My 1st Friday Favorite Guru Series: Ruth C. Clark

This month we start the First Friday of May 2014 with another of My Favorite Gurus…

Ruth C. Clark

A recognized specialist in instructional design and technical training, Dr. Clark holds a doctorate in Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology from the University of Southern California.

Prior to founding CLARK Training & Consulting, Dr. Clark served as training manager for Southern California Edison. She is past president of the International Society for Performance Improvement and author of seven books and numerous articles.

I’ve know Ruth since my early days at NSPI – now ISPI The International Society for Performance Improvement.

From Learning Solutions Magazine: For over 25 years Ruth Clark has helped workforce learning practitioners apply evidence-based practice guidelines based on valid research.  Ruth has developed a number of seminars and written six books that translate important research programs into practical training guidance including e-Learning and the Science of Instruction,Efficiency in Learning, and The New Virtual Classroom. A science undergraduate, Ruth completed her doctorate in Instructional Psychology/ Educational Technology in 1988 at the University of Southern California. Ruth is a Past President of the International Society of Performance Improvement and a member of the American Educational Research Association.

Ruth was honored with the 2006 Thomas F. Gilbert Distinguished Professional Achievement Award by the International Society for Performance Improvement and was a Training Legend Speaker at the ASTD 2007 International Conference. Ruth is currently a dual resident of Southwest Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona and divides her professional time among speaking, teaching, and writing.

Ruth Clark was born in San Francisco, California. Her father was a military man, so the family moved annually. She says that she attended twelve different schools while growing up. (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006) After graduating high school, Clark went on to earn a Bachelors of Arts in Biology and Chemistry, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Immaculate Heart College in 1964. She then went on to earn a Masters of Arts in Biological Chemistry from the Department of Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1966.

In 1998, Clark completed her Doctor of Education degree in Instructional Psychology from the School of Education at the University of Southern California. When asked why she chose to pursue a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology, Clark said, “I was a science major for both my undergraduate and masters degrees, and what appealed to me was the research basis of learning wedded with the creative aspects of instructional production” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006).

Since graduating from USC, Clark has worked as a Curriculum Developer, a Training Manager, and an Adjunct Professor. She currently serves as President for Clark Training & Consulting where she provides seminars and consulting services to improve organizational performance. She also strives in her everyday work to translate research in instructional psychology for practitioner application. Clark is also the author and/or co-author of five books and numerous articles. She has also won various awards for her seminars and publications. As far as her role thus far in the field of Instructional Technology, Clark says that, “My goal has been to translate valid empirical research into usable guidelines for practitioners. I feel my books written with research scientists such as Richard Mayer and John Sweller are contributions that I personally value the most” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006).

Clark’s work has centered on cognitive methods for designing training as well as media’s application in instruction. The two researchers she cited are well-known in these areas. Richard Mayer has served as a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) since 1975. Mayer’s current research centers on cognition, instruction and technology (Department of Psychology, UCSB, 2003). John Sweller resides at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and has worked since the early 1980s on cognitive load theory (Clark, Nguyen & Sweller, 2006). Evidence-Based Instruction and Cognition Load Theory.

In her many articles, presentations and books, Clark addresses the issue of Instructional Technology practitioners incorporating more rapidly research and learning psychology into their design, development, and delivery decisions (Clark, 2003). She says, “I hope we will see a greater accumulation and synthesis of research on learning mechanisms and how to harness learning psychology through Instructional Technology. I believe we will continue to see the impact of globalization on Instructional Technology implementations. I would like to see more precision of our terms and definitions with an emphasis on defining interventions in terms of their psychological mechanisms rather than their surface features” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006). She cites the separation of research and practitioner communities as the main barrier to evidence-based practice (Clark, 2003). She says, “My hope is that the field is moving more toward evidence-based practice and I have tried to move things in that direction by summarizing the research of the best instructional scientists in my books and seminars” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006). In her article, “Applying Cognitive Strategies to Instructional Design” (Clark, 2002), she states that in this information era where brains are in higher demand than brawn, training that optimizes organizational performance is more important than ever. She says, “Instructional technology is a design science that must guide the professional production of instruction … we need to allow research rather than fads and folk wisdom to serve as the infrastructure for the professional practice of training and delivery” (Clark, 2002, p. 8).

