Reni Gorman

Reni Gorman is the Senior Director of Consulting. Her strengths lie in analyzing business needs and consulting with key leaders to design strategies and deliver solutions that enable the firm’s talent to develop the qualities and behaviors needed to meet business goals. She has consulted with key leaders of Fortune 100 firms, one of whom described her as “uniquely linking learning and business.” Reni Gorman is a dynamic leader whose passion is contagious to colleagues and clients alike. She is a true believer in creating continual learning strategies for the impatient, busy professional of the 21st century. She has designed intelligent push/pull strategies and systems that deliver bite-sized knowledge objects through various delivery mechanisms such as e-Learning, mobile learning and performance support. Reni holds a Master of Arts in Cognition and Intelligent Technologies from Columbia University Teachers College and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Rutgers University.
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Recent Posts

Becoming Proficient: From Onboarding to Performing

Posted by Reni Gorman on Oct 1, 2013 12:24:00 PM

Part 1: Teaching New Hires How to DO Their Jobs

The goal of any new hire program is to get new team members trained and up and running in their jobs as fast and as effectively as possible.

When people are learning something new, they need structured formal learning because they “don’t know what they don’t know”. However, as they move down the continuum toward becoming proficient, they may still need to be able to reference training content to answer questions as they “get stuck” but this environment has to be unstructured and informal letting the learner drive their learning experience.

 Moving from Beginner to Proficient from Structured Formal Learning to Unstructured Informal Learning


I suggest ALWAYS designing and developing learning interventions with a performance and business goal in mind. Structured formal training programs are a great way of getting learners started with learning something brand new, but providing reinforcement of that learning after the fact, back on the job, is a critical component of ensuring people achieve performance goals as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

The Forgetting Curve: Showing Retention and Elapsed Time

Remember that Hermann Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve tells us that from the time your learners leave the training program, let’s say at 5 pm one day, to 9 am when they come back the next morning; they will have forgotten approximately 35% of what they learned. Amazing isn’t it? I remember the moment I learned this fact and I wondered what I was doing in the learning profession. Then I learned that with reinforcement we can raise the forgetting curve and dramatically increase memory.


Imagine the following scenario: A learner goes through the new hire training program, and is introduced to all the new concepts and processes that she needs to know, but that doesn’t mean she can now perform proficiently. She will still struggle as she tries to remember all the information, such as the details associated with process steps. In fact, cognitive research about the brain and its capacity to remember has proven that people don’t initially remember all the details of what they learn—what they initially remember is the high-level concepts, the big picture, the key points. Consequently, what they initially forget is all the details of how to execute various processes. 

In fact, research shows that there are five distinct moments of learning need. 

Five Moments of Learning NeedConsider this example:

  1. If the learner is learning about a new process, there will be a time initially where they are learning for the first time
  2. Perhaps as they become more knowledgeable they will want to learn more about the process, how their process fits into the processes around them, and what exactly happens downstream and upstream from them so they can be mindful of how they execute their part of the process
  3. There will also be times when the learner may forget some of the process steps
  4. Especially for infrequently used processes, there will surely be times when the learner is stuck and is trying to remember
  5. Finally, something goes wrong and the learner has to figure out what it was and how to correct it.
Bottom line: We need to create learning that can be used to teach people who are learning something for the first time, but can also be reused as people progress through the learning process. In addition, this can be used for performance support as learners move from beginner to proficient, to create a multitude of advantages.
Some of you may remember years ago when everybody talked about, “author once and publish in multiple ways.”  Are we back to that? Yes, but now there is a much easier, faster, better, less expensive way to do it. I’ll talk about that more in my next post! 

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Reni Gorman is Senior Director of Consulting at Performance Development Group.

  Onboarding Financial Advisors

Topics: Sales Training

Attitude is Essential to Learning, Part 2: It's All About My Manager

Posted by Reni Gorman on Sep 11, 2011 4:42:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Women manager and employeeIn the first part of this series, we talked about the role of the individual in learning. It’s hard to make someone learn if they’re not willing. But what if they are willing but are not encouraged or worse are discouraged by the person who judges their performance: their manager? What is the manager’ attitude toward the new knowledge and skills learned?

