Corporate Training’s $70+ Billion Dirty Secret

According to analyst Josh Bersin, US companies spent well over $70 Billion for employee training in 2013. Analysts predict that amount is will be significantly greater in 2015.

These are the kinds of statistics one might expect C-suite executives to pay attention to. So it’s odd that they seem not to be paying much attention to the ROI for corporate training.

It’s abysmal.

PHOTO elephant in room

Leading experts have studied the subject at length; the statistics they provide differ. Some say there are too many variables to allow for “one-size-fits-all” statements about how much training is retained, and how quickly it is forgotten. They note the  variety of training goals and audiences receiving the training, as well as differences in training delivery methods.

Having said this, there is general agreement among experts in the field that that corporate training’s success rate is, shall I say, “poor.”

One of these experts is Dr. Art Kohn, who has done a great deal of work on “the forgetting curve” and its effect on training retention. He’s also the recipient of not one but two Fulbright Fellowships for work in Cognitive Psychology and Educational Technology. In a recent article in Learning Solutions, he wrote the following:

It is the dirty secret of corporate training: no matter how much you invest into training and development, nearly everything you teach to your employees will be forgotten…this investment is like pumping gas into a car that has a hole in the tank. All of your hard work simply drains away.

The fact is that this “dirty secret” is really not secret at all.

The research and resulting articles about this have been out there for years. Yet there’s not much evidence that corporae executives are acting upon it, despite its its obvious and critical importance to the bottom line.

Bersin’s research also shows an explosive growth in technology-driven training, including self-authored video, online communication channels, virtual learning, and MOOCs. Worldwide, formal classroom education, now accounts for less than half the total training “hours.”

According to Bersin, mobile devices are now used to deliver as much as 18% of all training among what he calls “highly advanced companies.”

Does this mean that employees are using their iPads to access Udemy courses? If so, is there a significant difference in retention rate for employees who have information presented by a live trainer while sitting in a room with 20 fellow workers… versus those who receive it on mobile phone the subway on the way home at night… compared to someone being trained via  iPad while sitting in the living room after the kids have been put to bed?

We won’t have statistics to provide answers to those questions for some time.

But corporations should be watching closely to see if new methods of delivering training result in a dramatic increase in retention among employees once they’re on the job — because if Kohn is right, even achieving a whopping 400% increase in retention will mean that after just one week, the average employee will still be retaining only about half of what is needed on-the-job.

That’s hardly a stunning success rate.

Research has made it abundantly clear that the basic premise that drives corporate training is fatally flawed.

It’s abundantly clear that the training corporations are currently providing to their employees  is not succeeding in providing them with the information they need to do their jobs properly the first time. So why does corporate America keep throwing good money after bad, trying to find a “patch” or download an “updated version”?

It’s as if a purple elephant with pink toenails is standing next to the coffee table and corporations are only willing to acknowledge that there’s an “unusual scent in the air.”

My next blog will give more compelling facts to show why a major change in corporate training is needed.

The Three-Minute Lesson that Saved My Life


The Three-Minute Lesson that Saved My Life

The last new thing I learned was last week. I was sitting in the parking lot at the shopping center, vaguely listening to “Car Talk” on NPR. One of the Tappet brothers said something like “I bet you really never learned to fix those side view mirrors you use all the time.” I perked up when he said “So listen up, well fix that right now.” The lesson was realtime and took all of three minutes. After 20 or so years of driving, I learned how to adjust my side view mirrors perfectly (a revelation!), and realized that I had been dancing with a collision for years, from driving with huge blind spots on BOTH sides of my car since cars now pass on the left and right.

The point is not that I learned to save myself and my precious passengers from a screeching metal crunching accident (or worse).  The point is that learned something important in 3 minutes. I took a radio course on “Correctly Using Your Side View Mirrors 101”. No test. No classroom. No clock. No computer in sight.

What does that say about chunking courses into smaller units? What shall we call them? We don’t have a good agreed-upon name for these chunks yet. And I’ve heard them referred to as “learning nuggets”, “courselets”, “learnlets” ,”microlearning”, and more. For now let’s just determine what they are, and if they might be a useful part of learning in your future.