In the past few years, Instructional Technology has come under fire as being old, obsolete, and ineffective (Gordon & Zemke, 2000). In response to these charges, Clark says, “…the ISD boxes are still relevant and can be profitably populated by new models and techniques drawn from cognitive theories of learning” (Clark, 2002, p. 9). This shift from visible to invisible value in work calls for Instructional Technology to be equally focused on defining and teaching mental processes as observable job procedures (Clark, 2002). She goes onto say that with this shift from labor to knowledge, there have also been major shifts within in the psychological sciences. Educational psychologists have moved from behavioral to cognitive models of learning. She says, “The research in instructional psychology over the past 20 years provides a good start to a scientific foundation for design of effective instruction (Clark, 2002, p.9).

She adds that Instructional Technology practitioners must incorporate an understanding of how cognitive and memory systems work during the learning process. When instructional technologists design instruction, in order for it to be effective it must support human cognitive processes (Clark, 2002).

The works that Clark has produced with John Sweller has focused on the cognitive load theory. This theory, “is a universal set of leaning principles that are proven to result in efficient instructional environments as a consequences of leveraging human cognitive learning processes” (Clark, Nguyen & Sweller, 2006, p.7). Clark says that the challenge for instructional designers is to develop instruction that provides new instruction to learners without overloading their cognitive circuits (Clark & Taylor, 1994). “Once the learner is overloaded, frustration and demoralization inevitably set in. And people can’t learn when they’re frustrated and demoralized. One key to teaching, then, is to avoid overloading the learner’s working memory” (Clark & Taylor, 1994, p. 40). She offers eight strategies to avoid cognitive overload. They are: talk less and turn key learning points into brief reference notes, do less and make learners do more, chunk training appropriately and dispense it over time, design workbook pages and computer-training screens so that they aid memory during practice, design job aids to aid memory and transfer after training, build automaticity, provide “training wheels” for new learners, and detect and remedy while the training process is in session (Clark & Taylor, 1994).

Clark’s work in the area of making the research findings about cognitive load readily available to instructional designers and training practitioners has had a huge impact on the field. The Human Performance Technology Primer names Clark as one of the leaders in the field along with such notables as John Keller, Robert Gagne and Robert Mager (HPT Primer). Her books and articles are being widely used in educational and training settings. She has been published many times by the International Society for Performance Improvement, which is one of the premier organizations for performance and instructional technologists. Clark also served as ISPI’s President in 1996. As a result of her making this research available, instructional design practitioners are more cognizant about the effect of cognitive load on their learners, and design their instruction accordingly.

About Clark’s influence, M. David Merrill said, “Few have done more than Ruth Clark to provide instructional practitioners easy access to the findings of scientific educational psychology” (Clark, 2003, cover). As far as her expectations for the impact her works will have on practitioners in the field, Clark says, “I’m hoping that we’re starting to professionalize – meaning people increasingly understand that training is an expensive investment, technology is complex and we need to leverage our work on the basis of scientific evidence” (Materi, 2003, p.7). Graphics, Media, and E-Learning.

In her book, coauthored with Chopeta Lyons, “Graphics for E-learning,” Clark looks at ways practitioners can effectively use graphics in e-learning environments to improve learning outcomes. In answer to the question, does graphics improve learning, Clark says, “It depends. Many studies that compared lessons that used text alone to teach content with lessons that added relevant visuals to the text have shown that the versions with the graphics do improve learning” (Clark, August 2003, p. 2). Clark says there are three factors that influence the effectiveness of visual treatments. They are: instructional goal, learning landscape, and features of the graphics itself (Clark, August 2003). Instructional goals must be factored into the decision making process when selecting graphics. Depending on whether the leaning is procedural or problem-based will influence the types of graphics that will best suite desired learning outcomes.

The learning landscape will also have an impact on the types of graphics that are most effective. Environmental factors such as prior knowledge of the audience, computer capabilities, bandwidth, budget, and organizational standards must be considered when selecting graphics for use in instruction (Clark, August 2003). Clark explains that graphics contain two types of features, surface and functional. She notes that it does not come as a surprise that graphical features themselves can influence learning effectiveness. What is surprising is that it is not the surface features, which are typically associated with graphics that make the difference. Surface features describe the graphic. Is it a line art, or a photograph? But surface features alone do not determine the effectiveness of a graphic. Rather, it is its functionality that determines its impact on learning (Clark, August 2003). She says, “Many of us are not using graphics effectively. We need to think about ‘what is my content, what is my instructional goal, who is my audience, what is the delivery method, and what is the best graphic to use,’” (Materi, 2003, p. 7).

