training results.
Q: Can you tell us about one specific update/expansion/enhancement from the 2011 book that excites you the most?
Keeps: The Technology Section with two brand new chapters. The first chapter addresses the underlying fundamentals and considerations for integrating technology into total learning systems. The second is more pragmatic on steps to take and also resources and types of technologies you can use. Certainly, given the timeframe, technology has had its impact, and these sections help us to understand what it all means and how it will affect us gong forward.
Stolovich: There is a deep commitment on our part to continuously search the research to support or modify what we present in our book. While it is unobtrusive, we provide a real treasure trove for any reader who wants to dig into a particular topic. The endnotes and references were based on nearly two years of study and investigation. Thank goodness that there now is an index that allows readers to quickly locate specifics of what they are looking for.
Q: Any thoughts to share in closing?
Keeps and Stolovich: Doing a new, updated, expanded, and enhanced edition of Telling Ain’t Training was both fun and difficult. Human learning doesn’t change much in 10 years, but our world sure did!
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