A Valued Resource – Harold D. Stolovitch

Another great resource from a person I became acquainted with at NSPI/ISPI about 25 years ago is Harold D. Stolovitch of Harold Stolovitch and Associates (HAS).

Besides being a well respected researcher and practitioner, he is one of the best presenters on ISD and HPT topics that I have seen in my 28 years in the profession.

From his web site:
A recent book by Harold and his business partner/wife Erica J. Keeps: “Telling Ain’t Training” –

This book provides an entertaining and practical tour-de-force for every trainer and performance improvement professional. It tackles the three universal and persistent questions of the profession – how do learners learn, why do learners learn, and how do you make sure that learning sticks.

The authors of this interactive and provocative volume provide solid answers to these questions backed up by more than 70 years of combined real world experience and academic study. Telling Ain’t Training deliberately avoids the one-way communication of “telling” trainers how to be more effective. Instead, it uses an interactive approach which models the basic message of the book – humans learn best through active mental engagement. The authors expect the reader to “do” something, not just read!

Despite its fun and breezy tone, every concept in the book is solidly backed up by research. The ultimate goal of this book is to allow the reader an opportunity to break through learning barriers, to separate learning myth from research-based facts and to dispel counter productive beliefs and practices that harm the instructional process.


Harold’s web site: http://www.hsa-lps.com/index.htm – is available in both English and French!

A great feature of the web site is: ASK HAROLD

Here is an example Question and Harold’s Answer


We frequently hear the term “learning styles” tossed around like “I know there are tests for people to identify their learning style” and so on. People use this to argue for one delivery media over another like “My learning style prevents me from engaging in e-learning!”

I would like to know if there are any scientific grounds for the existence and definition of learning styles. If so, what are they and what are the main messages coming out of this literature?

There is a lot written on learning styles and a lot more folklore circulating about it. Here are two useful articles that deal with your question.

The first, McLoughlin, C. (1999). The implications of the research literature on learning styles for the design of instructional material, Australian journal of educational technology, 15 (3), 222-241, provides a good overview of the main currents and definitions of terms that are similar, yet different. These include: learning preferences, cognitive styles, personality types and aptitudes. It also examines two main learning style theoretical approaches, one that divides learners into wholist-analytic versus verbaliser imager and the other that suggests four categories: activists, reflectors, theorists and pragmatists.

The second article, Stahl, S. (1999). Different strokes for different folks? A critique of learning styles. American educator, 23 (3), 27-31, questions the validity of the learning style construct itself. In the article, Stahl examines learning style inventories and questions their reliability.

My take on all of this is that there are individual differences that affect the way we learn. However, there are also many rules with respect to learning that apply to all of us as human learners. While it may be useful to factor in variations in learning approaches, it is probably more useful to apply those universal principles that research on learning consistently suggests result in higher probabilities of learning. What are they?

Six simple ones:

  • When learners know why they are supposed to learn something (a rationale with a credible benefit to them), the probability of learning and retention increases.
  • When learners know what they are supposed to learn (a clear, meaningful objective), the probability of learning and retention also increases.
  • If what is to be learned is clearly structured and organized so that the learner easily sees the organization and logic, again, learning and retention probabilities increase.
  • If learners have an opportunity to actively respond and engage in the learning in meaningful ways, once again, learning and retention probabilities increase.
  • If learners receive corrective and confirming feedback with respect to responses they emit or activities in which they engage, their learning increases along with retention.
  • Finally, if the learner feels rewarded for the learning, has a sense of accomplishment or is given an external recompense for the learning that he or she values, learning and retention have an increased probability of occurring.

With respect to being more visual or auditory, while there may be significant differences among learners, more important, however, is stimulus variation.

Concerning the use of media or self-pacing, issues about learning tend to focus more on the design of the mediated or self-paced material than on the medium itself. Richard Clark has written extensively on media not being the message. If the mediated and/or self-paced material follows the universal rules and is well supported, it will work. Some learners who are not used to learning on their own may require additional support and control. Distance universities, such as the British Open University or Athabasca University in Canada, have learned how to do this well.

So, to conclude, there is a lot of folklore and some science concerning individual differences in learning. Best to apply universally sound methods to enhance learning. Vary activities to maintain interest and attention. Provide support and control mechanisms to help learners “stick with it.” This way, you address all learning styles.


From his web site:
Harold D. Stolovitch – Principal, PhD, CPT completed post-doctoral studies in Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. He has been a teacher, trainer, researcher and consultant for over 40 years.

Harold has authored more than 200 publications on various aspects of instructional and performance technology and produced countless training materials, games, simulations and other interactive activities. He is Emeritus Professor of Instructional and Performance Technology, Université de Montréal and Clinical Professor of Human Performance at Work, University of Southern California. He is a consultant to business, industry, government, the military and the police.

Harold is a Past President of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), former editor of Performance Improvement Journal, editorial board member of several professional journals, co-editor of both award-winning editions of the Handbook of Human Performance Technology and co-author of the best-selling, award-winning series of books Telling Ain’t Training, Training Ain’t Performance, Beyond Telling Ain’t Training Fieldbook and Beyond Training Ain’t Performance Fieldbook published by ASTD Press. He is also author and co-editor of the Wiley/Pfeiffer Learning & Performance Toolkit Series and the regular, featured “Human Performance” columnist for Workforce Performance Solutions magazine.

He received the 2001 ISPI Distinguished Professional Achievement award and has won numerous other awards for his contributions to the field including ISPI’s highest award, Member for Life. He was given the 2003 President’s Award for Lifetime Achievements from the Canadian Society for Training and Development’s, their highest honor. In May 2004, he and his team won the American Society for Training and Development’s Outstanding Research Award for their work on Incentives, Motivation and Workplace Performance. Harold is a frequent keynote speaker and presenter for major companies and professional associations.

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