Clark has also co-authored a book with Richard E. Mayer entitled, “E-learning and the Science of Instruction.” In it, they define e-learning as, content and instructional methods delivered on a computer with the aim of improving organizational outcomes (Materi, 2003). She adds though that e-learning should not be generalized. There are many types of e-learning, from synchronous to asynchronous, and from merely delivering information to improving performance. She states that e-learning should be designed on four course architectures: receptive, directive, guided discover or exploratory (Materi, 2003). With the increasing growth of e-learning, there has been much debate about its effectiveness and levels of quality. Research now shows that traditional classrooms and virtual classrooms (synchronous e-leaning) are about equally effective overall. It is not the medium that makes the difference; rather it is the way instructional designers utilize the features of media that influences learning (Bernard, 2004).

Clark agrees with these findings by saying, “The trick to successful use of delivery medium, electronic or traditional, is to exploit the features of that medium in ways that lead to learning” (Clark, 2005, p. 2). In an effort to aid practitioners in the field design more effective e-learning instructional modules, Clark has developed the DVEP model. The DVEP model stands for Define, Visualize, Engage, and Package (Clark, 2005). The Define stage is the first and in it the designer is articulating the business goals and the knowledge skills needed to achieve them. Then, the designer needs to choose the instructional methods needed to achieve the stated learning objectives. The last step in this initial stage is selecting the delivery media that best deliver the instructional methods identified (Clark, 2005). The second stage is Visualize. In this stage, the designer selects and/or designs the various types of visuals that will best promote learning. She states that it is crucial that designers select visuals for learning functions, and not just because they look good (Clark, 2005). She says, “… you should de-emphasize decorative graphics that can distract learners and depress learning in favor of representational visuals that illustrate the job environment, along with explanatory visuals that promote deeper understanding” (Clark, 2005, p. 5).

The third stage in the model is Engage. Frequent, meaningful learner interaction with the content is the main route to learning, and the virtual classroom offers many options to engage learners (Clark, 2005). Clark says that in order to keep learners engaged, designers must provide frequent, job-related interactions and use variety in question type (Clark, 2005). The final stage in the model is Package. In this stage designers must pay attention to all the elements that precede and follow the virtual classroom event (Clark, 2005). This means helping with technical issues, stating course objectives and assignments, and establishing a social presence during the early stages of the virtual session. She also says that designer should design working aids for handouts. This should be done during the planning phases of design. Once these handouts are created, it is then imperative that exercises are provided that require learners to reference these handouts during the virtual session and later on the job (Clark, 2005). As e-learning continues to expand, the need for effective evaluation of its effectiveness grows with it. Clark says, currently there is not much evidence on the best practices for implementing synchronous learning environments. She does say though, that designers can implement what is known about asynchronous learning and human learning processes until more research is forthcoming (Materi, 2003).

Explore one of her elearning symposia. In this symposium, Clark presents an “Evidence Based Guidelines for Effective Instructional Visuals”.

The impact of Clark’s work in the areas of graphics, media and e-learning is being felt in positive ways by practitioners in the field. Her book with Mayer was the number one best seller according to its publisher, and the International Society for Performance Improvement awarded it with Outstanding Instructional Communication (Materi, 2003). Apart from the awards she’s received for her publications, Clark’s work is also impacting practitioners from all around the world.

In her article, “The e-Learning Edge: Leveraging Interactive Technologies in the Design of Engaging, Effective Learning Experiences,” Lisa Galarneau of New Zealand, cites the work of Clark and Mayer to show how the effective use of media can positively impact learning outcomes (Galarneau, 2004). In an article entitled, “A Cognitive Approach to Instructional Design for Multimedia Learning,” Stephen D. Sorden of Northern Arizona University cites the work of Clark and Mayer as it pertains to online learning. Their research states that online learning can only be effective if structure it in a way that efficiently maximizes learning. What has to be emphasized is not how the instruction is delivered, but whether empirically-tested strategies for multimedia instruction are employed that facilitate knowledge construction by the learner (Sorden, 2005).

Honors & Awards

Dr. Clark is the 2006 recipient of the Thomas F. Gilbert Distinguished Professional Achievement Award from ISPI.

Her Consulting Practice

Her expertise is design of workforce learning programs for classroom and computer delivery. She offers keynote speeches, short workshops and a certification program in instructional design. Her focus is translation of research into usable guidelines for practitioners. She offers public virtual workshops through ASTD Essentials and private onsite sessions virtual and ILT. Ruth’s specialties:

  • Evidence-based Training
  • Scenario-based e-Learning

Her Consulting Firm

Clark Training & Consulting offers a full spectrum of training for workforce learning and development professionals. Workshops and keynotes focus on performance and training needs assessment, design of synchronous and self study e-learning, design, development and evaluation of classroom learning, and adult learning psychology. Presentations and workshops available via in-person classes, individual self-study, or small group virtual classroom delivery.  Dr. Clark offers consulting by previewing your e-learning products or goals and evaluating your courses or offering customized design-development consultation.

