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

Engaging Learners Real Time with Social Media

Posted by Reni Gorman on May 5, 2010 4:43:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

A Great Non-Learning Example

A colleague of mine sent me this video depicting a pianist incorporating social media into his songs on the fly—yes on the fly! You have got to see this video—it is incredible, and it really made me think about social media and teaching/learning (Warning: video contains some mature content). My first reaction was: Wouldn’t it be great if you could do this for an online course, and I had to catch myself; because this, in fact, is how synchronous online courses should be taught and why couldn’t they be? And, more importantly why am I, a learning professional, thinking of this approach as so utopic?

Do We All Think of Synchronous Online Learning as Dull?

My mental model of synchronous learning is not nearly this engaging, and now that I am realizing this, it really saddens me because it should not be that hard. Great instructors have been engaging learners for centuries. I am sure we can all think back on our experiences and remember teachers who stood out. But, let’s be honest: most of them just sort of blend together. This problem was made even worse with online learning; I have seen good instructors become bad instructors online. I personally remember giving a presentation on the authoring and use of learning objects that was well received in the classroom, with lots of brainstorming and dialog; but online, it went totally flat. So what can we do?

A Great Learning Example

I recently saw an eLearning Guild online learning presentation on virtual worlds with Dr. Karl Kapp. The format of the presentation had a bar on the left where participants can chat during the presentation—not uncommon. During the presentation, Dr. Kapp used all the techniques great designers/instructors do: he asked questions, ran polls, had the audience give him their current understanding/frame of mind in the topic so he could build upon it, threw out ideas/concepts to think about and paused to make sure people had time to respond. All was going well enough, but then, he did something that made the whole group come to life: he started reading the chat stream and joining the conversation. He would say things like: “Yes, I agree, Susan just said XYZ, and I think…” The more he did that, the more the group came to life. Suddenly, instead of the chat being a side conversation, it became part of the course.

Another Great Non-Learning Example

I read a recent article on regarding using Twitter to your advantage during a presentation/conference. One suggestion was to take breaks to read the Twitter stream and respond, the same way Dr Kapp did in the online course. Of course, it makes it easier when the Twitter stream is projected in front of the speaker and class because then the presenter can engage the audience without taking a break. Most interesting is that this approach works online and in person.

Lesson Learned: How Can We Make It Easy to Engage Learners?

I think we can see the trend here: learners don’t engage when we, as instructors or designers want them to. They engage how they want to and when they want to. They don’t jump up to answer the questions we pose or the polls we post, but they sure do love having their own “behind the scenes” conversations in chat rooms and on Twitter. Before social media, learners could not do this because most won’t have a side conversation in the classroom or online if it disrupts the instructor. But they can do so in chats and on Twitter without bothering the instructor/speaker at all. So, let’s take advantage of that. We need to join THEIR conversation, rather than trying to make them join ours—a good idea for online as well as in person.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Learning Theory, Informal Learning, Social Media

My SMEs don't have time to contribute content to training. What can I do?

Posted by Reni Gorman on Apr 27, 2010 3:43:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Ever find yourself asking this question?

"My SMEs don’t have time to contribute content to training. What can I do?"

I have come across this question several times. Subject matter experts are that for a reason, and because so many rely on them, contributing content to training is the last thing they have time for. I have thought it over many, many times and I have the following ideas to offer:

    • Put SMEs in a pool and tap one at a time to contribute. For example, if you are creating an e-learning course, you may ask one SME to help you gather material, discuss your high-level design with another, and a third SME would review your first set of storyboards. You may even end up with a better product than if you only worked with one SME because the different opinions and contributions balance each other out. Now, that could also mean frustration as SMEs may disagree; in that case, you can tap into yet another SME in your pool to act as “tie breaker.” This works nicely because the time for each to contribute is greatly minimized while you still maximize your design with the multiple perspectives—the best of both worlds (but a challenge to manage)


    • Hire SME consultants. This may seem simple but many don’t think of it. However, you can hire SME consultants who will be there, dedicated and focused only on helping you create training. Before you hire anyone, get your internal SMEs to at least interview them to make sure they are on the same page before you bring someone in. You will still need to have an internal SME to answer organization-specific questions, but they'll need to commit considerably less time.