Challenge 3: My manager does not encourage me to apply what I have learned on the job. This is by far the worst, deadliest challenge. People must know that they will be enabled and empowered to put what they learned into action on the job. If they feel for any reason that they can’t… maybe because their managers don’t know what they learned and can’t or won’t help them apply it. Sound unbelievable? It happens all the time. For example, if the manager doesn’t believe in the new sales model and doesn’t encourage its use, it is not very likely his or her team will adapt it and give it a try. We, training professionals, take folks out of their jobs, put them in training, throw them back into their jobs and expect them to perform. We forget that people will usually listen to the person that manages them. If their manager isn’t committed to applying the new skills learned, it most likely will not happen.

Solution 3: Make sure the manager is aware of and reinforces the learning. I point out raising awareness because I have seen many situations where managers did not even know what their employees learned when they went to training. In this case, it may not be that they don’t actively support it, but rather that they don’t know. One idea is to supply managers with a one pager summary of what their people learned that includes things like tips on how to help their employees pull through the learning into application on the job. It could include questions to ask employees to reflect on and talk about the learning and coaching opportunities. Once the managers are aware how do we get them to be supportive? Setting clear expectations through executive sponsors, following up with measurement that results in recognition, rewards and even consequences are all critical for success. First managers have to be told it is expected that they use the new sales model—if that is the case. This message has to be delivered to them through their own leadership so they take it seriously—it can’t and shouldn’t come from the training department. Once they know what they are supposed to do, like coach to the new sales model, we have to make sure they know how to do that—here is where more training may come in. Then we have to measure whether or not they are doing it with the understanding that their actions, both positive and negative, have consequences.

Last but not least it is important to remember that you can’t stop at the manager, you must look to see what the manager’s manager is doing—is he or she supporting new behavior on the manager’s behalf. In other words, if the consequences above aren’t really going to be enforced by the manager’s manager, if he or she doesn’t really believe in the new selling model either, they you need to go through the same process with them: make them aware that it is important, show senior support, and back it up with consequences both negative and unfortunately, if needed, negative.

At the end of the day we all have to be held accountable for our actions. When we are at work and sent to training, we are paid to learn and to action that learning. Let’s make it easy for people to do so by removing any barriers to learning and reinforcing the “right” behavior.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Coaching, Organizational Change

Attitude is Essential to Learning, Part 1: It’s All About Me

Posted by Reni Gorman on Aug 30, 2011 5:53:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

As learning professionals we spend so much time designing just the right kind of exciting learning intervention that we sometimes forget to think about other factors that may prevent learning. For example, no matter how great the learning experience is, if people are unmotivated to learn then the reality is that they
won’t. Let’s explore some of the reasons why people might be unmotivated and figure out what we can do to combat it.

businessphoto_flipchartsmChallenge 1: How does this relate to me? Can you recall a time when you were totally uninterested and unmotivated to learn? Maybe in grade school during history class? For me it was college math. I simply was not interested. Why? I did not ever think calculus was something I would use in “real life.”We know from adult learning principles that people learn best when they can see the relevance the content has to their day-to-day jobs, and to their lives. So, one would think the answer is simple: show people how the content is relevant to them, and they will be open to learning it. As important as this concept is, it’s something designers forget to do as they get all caught up in designing the learning.

Solution 1: Point out the WIIFM. It is really important in the beginning of every learning experience to point out why it is important and relevant for the learner to absorb this new information. The “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) should be present at the start of each learning piece.

What else may prevent you from learning?

Challenge 2: I already know this. For example: “I’ve learned several sales models in the past. This sounds like the same stuff.”  If people think they already know something, their minds are shut and they won’t allow in new ways of thinking—because of course they don’t need new ways of thinking about something they know inside and out.

Solution 2: Point out differences—things they may not know. If you know you are dealing with this learner mindset, the best thing to do is first acknowledge that you are teaching them YET ANOTHER sales model. Then, point out what is unique and different about this sales model. Doing that will help people start thinking about all the ways this is different from what they already know and that will open them up to learn more.

I remember creating a module on hedge funds for a major financial years ago and the first page said: “Think you know everything there is to know about hedge funds? Think again! Did you know that…” With just one fun fact on the first page of the module that we could bet was new information to them, we captured their curiosity and dispelled their immediate notion that they did not have to go through this because they already knew.

So far, we’ve focused on the individual, and how to overcome their barriers to learning. But what happens next? There’s an even bigger barrier to implementation out there—and we’ll talk about that in the next installment!