One Thing I Learned From Ruth Clark

The Importance of Research/Evidence-Based Practice

Do games promote learning? How should you accommodate learning styles?  When is active learning ineffective? Which delivery media is best for learning?  The training field invests over 100 billion dollars a year in the U.S. alone.  How much of this investment is wasted on training fads that have no evidence of effectiveness?  In this presentation or workshop I will describe the facts and fiction behind common training myths such as:

  • Active Learning
  • Gamification
  • Learning Styles
  • e-Learning
  • Collaboration
  • Stories for Learning

Another Thing I Learned From Ruth Clark Was

Warning: Controversy Ahead…

Although many games don’t teach, that’s not to say that they can’t teach. Our challenge is to empirically identify and catalog game features that align to learning goals and build a repertoire of principles for game design. Meanwhile, we should work to implement games that will encourage the mental processes required by the learning objectives and add features to these games such as self-explanation questions known to improve learning.

A GREAT Video of Ruth From UMBC Just under 73 minutes

Uploaded on Nov 3, 2008 – UMBC

Based on her latest book, The New Virtual Classroom, Dr. Clark will guide you in an interactive tour of virtual classroom technology features proven to promote learning. In this interactive session, you will learn how to exploit the main features in the virtual classroom.

Her Books 

See her books available at Amazon at elsewhere.

And another…

And another book…

Ruth has several other books. Check them out!

Some Articles By Ruth C. Clark


Visuals for Learning – One of the common myths in the training field is the idea that some learners are “visual” while others are “auditory.” Read this article appearing in the March issue of Training & Development.

Accelerating Expertise With Scenario-Based Learning – Download Ruth’s latest article, appearing in the January issue of Training & Development. In this article she discusses Scenario-Based Learning, and the acceleration it can bring to teaching non-routine job tasks.

Harnessing the Virtual Classroom – Click here to download Ruth’s latest article appearing in the November issue of Training & Development. In this article she summarizes lessons learned from users of synchronous training software.

Efficiency in e-Learning: Proven instructional methods for faster, better online learning – Read this article appearing in the November issue of the E-guild’s journal. It summarizes some key principals from Ruth’s latest book. For a preview of the book, download part of chapter 1 from the link below.

Efficiency in Learning – Sneak Preview of New Book – Download the Introduction to Part I and the first half of Chapter 1 to preview this exciting new book by Dr. Clark written with Frank Nguyen and John Sweller. This book summarizes guidelines, research, and examples of how to apply cognitive load theory to all instructional environments from the classroom to e-learning.

Aligning Training to Business Results – Seven routes to explore with your CEO. Read Dr. Ruth Clark and Dr. Ann Kwinn’s latest article and see how they have laid out seven paths that can help you align training programs to business goals successfully. This article was published in Training & Development magazine June 2005.

Four Steps to Effective Virtual Classroom Training – Which is better: Traditional Classrooms or Virtual Classrooms? Read this article and find out directly from Dr. Clark in her article for the e-Learning Developers’ Journal, May 16, 2005 written specifically for the e-Guild.

A Conversation with Dr. Ruth Clark – Appearing in the fall 2004 publication of the Canadian Learning Journal.

More Than Just Eye Candy: Graphics for e-Learning – Part 1 of Dr. Clark’s article, which appeared in the August 11, 2003 edition of The e-Learning Developers’ Journal, covers appropriate usage of visuals that teach, as well as defining types of graphics and their intended function.  The Part 2 conclusion of this article, written by Dr. Clark’s colleague Ms. Chopeta Lyons, followed in the September 2003 edition. (Note:

The New ISD: Applying Cognitive Strategies to Instructional Design – Is ISD Dead? Several recent articles in Training Magazine have suggested the demise of ISD. For an alternative view read Dr. Ruth’s latest article appearing in the special August issue of Performance Improvement.

Online Strategies To Improve Workplace Performance: Lessons from the WWW – Read this article by Dr. Ruth. It appeared in ISPI’s journal, Performance Improvement, Volume 40 #8, pages 24-30.

Recycling Knowledge With Learning Objects – Read this article by Dr. Ruth. It appeared in Training & Development magazine October 1998, p. 60-61.