    • Give the task of “extracting knowledge” from SMEs to a new hire and use to onboard. New hires (I am talking about analysts out of college) are usually thirsty for knowledge and anxious to contribute. What better way to get them going than to aim them toward an SME or SME pool and tell them to go interview them and collect data? You may have trouble finding the time to do this, but a new hire will take the challenge on with excitement and laser focus—and just think of how much they will learn


    • Provide incentives. SMEs need to balance your training project with dozens of other priorities. It's not suprising that your priority is sometimes the last thing on their minds. So what can you do? Figure out what motivates them—is it recognition from senior management? That one usually works. Make sure you get their senior manager’s attention and support so the training initiative is considered a key project. If you can’t do that then you can always recognize them from the training department. Take SMEs who have been helpful in the past and use them to entice the rest, put their picture on the training intranet and call them SME of the month, then send a thank you to their manager with a link. All you need is the first SME highlighted in this manner and the rest will come—trust me, I know, I have done it.

Well, that is all I have! If anyone has any other ideas, please submit them, we would love to gather all these great ideas together for all of us to share. Happy SME hunting!

Topics: Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Consulting

The Science Behind Learning: Cognitive Tips and How Tos for Corporate Training (Part 3)

Posted by Reni Gorman on Apr 11, 2010 12:36:00 PM

by Reni Gorman

Tip #3: Present main points first (the ones you wrote in Tip #2), followed by details, wrapped up by summaries of main points.

Cognitive Psychology: Presenting main points first primes learners and activates associated knowledge pathways. Take the Serial Position Curve into consideration by presenting main points up front, and as part of summaries at the end. Present material using the PQ4R study method (this is a great method, see below for details).

Why (Justification):

When I say: “It is very important to design your course material to facilitate learning with understanding.” Hopefully you deeply processed and understood the sentence and every associated concept you know has just been activated in your brain, this is referred to as associative priming. In addition, activation should spread to the surrounding concepts as well. This is called spreading activation. (Anderson, 2000) Now that you are primed, and have activated your relevant knowledge, you will be much faster at retrieving related knowledge to map new knowledge onto, bring up possible misconceptions, and prepare your mind to learn.

In a study by Meyer and Schvaneveldt (1971) subjects judged associated word pairs such as bread and butter, a lot faster than nurse and butter. These results indicate that when they saw the word bread, it associatively primed the word butter increasing recognition and judgment speed.

The PQ4R study method (Thomas & Robinson, 1972) was designed to help students learn and remember text from a chapter in a textbook. It encourages students to: Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, Review. To conduct the preview, Anderson (2000) recommends the following: “Read the section headings and summary statements to get a general sense of where the chapter is going and how much material will be devoted to each topic. Try to understand each summary statement and ask yourself whether this is something you knew or believed before reading the text.” (p. 5) It seems that by doing this we are priming ourselves not just for what is to come, but the organization of what is to come, called advanced organizers.

In a study by Frase (1975), subjects who received advanced organizers scored better on tests, then the group who did not receive advanced organizers.

Hierarchical encoding of serial-order information means that “subjects store long sequences hierarchically, with sub-sequences as units in larger sequences.” (Anderson, 2000, p. 132) Therefore, learners create groups and subgroups and organize them hierarchically as they learn to store and later to recall information from memory.

Consider the study conducted by Klahr, Chase and Lovelace (1983) based on subjects speed at recalling certain letters of the alphabet. In the alphabet song, pauses indicate the end of a group and the start of another. [(ABCD, EFG) (HIJK, LMNOP)] [(QRS, TUV) (WX, YZ)] A subject may be given the letter “K” and asked to generate the next letter. Generation times were faster at the beginning of a group and progressively slower toward the end of a group. This represents the front anchoring effect that subjects access the beginning of each group first, then search for the target from there.