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Organizational Change, Organizational Learning

Teaching Non-Linear Instructional Design for Mobile Learning and Performance Support

Posted by Reni Gorman on May 4, 2011 6:44:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

escher stairs
We all intuitively think in a linear fashion because the brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, then another, and another. Therefore, even when we think we are jumping around in our thoughts, we are still thinking one thing after another. Perhaps as a result of this, many of us also write in a linear fashion. Therefore, it is not surprising that many instructional designers create course content linearly; it is difficult to think of a course or a story any other way.. However, when people use newer technologies, they tend to be very non-linear, be it surfing the web, using mobile devices or (especially) performance support systems. You never know where learners are coming from when they land on your web page—or your module. You also don’t know how much they already know. So, how do you to anticipate all of this when creating content, and, ideally, create content that addresses multiple learner types who arrive there from any place without any pre-existing knowledge?

When the web first went commercial (.com), I teamed up online magazine web producers with instructional designers and together they were able to create very interactive, instructionally sound, non-linear content. However, that was in the 90s, the stone age of interactive technology. In today’s world, we need to run as lean as we can. So let me share some of the techniques that worked for me when teaching how to design non-linear content; which, remember, is totally counterintuitive to what many instructional designers have been doing for years.

Ask your instructional designers to create a storyboard with modules that are truly context independent (in other words, that can be accessed from any path with any existing knowledge and will still make sense). Tell them to try to create the smallest possible modules; think online magazine publishing: one article is usually one page. Once they come back with their storyboards, pull out a module from the middle and see if it makes sense out of context. Does it indicate where you can go to “backtrack” and catch up?  What would happen if a learner would go into just this piece of content without the benefit of the previous content? Then, think about modifying the content in a way that makes it easy for anyone with links to go backwards in the content for explanation (if needed), and links to get more deep/advanced. This is commonly referred to as a layered design—once again, very non-linear. You will not know who the learner is when you design; she may be the target audience or a manager of the target audience or an assistant. No matter who the learner is, the content should make sense, and guide the learner to other content where they can catch up or explore further.

You also need to consider “neutralizing the language” as regards your audience. Don’t use terms like: “As the manager, you will…” In a good performance support system, it should not matter who the person is, the content should guide you and focus on the task you are trying to perform (or the information you are trying to learn) regardless of who you are I like to refer to this as designing object oriented content. Yes, learning objects (remember those?). It may be an old term but it is still relevant-- in fact more relevant than ever, since mobile devices require smaller and smaller chunks of context-independent content.

Another tip is to watch for and remove is verbiage like “In a previous module, you learned...” When your audience is accessing content non-linearly, you don’t know what they have previously learned. Consider using phrases like “For more information” or “To learn more.”

We’re all obsessed with interactivity, but interactivity is not nearly as relevant in performance support. If I need help on the job, a good checklist is worth much more than an interactive game, because a good checklist is “just in time.” In a good mobile performance support system we no longer need an intro with course objectives, but we do need to introduce the material. How do we do it from a performance support perspective? Learning objectives do not really teach anything—they tell what you will learn but you don’t learn from them. In performance support there is not much room for them—each learning object/page should teach you something. Take the user’s perspective and focus on the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? For example: “You should use this tool, Mr. Investment Banker,  because hedge funds have changed over the last year and the new information will impact your business.

Finally, instructional designers should consider all the ways this content could be used:
    • in a linear e-learning course (don’t worry, linear hasn’t gone away completely)
    • as a quick tip list in a performance support environment
    • In an audio format, perhaps as a list of “what to say” to the customer. It may be better in audio to hear voice inflection; for example, a sales representative can listen to it with a hands-free device on the way to a client meeting.
Many of us are used to designing linear content, and linear design is a hard habit to break.. But it’s useful to step back and think about the possibilities. Invite others to brainstorm, share designs and content so you are not just looking at your own, as that is harder to critique, and guide each other to realizations through the art of inquiry.

Creating valuable, snippets of information that contain one concise piece of transferrable knowledge will make content so much more effective in the business world where people do not always have time for extensive classroom training, or even sitting through a long online learning course. They want to go right to the information that they need and that may mean jumping around and reviewing the content out of sequence. Creating snippets of content is also the key to the age old dream all content creators have of authoring once and reusing in many ways. Happy authoring!
The Mobile Learning rEvolution

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Mobile Performance

Teaching Problem Solving

Posted by Reni Gorman on Mar 14, 2011 10:32:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

multi-colored squares on a puzzle cubeWhat is Problem Solving?

