What EVIDENCE is necessary to Conclude the Truth?

Yesterday I read a Blog celebrating “Informal Learning” — Here is part of what I read:

CLO Media has just released their 2007 Business Intelligence Report. In the Executive Summary they include ‘Trends in Informal Learning’ and report the following:

…While the BIB reports that on average 58 percent of the learning occurring in their organizations is informal, fully 36 percent place that figure at 70 percent or more. However, only 20 percent of the BIB actually tracks informal learning in their organizations. Given this low number, it is not surprising that only 8 percent of organizations have a comprehensive strategy in place to manage informal learning.”

The report did go on to say that more than half of the organizations surveyed “expect informal learning to receive increased support” while 14% expect to receive a “significant increase in support” for informal learning.

I see this as progress and great news. Embracing informal learning is a major mindset shift for organizations that have been going the formal/traditional route for so long and it won’t happen overnight.


This morning I received this email from Richard E. Clark:


I’m attaching a prepublication copy of a chapter I just finished with coauthors here and in Europe (Jeroen vanMerrienboer won many awards for his 4C/ID design system).

Competency models, rapid prototyping and SME content development (and training) are all very bad ideas in my view. The evidence does not support them at all. The cognitive task analysis approach we describe in this chapter will eventually replace all of it for the reasons we’ve stated. Without it, you have to do serious design of the type you recommend – with trial and revise cycles. SMEs only get about 30 percent of the way tasks are performed on the job when they teach or design content.

I’m also attaching a white paper I wrote for the Army about what works in training and education. They held a huge conference with reps from universities, think tanks and training specialists to review the position I describe there and they approve it. The Army’s new evidence-based leadership training system uses cognitive task analysis and a training design system we developed called “guided experiential learning” – not competencies or SME based content or presentations.

If you have questions, I’ll do my best to answer.



Here are two quotes from that Army document:

Science of Learning Workshop
U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences
Institute for Defense Analysis
Learning Model
Panel 1
Richard E. Clark
Center for Cognitive Technology
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
250 N. Harbor Drive, Suite 309
Redondo Beach, California 90277

First Quote:
Three Learning Science Models: In the past century, social scientists have adopted three different theories to understand learning. Each of the theories is connected to a number of “spin off” instructional models that focus on some but not all elements of the parent. While the models have developed roughly in the order listed below, some elements of all of these models persist today in training and educational design.

Behavioral models used a “black box” metaphor for our mind. Behaviorists attempted to gain insights about learning from the way that unobservable mental processes modified information (stimuli) input-output relationships. The careful measurement required by behaviorism helped develop clear specification of objectives, motivational components of treatments (reinforcement) and their performance consequences.

Cognitive models tended to use the linear computer as a metaphor for the mind. They assume that the mind manipulates symbols (through language) using mental “programs” that can be learned. Essential to the cognitive model are self-regulating metacognitive strategies such as planning and self-monitoring that help adults manipulate information and construct knowledge to achieve learning goals. From the perspective of cognitive models, effective instruction trains learners to develop learning strategies that help them achieve have, among other benefits, helped us provide effective instruction that supports the learning of conscious conceptual knowledge.

Connectionist models have adopted a metaphor for the mind as a series of parallel, interconnected, multilayered, neuronal-like subsystems or modules that work simultaneously but in parallel to achieve performance goals. Connectionist-based training methods focus on methods that support the gradual tuning and automating of context-bound mental modules that are implemented when specific internal or external conditions are present. Connectionist models have helped us understand how to support the development of automated and unconscious knowledge.

Applying Science of Learning Models to Training and Performance Improvement: Each of the models has contributed valuable insights about learning and performance. Yet, past attempts to apply science of learning models directly to training have achieved mixed results. Behaviorists found that effective, complex learning required more than a “black box”, objectives and schedules of reinforcement.

Cognitivists have learned gradually that while people may use their own mental programs to construct their own somewhat idiosyncratic conceptual knowledge about topics, prescribing minimally guided learning strategies in problem-based or simulated settings does not result in effective learning strategies for most adults.

Connectionists struggle with the need to identify some type of mental integrating process that can direct and regulate learning and performance.

To capture the effective features of the models and pull them into a current training design system we turn next to an analysis of three types of variables or factors that are common to nearly all of the models.

Second Quote:
Two generalizations about individual differences receive consistent support in the research on learning from training:

Prior Knowledge: The less knowledge and experience trainees have learned about the subject matter or objectives of the training, the more guidance they need to learn and perform — and vice versa. Experts do not need extensive support to learn new information in their area of expertise. Novices require strong guidance as they learn to be soldiers.

Self-Efficacy: The less self-efficacy trainees have about their capability to learn and perform the objectives of the training, the more motivational support they require. Similarly, overconfident trainees may require training methods that encourage them to develop new knowledge.

Many other individual and group differences have been studied and a few have many supporters based on intuitive beliefs in their effectiveness. Many social commentators have claimed that the younger generation of soldiers have shorter attention spans and learn best from fast paced, interactive multimedia games or simulations. While this seems intuitively correct, there is no scientific validation for the claim. A recent, systematic, large scale study of individual, team and generational differences in business organizations not only failed to identify generational differences, it reported common factors accounting for the performance of adults at all age levels.

Similarly, claims that adults have different “learning styles” have not been supported despite a very large number of studies on this topic over many years.


The truth shall set us free. Two decades ago it was about Video and then CBT. That was debunked. And today?

We are not yet free from the hyperbole of today…about Learning Styles and Informal Learning and Competencies and SME Generated Content.

Free from believing/seeing the Web 2.0 as primarily Learning Systems/Tools…and hopefully to a research-based understanding on how Web 2.0 can effectively be used as Performance Support Systems/Tools.

Unless you distrust the research and have data of your own to disprove or prove one “hypothesis” or another. Then please share it.

Thank you Dick Clark – for sharing what you have learned from decades of research!!!

Check out: Richard Clark and Fred Estes’ book: “Turning Research Into Results”

Another reason for participation in ISPI – meeting and talking with people like Dick Clark.

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