“Propositions information can be represented in networks that display the relations among concepts.” (Anderson, 2000, p. 151) Propositional networks are also referred to as a semantic network: of or related to meaning. Presenting all the main points upfront will allow the main points to be the front anchors for the details to come. This will lay the foundation for the conceptual framework (you created in step #1) to be the main organizational network for the information.

How (Application):

1. Create a good clear title for each section of your course that will help get your learners thinking about the information you are about to present. That means using titles that clearly communicate the topic you are about the cover.

A bad example is: Interesting New Findings.

A much better title would be: Interesting and New Findings in How People Learn.

2.  Begin creating an advanced organizer by listing your outline with your nice clear titles and the corresponding main points. Remember that each section or chunk has a main point. There are main points for concepts as well as sub-concepts. Tip: if you notice you have too many main points for a section… try to find a logical break and break it up! (Remember +or-7 from tip #2) The main points are very important. If the student never gets past your advanced organizer and only studies the main points what is the most important information that you want them to walk away knowing?

3.  Since learners tend to remember information presented in the beginning and, even more so, at the end, it is a good idea to present main points in the beginning and at the end. What you have just created can also be used as your summary. (Later we will add questions to the advanced organizer... making it slightly different from your summary.)


Anderson, J. R. (2000). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications: Fifth Edition. New York, N.Y.: Worth Publishers.

Frase, L. T., (1975). Prose processing. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 9.) New York: Academic Press.

Klahr, D., Chase, W. Go, & Lovelace, E. A. (1983). Structure and process in alphabetic retrieval. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 9, 462-477.

Meyer, D. E., & Schvaneveldt, R. W. (1971). Facilitation in recognizing pairs of words: Evidence of a dependence between retrieval operations. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 90, 227-234.

Thomas, E. L., & Robinson, H. A., (1972). Improving reading in every class: A sourcebook for teachers. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Cognition

The Science Behind Learning: Cognitive Tips and How Tos for Corporate Training (Part 2)

Posted by Reni Gorman on Mar 21, 2010 8:38:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Tip #2: Use the conceptual framework (you created in tip #1) to organize course material into hierarchical groups, subgroups and chunks of 7 (plus or minus 2).

Cognitive Psychology: Prepare information for encoding into the propositional network by attempting to organize and chunk material into meaningful patterns of information based on a conceptual framework and limited to groups or units of 7 (plus or minus 2) to account for the standard capacity of verbal working memory.

Why (Justification):

“The fact that ‘expert’ knowledge is organized around important ideas or concepts suggests that curricula should also be organized in ways that lead to conceptual understanding.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 42)

Even though experts have vast knowledge basis in their domain, their knowledge is organized around a set of core concepts that guide them. These core concepts “emerge” as a higher level pattern among all the data for their domain referred to as meaningful patterns of information that arose over years of practice. (Bransford et al., 2000) “A key finding in the learning and transfer literature is that organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater “transfer”; that is, it allows the student to apply what was learned in new situations and to learn related information more quickly.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 18)

In a study by DeGroot (1965) expert chess players were compared to novice players by asking them to verbalize their thinking as they played. The experts were more likely to recognize meaningful chess configurations and strategies that allowed them to consider sets of moves that were superior to novices. “Chess masters are able to chunk together several chess pieces in a configuration that is governed by some strategic component of the game. Lacking a hierarchical, highly organized structure for the domain, novices cannot use this chunking strategy.” (p. 33)

“The superior recall ability of experts… has been explained in terms of how they ‘chunk’ various elements of a configuration that are related by an underlying function or strategy. (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 32) According to Anderson (2000) our minds seem to break information down into the smallest unit of knowledge that can stand as a separate assertion for storage, into a proposition.

Understandably, studies have shown that propositional retention is also better in and of itself when meaning is applied. In an experiment, Anderson (2000) himself participated in; subjects were asked to remember pairs of meaningless acronyms such as DAX-GIB. Meaningless memorization resulted in Anderson scoring the worst in his class. Anderson now suggests tying meaning to the acronyms would have improved his ability to recall them.