Some background

Chunking is a concept that was originally coined by Harvard psychologist George A. Miller in 1956[1]. Simply stated George discovered that the human memory can most easily shuttle 5 plus or minus 2 numbers and/or letters from short-term to long-term memory. It was most famously used by AT&T who, in 1957 when phones were no longer a ‘new’ technology and were exponentially increasing, changed the alphanumeric phone dialing system from 2L-4N numbers to 2L-5N. Five numbers preceded by two letters.[2]

Until the close of the 20th century, with the growth of the neurosciences and cognitive psychology, learning was a phenomenon observed from the outside in. The ideas for pedagogy and andragogy resulted more from the needs of teachers than their students. Did you ever notice that every classroom in the world has a clock? The course length was set in the late 1800’s and was called a Carnegie Unit[3]. Each unit was 55-minutes during which a single subject was taught. There have been many attempts to change it since then, and they all failed for a variety of reasons. The reason that seems to be the most important is the lack of supporting tools.

Today, we have a host of tools to make that ‘chunkier’ vision of learning a reality. And with the disappearance of the Carnegie Unit, we also can now let go of the long form course, and replace it with short chunks of learning. Chunks that take a few minutes, and teach 5+-2 things you need to know or know how to do.

The world used to be my oyster. Today it has become my classroom. Technology is transforming the way we find knowledge and know-how. “Google it” for example is now a phrase spoken around the world. The old model (actually not really even that old) was bricks and mortar solid, tradition-bound, and all too often hierarchical (Pre-K – 12 schools, 2-year colleges, 4-year universities, corporate universities). It was an impediment to learning, and often disabled the much older natural learning process. Until a few years ago it was the best we could do.

Some Foreground

Then along came the internet and what followed was an explosion of new ways to learn that did not use the long form course. The list is already long and getting longer every day. Social learning, online cohorts, mLearning, Communities of Practice, performance support systems, expert locators, podcasts and videocasts. Now there’s augmented reality showing you how a place looked like before you were born, you can take a picture of a leaf and use those pixels to find the name of the plant, record a birdsong and use it to bring up a picture with information about the bird. And don’t forget Khan Academy and MOOCs with some subjects taught in 1-2 minutes, and most others in 10-15 minute chunks. I cannot wait for what’s next ….

The new model is all about continuous learning and learning moments, like sitting in your car learning to properly adjust you side view mirrors.  I may not get any certificate or other rewards but I may just save my life. Now that’s one chunk worth learning.

Do You Chunk?

Let us know what you think. Are you using a course-o-matic to divide your learning into more palatable chunks? Would you want your learning anytime and anywhere to also be any size you decided to put together, from smallest coherent piece to longer sit downs? Be part of the many that have an opinion about chunking and let us know what you think. Thanks

All About “Learning” Not “Education”

About time we made the distinction.

Learning is the name for the natural process that we use all the time. It uses the relatively new architecture of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex and invokes (among others) imagination, creativity, and critical thinking.

Education is an unnatural institution, expanding most dramatically during the Industrial Age, that often relies more on short-term memory and memorization than the higher brain functions required for learning.

When you learn something the learning is available for life. When you are educated about something the information in your brain begins to degrade almost immediately.Could you still get a PASS on any test you took one year ago? Even if your memory is good to great, knowledge in the new global Idea Economy has a rapidly shrinking shelf life coupled with an exponentially increasing amount of detail and new information.

That’s why continuous independent learners are the smartest people. It’s also why we can still fallback on the old cliche “Experience is the still best teacher.”

As always, TED hits it spot-on. Watch and learn Grasshopper …

The Future of Learning

Welcome to Learning in the Knowledge Economy

John Seely Brown is one of the best minds we have when it comes to how we learned in the 20th century, and more importantly, where we need to go in the 21st  … from a competitive strategy based on total command and control in a push-based economy that drove our educational model, to much more matrixed and collaborative organizations … from being organized around efficiency for mass production to being setup to focus on the “speed of learning … from push to pull where creativity is the key to this new economy ( read this for more ) .

Watch and learn …

What Did You Learn in School Today?


New York Times By  Published: April 13, 2012

LAST month, two kindergarten classes at the Blue School were hard at work doing what many kindergartners do: drawing. One group pursued a variation on the self-portrait. “That’s me thinking about my brain,” one 5-year-old-girl said of her picture. Down the hall, children with oil pastels in hand were illustrating their emotions, mapping where they started and where they ended. For one girl, sadness ended at home with a yummy drink and her teddy bear.

REFLECTION David Kelly, director of curriculum at the Blue School, meets weekly with the kindergarten teachers.

Grappling so directly with thoughts and emotions may seem odd for such young brains, but it is part of the DNA of the Blue School, a downtown Manhattan private school that began six years ago as a play group. From the beginning, the founders wanted to incorporate scientific research about childhood development into the classroom. Having rapidly grown to more than 200 students in preschool through third grade, the school has become a kind of national laboratory for integrating cognitive neuroscience and cutting-edge educational theory into curriculum, professional development and school design.