Whenever a living creature has a goal but doesn’t know how to accomplish it, they engage in problem solving. (Holyoak & Morrison, 2005) Problem solving is considered the most complex of all intellectual functions, as a higher-order cognitive process that requires activation and control of more routine or fundamental skills in order to solve the problem at hand. (Goldstein & Levin, 1987) There are a number of methods for problem solving, including:

Difference reduction, in which we keep reducing the distance between the current state and the goal step by step;

Means-end analysis, where we work backwards from end goal and set sub goals; and

Analogy strategy, where we find similar problems we have solved with pervious strategies and try those same strategies on the new problem.

This is just a basic list; there are many other problem-solving methodolgies. So, how can we set up our learners to succeed?

Conditions under which Learners might Demonstrate Good Problem Solving

Gestalt psychologists have outlined a number of features that make problem solving more difficult, they are as follows: (Holyoak & Morrison, 2005)

Groupingwhen all elements needed to solve the problem are not grouped, but rather scattered. Problem-solving becomes easier if all elements to solve a problem are grouped.

Distraction, think of distracters used when testing learners, the more there are the harder it is to solve the problem.

Functional fixedness, when solving the problem requires that something be used for something other than what it was made for. Using a bunch of pieces of cloth to tie together to form a rope latter is not as intuitive as if rope was just lying around.

Set effect, if we always use a certain method to solve a problem and suddenly that does not work, we have to unlearn the previously learned solution and it is harder than starting from scratch without the set effect.

Based on the list above, if we offer learners a problem where:

  • All the elements needed to solve the problem are grouped,
  • There are no distractions
  • All objects used to solve the problem are used the way they were intended, and
  • The learners will not be reminded of previously experienced, typical problem solving strategies because the problem is so unique

We will have created a condition where the learners will most likely demonstrate good problem solving. However, this approach may not be appropriate for everyone. This approach may only be appropriate for teaching beginners; perhaps advanced learners need just the opposite to challenge them.

Conditions under which Learners might have Difficulty with Problem Solving
In order to challenge more experienced learners, we can do just the opposite: make the conditions under which learners solve the problem more difficult. We can make sure all the elements needed to solve the problem are scattered and not grouped, there are several distractions, all objects used to solve the problem are used in a different way from the way they were intended or are used every day, and we can design the problem so it superficially looks like a very easy problem that would invoke memories of previous strategies, when in fact it is not and will need new strategies.

Setting up a problem in this manner would surely stretch the knowledge and skills of any good problem solver. The goal, of course, is making them a great problem solver.


Goldstein F. C., & Levin H. S. (1987). Disorders of reasoning and problem-solving ability. In M. Meier, A. Benton, & L. Diller (Eds.), Neuropsychological rehabilitation. London: Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved July 7, 2008 from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Holyoak, K.J. & Morrison, R.G. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. New York: Cambridge University Press

Topics: Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Coaching, Leadership, Organizational Learning

Challenges and Ideas for Teaching Experts: Dual Process Reasoning Theory

Posted by Reni Gorman on Feb 4, 2011 4:54:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

I have been doing training for 20+ years now and the audience that gives me the most pain in terms of designing instruction is an audience of experts. Why? Well because experts “know everything”--even if they don’t. That means they are often trying to align new knowledge into categories they already understand. The response to the content you’re teaching is often “Oh, yeah, that is just like…” and they bring up things that they can relate to in their own expert fields. Instructional designers are often encouraged to teach people with examples that learners can relate to—but is this true with experts as well? If experts try to relate everything (or most things) to other things they know, what happens if they get it wrong? Then their brains have just encoded information in an incorrect way—which is not easy to change. It also makes me wonder, maybe this is true for all of us, not just experts. It is just that experts are vocal about it. We know as learning designers that misperceptions have to be uncovered and dealt with upfront before learning can happen in the “right way.” So what can we do?

Well, dual process reasoning theory indicates that two systems collide when it comes to reasoning of any kind. (Holyoak & Morrison, 2005) System 1 is our evolutionary system reflecting a collection of innate modules. Think of this as our instincts; they are so fast and automatic that they do not even register in our consciousness until after the reaction. Kind of like when people jump to very quick conclusions about what they know.