“Propositions information can be represented in networks that display the relations among concepts.” (Anderson, 2000, p. 151) Propositional networks are also referred to as a semantic network: of or related to meaning.

If you ask people to listen to a list of 20 unrelated words and then ask them to immediately recall them in any order. Then, graph the results with position of the word in the original list on the X (horizontal) axis and the proportion of people who recall that word on the Y (vertical) axis, and you will get a U-shaped curve. This is called a Serial Position Curve and it reveals that the words in the beginning and end of the list are what most people remember, with, generally more words remember at the end. Usually people will remember 7 plus or minus 2. This is considered a standard measurement of the capacity of verbal working memory. (Anderson, 2000) The interesting twist as it relates to the organization of information is that if you give subject-related words, the U-shaped curve still returns, but people will remember more words because they will remember groups of related words.

How (Application):

    • Flesh out the details of your high level outline that you based on the conceptual framework. The first level categorization should remain equal to your conceptual framework and expand the hierarchy from there into a detailed outline with logical related groupings and sub-groupings as needed by taking each concept and creating subgroups of chunks that explain that concepts (sub-concepts). (Main topics and sub-topics.) Make sure you have enough information for each core concept to explain its meaning.
    • In addition to the main points you wrote for your core concepts, write main points for each sub-concept (sub-topic) as well.
    • Take a look at your hierarchical outline when you are done to see if it is chunked optimally. Try to keep each group limited to about 7 (plus or minus 2) if possible.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Anderson, J. R. (2000). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications: Fifth Edition. New York, N.Y.: Worth Publishers.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Cognition

The Science Behind Learning: Cognitive Tips and How Tos for Corporate Training

Posted by Reni Gorman on Feb 28, 2010 11:01:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

Tip #1: Highlight the underlying core concepts. Explain what each concept is and why it is important (the meaning behind it).

Cognitive learning theory focuses on learning with understanding (as opposed to memorizing fact) by teaching the underlying concepts and meanings--and thereby increasing the depth of processing.

Learning with understanding means we understand the underlying core concepts, the meaning behind the facts. Not just knowing the “what” but also understanding the “why.” Once we have a deep understanding of what we are learning, we can relate it to or transfer it to something else. (Bransford et al., 2000) Learning with understanding is critical because: “…‘usable knowledge’ is not the same as a mere list of disconnected facts. Experts’ knowledge is connected and organized around important concepts; it is ‘conditionalized’ to specify the contexts in which it is applicable; it supports understanding and transfer (to other contexts) rather than only the ability to remember.” (p. 9)

Learning with understanding necessitates paying attention to the meaning. The depth of processing theory states that information processed at a deeper level of analysis improves memory for that information. This contradicts earlier ideas that meaningless memorization and rehearsal improves memory. (Anderson, 2000)

Anderson (2000) explains that we may remember details initially, but although we may quickly forget the details, we will remember the meaning a lot longer. Meaning-based representations are best encoded and, therefore, best remembered. Therefore insuring students understand the core concepts and meanings is the only way to successfully teach them. In a study by Davidson (1994) on how well people remember stories and what parts they remember most, even though short term people remembered irrelevant and interruptive atypical actions, long term, their memories of the basic story was what remained.

How (Application):

  1. Extract and list all core concepts. Review what you plan to teach and extract the core concepts. If you find yourself getting entangled in the details, ask yourself why each detail is important. What is the underlying reason that makes that detail important? Trace back all details you think are important until you find the set of core concept underneath.
  2. Prepare a brief explanation for the “big picture” of how all these core concepts work together in a conceptual framework. This explanation will be your course overview. The conceptual framework will be your high level outline.
  3. Prepare main points for each core concept that explain “what” the core concept is and “why” it is important. Keep main points brief – limit to one paragraph.



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.

Davidson, D. (1994). Recognition and Recall of Irrelevant and Interruptive Atypical Actions in Script-Based Stories. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 757-775.