“Schools were not applying this new neurological science out there to how we teach children,” said Lindsey Russo, whose unusual title, director of curriculum documentation and research, hints at how seriously the Blue School takes this mission. “Our aim is to take those research tools and adapt them to what we do in the school.”

So young children at the Blue School learn about what has been called “the amygdala hijack” — what happens to their brains when they flip out. Teachers try to get children into a “toward state,” in which they are open to new ideas. Periods of reflection are built into the day for students and teachers alike, because reflection helps executive function — the ability to process information in an orderly way, focus on tasks and exhibit self-control. Last year, the curriculum guide was amended to include the term “meta-cognition”: the ability to think about thinking.

“Having language for these mental experiences gives children more chances to regulate their emotions,” said David Rock, who is a member of the Blue School’s board and a founder of NeuroLeadership Institute, a global research group dedicated to understanding the brain science of leadership.

That language is then filtered through a 6-year-old’s brain.

Miles, one of the kindergartners drawing their emotions, showed off his picture and described the battle it depicted between happiness and anger this way: “The happy fights angry, but angry gets blocked by the force field and can’t get out.” Happiness could escape through his mouth, Miles explained. But anger got trapped, turning into sadness.

With ample research showing that negative emotions impede learning while positive emotions broaden children’s attention and their ability to acquire and retain information, strategies for regulating emotions are getting more emphasis in progressive schools across the country.

“The science of learning is something teachers are paying more and more attention to,” said Mariale Hardiman, director of the Neuro-Education Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. She was not familiar with the Blue School but said she would endorse any school trying to integrate academic and emotional education.

“We can no longer think that the two systems are separate,” Dr. Hardiman said, “and that children should leave their emotions at the door.”

For all the attention brain science is receiving in schools, experts say it is too soon to know whether its application will lead to improved academic outcomes. And some researchers say that while they embrace new ideas — especially around self-control — they personally prefer a more traditional approach to pedagogy.

“The older approach has led to some very good outcomes,” said Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton University and co-author of “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain,” a child development primer for parents.

But the Blue School clearly has its appeal. This year, it had eight applications for each spot in its program for 3-year-olds, making it a typically hypercompetitive Manhattan private school. Tuition for students in kindergarten through third grade is $31,910 a year.

 “I’m never anxious about academics,” said Thomas Bierer, the father of first-grade twins who have been at the school for two years. “My main thing is how they will interact with others and what kind of people will they be.”

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

TRIP PLANNING Shanon Greenfield and her first-grade class carefully plotted a visit to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.

Started in 2006 by members of the Blue Man Group, an alternative theater troupe, and their wives, the school’s original mission was to “reimagine education for a changing world.” The goal was to nurture creative and adaptive learners, not to teach students to digest and regurgitate facts and formulas. It considers itself a lab school, where teachers, parents and students collaborate; there are plans to have a teacher training program by 2013.

Teachers ask questions but rarely offer answers, instead helping students learn from one another. “Learning is not an individual act,” David Kelly, the school’s director of curriculum, said. “It’s a social act.”

In November, Shanon Greenfield asked her first graders what they wanted to study. Sharks and leaves each developed a strong following. Over weeks of discussion, the students decided they should go to an aquarium to learn more about one of the topics they had picked. Ms. Greenfield posted a road map for their research. What do they know? What do they want to know? How will they find it out?

The students set goals: Pick an aquarium, figure out how to get there, plan what to do while there and afterward. By mid-January, they were pondering transportation options: school bus (free) or ferry (one student thought it was most direct). They set a deadline for the trip, and in February visited the New York Aquarium in Coney Island — by bus.

“The end goal is not facts about sharks,” Ms. Greenfield said. “It’s not to recreate anything. The end goal is the process.”

Other progressive schools in Manhattan and across the country take a child-centered approach to education, with a heavy dose of social and emotional learning. But many of them turn toward a traditional academic curriculum by second or third grade. Testing, with all of its anxiety, kicks in, and content, not process, becomes paramount.

This being New York, even Blue School parents are not immune. Starting last year, when the oldest children in the school became second graders, parents began voicing increasing concern about the school’s lack of traditional assessments. The school had been preoccupied with moving almost every previous year. But with a permanent home established on Water Street, the parents, in town hall-style meetings and group discussions, asked the school to do more testing.

One parent who supported the push was David Beal, an adviser to the president of National Geographic, who noted that the school will end at fifth grade and that the children will be thrust into a test-happy world. “We don’t want to find out after we’ve left that we’ve missed some important chunk of learning,” he said.

The school responded. Four-year-olds are now being given a standard private school assessment, and this year for the first time, third graders will take the E.R.B., a widely used test.