System 2 is our intellect, our cognition; it is slow as we think things over and reason about the problem at hand. When we get brand new information that we can’t relate to anything we already know, we actually have to think it through as we learn it; that when we use System 2. After we think it through we may well find something we can relate the new information to—but the point is, we have thought it through instead of jumping to conclusions.

Can we create conditions to which System 1 cannot react? Can we set learners up to have to reason and think things through? Maybe we should try. How? Perhaps by giving learners a problem with which they are not familiar with at all. Try it and let me know how you make out!


Holyoak, K.J. & Morrison, R.G. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Topics: Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Cognition

Making Social Networking Social Again

Posted by Reni Gorman on Jul 30, 2010 2:16:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Social networking should not be about adding people to your network willy nilly to get the highest number of connections. All too often I get a LinkedIn request from someone whose name just doesn’t ring a bell. There I sit, agonizing over who this could be and wondering why I don’t remember them. Then I write back and say: “I am sorry, can you remind me how we know each other?” Sometimes I get no reply, other times I get a reply that says: “We don’t know each other directly but we both worked for ABC Company.” It all depends on where you draw the line. People Together-3

However, I do believe there are other reasons to connect even when you don’t know the person previously. In fact, isn’t that what social media is about? Making new connections you didn’t have before? I don’t look at it as just a tool to put my address book online, I look at it also as a tool to find new contacts, for various reasons. The benefit of the social web is that I can see into my friend’s contact list and connect with people who I would not have connected with otherwise. For example, I interview people for PDG’s Strategy Consulting team and often after the interview, they send me a LinkedIn request—and I accept. Especially if I spoke to them, I liked them, and I feel we had a connection. I have sometimes received requests to connect with people who have read my blog, sent me theirs, are in the same industry and want to be connected—and I accept. And despite all the examples I just gave you, I still don’t consider myself an Open Networker, who, according to Wikipedia, is a member of a business-oriented social networking site such as LinkedIn who positively encourages connections from any other member, whether or not they have had a previous business relationship.

I don’t think having people in your network means you have to contact them once a month or at any other interval. I know people with whom I only speak once a year and there is nothing wrong with that in my eyes. Based on the examples above, I have contacts I may never reconnect with—and I am okay with that too. I might even eventually remove them—once I no longer remember them. The goal of my network is not necessarily to have “relationships” with every single person, it is to have connections that can help me and who I can help when needed. Isn’t that the goal of networking to begin with? Social media allows me to do something I could not do before and that is to see my connections’ connections’ connections and so on. It is, therefore, about connections—therein lies the power.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Social Media

The Science Behind Learning: Cognitive Tips and How Tos for Corporate Training (Part 6)

Posted by Reni Gorman on Jul 22, 2010 9:56:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Tip #6: Provide many examples and practice exercises in which the same underlying concept is at work.

Cognitive Psychology: Provide examples to facilitate transfer and meaningful deliberate practice to promote understanding and increase memory performance.

Why (Justification):

Bransford et al. (2000) recommend that teachers provide “many examples in which the same concept is at work”. (p. 20) In a study by Gick and Holyoak (1980), they presented subjects with a story of a general who breaks up his army into several smaller groups to take different roads to avoid setting off mines. They still all arrived at the same time and were able to take over the capital. Then subjects were ask to solve a problem where the doctor had to radiate a tumor with enough force to destroy it but without harming the tissue around it. Subjects were told to use the story as the model to solve the problem and most subjects realized that the strategy is to break up the radiation source into smaller rays and focuses them only on the tumor so that the strongest radiation is only there.

“Hands-on experiments can be a powerful way to ground emergent knowledge...” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 22) However there are different ways to practice. Consider doing math homework with the use of formulas and theorems. If you just followed the rules of the formula, you may have completed your homework in less time than if you truly went through the formula to fully and deeply understand all the ins and outs of the formula. Students who understand the reasons behind a formula can usually remember it much better and apply it much better in the long run. They may even be able to more easily learn or transfer to related mathematical (or other) information that shares the same abstract underlying core concepts, or knowledge elements. (Anderson, 2000) “In mathematics, experts are more likely than novices to first try to understand the problems, rather than simply attempt to plug numbers into formulas.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 41) Paige and Simon (1966) conducted a study where they presented subjects with an algebra problem. The expert group quickly realized that the problem was logically impossible.

In addition, practice will help your learners remember and recall faster. According to the power law of learning, your memory performance improves as a power function of practice. (Anderson, 2000) In a study by Pirolli and Anderson (1985) subjects practiced sentences and their speed to recall the sentence improved the more they practiced, before leveling off.