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

Creating Informal Learning Opportunities for Business Professionals, Part 2

Posted by Reni Gorman on Nov 30, 2009 5:54:00 AM

by Reni Gormanfingertipslaptop250

Wikipedia describes Twitter as "a free social networking and micro-blogging service" that allows users to send "updates" (or "tweets"; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service (e.g. on a cell phone), instant messaging, or a third-party application such as Twitterrific or Facebook." Twitter asks the following question: “What are you doing?” People can sign up and “follow” each other to submit and read these short updates in just a few seconds. In a work setting, such as that of a training consulting firm, I may find out that someone is “designing a new curriculum for advanced pharmaceutical representatives."  I may read such an update from a colleague I would not normally reach out to. However, upon reading such an update I may contact this person to learn more because I may be doing something similar. This could open up an opportunity to brainstorm, learn and share. Maybe my colleague has a great research paper or framework they are using as part of their engagement that I could learn and benefit from. Maybe the person who shares a research paper is an industry guru or expert in another organization. Maybe they share knowledge with me indirectly: meaning they update their status message with something interesting like: “5 key qualities of leaders.” Perhaps they run searches to see who is talking about a topic of interest such as “astd” (American Society for Training and Development) and reply to my update because I “tagged” it "ASTD." Maybe they respond directly to a question I post: “How do people find each other through Twitter?” There are many possibilities but these are some examples of how useful, helpful interactions can happen with Twitter. “Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge.” (Locke, Levine et al. 2000)

How does Twitter as an informal learning tool apply to people in organizations? When knowledge workers are “stuck” in the task at hand, they seek advice and guidance from many places, one of them being colleagues and experts around them. In turn, their access to information and knowledge is only as good as their sources, generally only within their organization. What if knowledge workers could easily build networks of experts across organizations? What if they could access gurus in their field? What if they could create their own community of expert peers and gurus who they can reach out to for brainstorming or answering questions?

“Learning is that which enables you to participate successfully in life, at work, and in the groups that matter to you. Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learn to do their jobs.” (Cross 2007) Using a tool like Twitter, we may be able to foster knowledge sharing and ultimately learning. We can possibly use tools like Twitter to create connections with others and potentially form communities of practice. “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Wenger, McDermott et al. 2002) It always benefits people when they come across another person who has experience and knowledge in a given area—there in lays the value. If knowledge workers are getting support and learning through the use of tools like Twitter, perhaps organizations would embrace the use of such tools.


Cross, J. (2007). Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance.

Locke, C., R. Levine, et al. (2000). The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual.

Wenger, E., R. McDermott, et al. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Series, Performance Improvement, Social Media

Creating Informal Learning Opportunities for Business Professionals, Part 1

Posted by Reni Gorman on Nov 13, 2009 11:53:00 AM

pda lady

Peter Henschel, former director of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), said: “People are learning all the time, in varied settings and often most effectively in the context of work itself. ‘Training’—formal learning of all kinds—channels some important learning but doesn't carry the heaviest load. The workhorse of the knowledge economy has been, and continues to be, informal learning.”

The Institute for Research on Learning found that 80% of learning in organizations takes place informally and only 20% takes place formally. Yet, corporations spend 80% of their training budget on formal training and only 20% on informal. Deepak (Dick) Sethi, the CEO of Organic Leadership, said: “Informal learning is effective because it is personal, just-in-time, customized, and the learner is motivated and open to receiving it. It also has greater credibility and relevance.” However, in my experience of nearly 20 years in corporate learning and development, I have observed that implementing informal, just-in-time learning continues to be a challenge in many organizations.

Jay Cross, author of Informal Learning (2007) said: “If your organization is not addressing informal learning, it’s leaving a tremendous amount of learning to chance. Is that okay? Not any longer. This is a knowledge economy.” Social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are some examples of great tools organizations can begin to use to foster informal learning for people who work inside corporations that also offer formal types of learning interventions.

So, how do you create informal learning opportunities? Stay tuned, that's what I'll be talking about in Part 2!

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Series, Performance Improvement, Informal Learning, Social Media