More Articles by Ruth Clark

Why Games Don’t Teach  February 19, 2013

Ask trainers to define what they mean by the term “game” and you will likely hear a mix of features or examples. The problem is that many things that could be called a game do not necessarily lead to learning. A leader in the field of instructional technology takes on the question: Is it right to advocate games as a main or frequent instructional strategy?

Efficiency in e-Learning: Proven Instructional Methods for Faster, Better, Online Learning  November 7, 2005

Instructional designers face the constant challenge of balancing many considerations affecting learning. Of all the guidelines from research offering advice on these matters, few are more challenging than those dealing with cognitive load. How much is too much? Is cognitive load always bad? In this article, two authors who have focused on these questions give you the answers and a systematic view.

Four Steps to Effective Virtual Classroom Training  May 16, 2005

Research now shows that traditional classrooms and virtual classrooms (synchronous e-Learning) are about equally effective overall. It’s not the medium that makes the difference; it’s the way in which the designer and the instructor use the features that are available. One of the outstanding e-Learning designers in the world reveals guidelines that will help you use the virtual classroom.

More Than Just Eye Candy: Graphics for e-Learning: Part 1  August 11, 2003

Visuals included in your e-Learning can improve learning — if you can figure out how to use them correctly. In this, the first of two parts, two experts guide you through the results of research into the best practices. This is an article you will want to refer to often!

More Than Just Eye Candy: Graphics for e-Learning: Part 2 of 2 parts  September 15, 2003

This concludes an expert review of research on best practices in using visuals in e-Learning. Choosing the best graphic for learning purposes depends on your instructional goals, the learning landscape, and the learners who will participate. The systematic visual design model summarized in this outstanding article will enable you to derive the best graphic treatment every time!

Six Principles of Effective e-Learning: What Works and Why  September 10, 2002

Decisions about e-Learning courseware must begin with an understanding of how the mind works during learning and of what research tells us about the factors that lead to learning. Here are the six principles that have emerged from controlled experiments in how to best use multimedia in e- Learning.

Ruth C. Clark

Connecting and Networking via the Web & Social Media

Ruth’s business web site

Ruth’s LinkedIn Profile is – here.

Share Your Stories

If Ruth Clark has been a valuable influence and/or resource for you – please share your stories about that in the comments section below. Or simply share a URL there that is relevant. And – thank you – for sharing!

The My First Friday Favorite Guru Series

We each have many influencers, mentors, both active and passive, knowingly and unknowingly in their respective roles in our development. This series is my attempt to acknowledge all of them… one by one… in no particular order… as I attempt to consciously reflect on what I have have learned and who I have learned it from, regarding all things “Performance Improvement” – my focus.

I have a long list.

Lucky me.

Next month –  Carl Binder.

Links to All of the Past Posts in the MFFF Guru Series

Here is a page with links to all of the Past Posts below – here.

  • Ruth Clark – May 2014
  • Rob Foshay – April 2014
  • John Carlisle – March 2014
  • Miki Lane – February 2014
  • Harold Stolovitch – January 2014
  • Bill Wiggenhorn – December 2013
  • Will Thalheimer – November 2013
  • Roger Kaufman – October 2013
  • Roger Addison – September 2013
  • Ray Svenson – August 2013
  • Dick (Richard E.) Clark – July 2013
  • Allison Rossett – June 2013
  • Carol Panza – May 2013
  • Jane Bozarth – April 2013
  • Judy Hale – March 2013
  • Margo Murray – February 2013
  • Neil Rackham – January 2013
  • Robert (Bob) Mager – December 2012
  • Joe H. Harless – November 2012
  • Thomas F. Gilbert – October 2012
  • Sivasailam Thiagarajan – September 2012
  • Geary A. Rummler – August 2012
  • Dale Brethower – July 2012

Here is a page with links to all of the above Past Posts – here.

# # #

5 comments on “My 1st Friday Favorite Guru Series: Ruth C. Clark

  1. Pingback: T&D: Reflections on 40 Years in the Biz | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  2. I’m going to take a chance here and say that Ruth is presenting her course, eLearning and the Science of Instruction, beginning next Thursday, May 8. Information online at

    If this violates the guidelines for this blog, please delete the comment, and forgive my enthusiasm for any course Ruth teaches, whether for The eLearning Guild or any other organization. Like you, I’ve known Ruth for a very long time, and I have the greatest admiration for her work.


  3. Ruth is one of the five people who made me who I am today. What she taught me about cognitive psychology and instructional design sticks with me every day. If there were a Mt. Rushmore for HPT, Ruth, Roger Kaufman, Allison Rossett, Bob Mager, and Thomas Gilbert would have my vote to be chiseled in the granite.

    r/Chuck Georgo


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