“Students’ abilities to acquire organized sets of facts and skills are actually enhanced when they are connected to meaningful problem-solving activities, and when students are helped to understand why, when and how those facts and skills are relevant.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 23)

Therefore, just as we draw a line between memorizing facts and learning with understanding, we must differentiate practice from deliberate practice. Practicing the mathematical formula by applying it to problem after problem is not the same as “deliberate practice” where you may apply the formula, and as you do, continuously check and recheck your own understanding. This means you use metacognitive strategies to insure a deep level of understanding. (Bransford et al., 2000) This is also consistent with the depth of processing theory that states that information processed at a deeper level of analysis improves memory for that information.

How (Application):

    1. Try to weave in an example to every section, definitely for the main points that communicate the core concepts, and, if possible, for the sub-concepts as well.
    2. Also follow-up at the end of each section with a practice exercise to let learners practice and apply what they have learned themselves. Design practice exercises where the same underlying concepts are at work. They shouldn’t be too simple, as that will not engage the learner, but they shouldn’t be too difficult as that would discourage the learner. For example, if you are teaching addition and show examples of adding two numbers, give students a practice exercise of adding three numbers. It is more challenging than the examples you used to teach but still manageable for the student to solve.


 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.

Gick, M. L., & Holyoak, K. J. (1980).
Analogical problem solving. Cognitive Psychology, 12, 306-355.

Paige, J. M., & Simon, H. A. (1966).
Discipline-specific Science Education and Educational Research: The Case of Physics. Paper prepared for the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning for the Sciences of Science Learning: An Interdisciplinary Discussion.

Pirolli, P. L., & Anderson, J. R. (1985).
The role of practice in fact retrieval. Journal of Experimental Psychology; Learning, Memory and Cognition, 11, 136-153.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Cognition, Metacognition

Bridging the Performance Gap: Training is Just Part of the Solution

Posted by Reni Gorman on Jul 1, 2010 11:11:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

I have been designing and delivering learning interventions for nearly 20 years (dare I say), and I always tell my clients that the learning intervention is just the start of creating change in behavior. There are many other components and models but I boil it down to the most necessary:

1. Goal setting—people need to know what is expected of them. Sounds simple? Too simple? I agree and yet many people do not even consider it. I have seen this assumption so many times. We as learning professionals know better than to make assumptions. Help your clients check their assumptions! All you have to do is randomly ask a couple of learners. If goals are not clear then depending on the level of behavior change needed you can address it multiple ways:
    • The easiest and the simplest is a communication strategy and plan, however that is only for simple changes, like learning to use new software.
    • If, on the other hand, you are changing your sales model, a pretty important and difficult change, you need a change management strategy and plan.
    • Finally if you are totally reengineering the way people work because of, for example, a merger (not uncommon these days) then you need a new or adjusted performance management strategy and plan in addition to a change management strategy and plan.

2.  Learning intervention—I think we all have this one down!

3. Reinforcement and feedback—As we all know, learning is a process, not an event. Therefore, there always has to be some reinforcement and feedback to truly affect performance. This could manifest in:
    • Providing short snippets of content to remind people what they learned, as well as,
    • Setting up informal learning opportunities such as a social media site,
    • However, what is MOST IMPORTANT is manager coaching and feedback. I have heard clients tell me that while the training program their employees went through was great, they ended up going back to their day-to-day and doing the same thing they did before. Why? Primarily because the managers did not reinforce the new behavior. In some cases the managers did not even know what their teams were taught so they couldn’t reinforce the behavior if they wanted to. Without including managers the learning intervention weakens over time and information learned is forgotten. (See Wikipedia’s explanation of the forgetting curve.) Finally, remember that managers are also responsible for setting goals—see #1 above. Therefore getting the managers onboard is key!
So, the lesson learned, to use L&D lingo, is: make sure every one of your training plans at lease considers these topics and ask your clients the tough questions. They may not understand and resist at first, but you will start them thinking, and that, is the first step to recovery.

Topics: Performance Improvement, Organizational Learning, Talent Management

The Science Behind Learning: Cognitive Tips and How Tos for Corporate Training (Part 4)

Posted by Reni Gorman on May 16, 2010 11:48:00 PM

by Reni Gorman
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.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Cognition, Metacognition, Retroactive Interference, Interference