Even with the changes, the Blue School is not for everyone. Emily Glickman, founder of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, said her clients found it a “little too artsy and alternative.”

“I find more and more, for their tuition dollars, families want tradition, structure and the three R’s,” she said.

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist and co-author of the parenting guide “The Whole-Brain Child,” who is also an adviser to the school, said there were three others R’s: reflection, relationships and resilience — and schools should teach those, too.

He spent three days at the school in late March working with students, teachers and parents on topics ranging from what learning is to why multitasking was not good for the brain (concentration is better at creating neural connections, which result in long-term synaptic change, otherwise known as learning). “Kids who learn social and emotional skills do better academically,” Dr. Siegel said. “They are happier, and their emotions are more rewarding.”

So what happens when you do too much multitasking, he asked some third graders. “Your brain explodes,” said one girl, squirming. “Ew.”

Ouch! The Truth Hurts

This would be funny if it was not really happening.

The responsibility for knowledge and know-how is being placed on the learner and not necessarily on the company anymore. I believe there are some huge implications to this trend:

  • The gap between the people who have the ability to be lifelong learners, and those who cannot get out of the more formal feed-me learning mode, will grow wider. Income will follow the ones who can learn on their own not the ones who have the most degrees or letters after their name.
  • Providing certificates for people who are learning all the time through the programs they take, from self-paced to webinars, virtual classes to conferences, will be a necessity in a world in which people want to prove what they learned. “Those outside of companies with skill-building curriculae can’t obtain legitimacy in those skillsets without being an employee. The more people are culling unassociated resources and experiences to learn specific skills, the more urgent it is for there to be a place for them to record their efforts and success, to study with peers, and to present their learning portfolios to future employers or partners in a meaningful way.” Fast Company
  • Independent learning is dependent on technology for reach and currency. Countries with the best, fastest most up-to-date online learning technologies will become the leaders in this hyper-competitive marketplace.
  • The formal school system is a disaster of epic proportions. If you disagree spend some time looking up the statistics on things like
    • drop-out rates from 2000 until today
    • average reading levels at graduation for those who get through the system
    • illiteracy rates from 1900 until today
    • comparisons of math and science test scores with other countries.

When you cross-reference these system failures with other countries you discover a startling fact. The countries that are ahead of us are the ones with the best on-your-own education systems. It’s not the formal school system that is giving them the lead but the system that enables their citizens to learn and continue learning on their own.

  • Teaching-to-the-test is a dumb idea. It does not produce people who can master learning on-your-own. Instead the outcome is a person who can memorize and forget and not really learn anything except how to take a test and move from one grade to another. The teaching-to-the-test approach does no one any favors. At best, it is a band-aid on a broken system. At worst, it is responsible for the dumbing-down of America.
  • The current educational model is ancient. Based on the Industrial Age necessity of churning out good soldiers (literally where it started) it was never designed to produce independent critical learners who were capable of learning on their own or with one another.
  • Teaching people to learn is far more important than teaching them a subject. Mastery never came out of a class anyway, and blended learning that married informal and formal modes of learning always trumped formal-only learning.
  • Khan Academy is one of the more brilliant uses of learning technology that seamlessly blends learning on-your-own with being helped to master a concept with a mentor or facilitator. The flipping of the schoolwork and homework into a more effective model of learning is a revolution in education. It can be used from Pre-K to Lifelong learning.

So the upshot is pretty simple. We need to revamp the educational system to produce great learners. It’s totally possible for several compelling reasons:

  1. People are born, to one degree or another, with the innate capability to be brilliant learners. Study infants in their first 5 years as they master walking, running, eating, talking, and so much more. Thank goodness school does not start during this period of exploration, discovery, trying, failing and succeeding. It’s only when we place them into the formal school system that they learn to be stupid.
  2. There already are great new approaches that are succeeding. I mentioned Khan Academy. There are others. So there is no longer any excuse for not replacing the outdated failed dysfunctional model of education with a new, better, brighter and more functional model of learning.

No reason that is except for a mountain of resistance: entrenched stakeholders in the old system; the politics of hold-the-line; stubborn inertia; “teachers” unions; teachers themselves; bureaucrats and their selfish bureaucracies; Boreds of Education; lots of people who hold the old dear and the fear the new; well-intentioned people without a desire to really see the system change … and more.

But despair not, change will come to the educational system, it will just take time. Planks Principle about the way science changes is worth repeating here. In his autobiography, Planck remarks that a “new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

It’s no wonder that a visionary like Sal Kahn literally started his brilliant game-changing program in a closet …