To mark the release of Telling Ain't Training: Updated,
Expanded, Enhanced, Harold Stolovich gave an informal author
chat at ASTD 2011 in Orlando, where listeners enjoyed activities,
listened to the personal experiences of the authors, and got the
chance to ask their own questions about the second edition.
Stolovich and Keeps spoke with The Conference Daily after
the event and offered some insight into what's changed and what
remains solid in the classic learning book.
Q: How has world of technological innovations impacted
the Telling Ain't Training models?
Keeps: Technology hasn't affected Telling
Ain't Training models at all. We're more focused on how people
learn and the triggers for learning than the delivery mechanisms.
Technology is the delivery mechanism. As such, technology can
improve efficiency of instruction, but not the effectiveness of
Stolovich: The key thing is that frequently, we
substitute the means for end-thinking. Technology is a means for
increasing productivity and efficiency with fewer errors.
Technology does all that. But when you choose outputs poorly,
you'll get the learning efficiently, but you won't get what you're
looking for. For example, organizations buy large technology
systems with libraries of e-learning courses, or they try to save
money by delivering to learners' desktops rather than them all
travel. But the libraries they purchase may not be totally
appropriate to the jobs people do. This turns people off, and we
see that completion rates of these courses are very low. Another
problem is that the environments of learners' desktops are not
always conducive for learning. They may be in an office where
workers need to be on the phone selling. Who will give them time
off (or will they even give themselves time-off) to actually take
So technology gives us delivery and access means, but what's
provided maybe inappropriate or boring, or the conditions don't
give learners the opportunity to use it. One banking company
planned to deliver e-learning directly to its branches so that
part-time employees didn't have to come to a central location for
training. Sounds good! But the problem was that the managers
(trying to save money) only brought these part-timers in during
peak periods when there was no time for training; or there weren't
terminals available for workers to learn on because they were being
used for other things. Additionally, the environments just weren't
conducive for learning-they were overloaded with noise, confusion,
and interruptions. In our book, we talk about the potential things
technology can do, and the realities show us some enormous
discrepancies. So what a training vendor might tell you is
possible, in your environment, may not be. In other words, you have
access, but you don't have bandwidth.
Q: What's new in the 2011 edition of TAT in terms of
what we understand about human cognition and knowledge
Keeps and Stolovich: There have been numerous
discoveries since 2002 in the neurosciences. Some of these confirm
or add weight to what we know, and there are others that modify our
knowledge of learning.
Many critical new findings support what we wrote previously about
how we learn and process information. And some of what we know
about what it takes to retain knowledge by attaching new learning
to things we already know-analogies, mnemonic devices, mental
engagement-these have changed. More and more, neuroscience, and
specifically, very refined neuroimaging, allows us to see more
concretely how humans process information. For example, with
short-term memory, previous studies showed that we can remember
seven, plus-or-minus two, chunks or items at a time. This is what
we believed for roughly 50 years. But more recent studies show that
this number is actually closer to four chunks unless we do
something with the information coming into our short-term memory.
If we keep it stagnant, we can holder fewer than we thought before.
We also used to believe seven plus-or-minus two was a static number
for everyone. But there is evidence of individual divergence, and
expertise may affect the number that you can hold on a
particular topic as well. So it's more varied than we believed
before, but also more modest.
Also, many have been drawn to ideas about the right versus left
brain hemisphere. The research done on it even won a Nobel prize.
But in retrospect, the original researchers have noted that the
study was done on people in whom there was some pathology, illness,
or damage done in the brain. When we look at normal people, the
right-versus-left principle doesn't seem to hold true. There is
much more fluidity of interaction between the right and left brain.
Each hemisphere supports the other in a much more complex way than
the simplistic view of "right brain=creative" and "left
We also now see some specific differences between men and women
from a physiologic point of view in brain structure. A recent study
pointed to six of these differences. But from a functional view,
they don't seem to be important. Although there is evidence in one
area-the listening area. Apparently, language and listening is done
in both hemispheres in women, but then tends to be more localized
in one hemisphere in men. And this may have some impact. But it's
all a bit dodgy. You take a bit of science and then generalize.
What we are finding is much more refined. It's the same with
learning styles and sensory modes. There are endless varieties of
tests for what sensory mode is yours. Yet, what seems to be the
accumulated evidence is that these tests aren't stable. It's also
the same with enjoyment. Some think enjoyable training means better
learning. That's not substantiated by the literature anymore, and a
great deal of evidence shows that its not so. It's probably more so
that how well you do in your learning generates more
enjoyment of the learning. These are new things and there are many
many more explained in the book.
Q: "Trainers" aren't the only ones relied upon to
impart knowledge. How can people such as line managers, for
example, use this book to make an impact in employee
Keeps: Everyone trains. And there is a lot of
training that goes on in an on-the-job fashion as well. We can
divide trainers into two groups. There are professional
trainers, and most of their job is associated with training
others or creating instruction and using it to train others. And
then there are those whom we call occasional trainers, who
are brought into the training realm to deliver some form of
learning. They may do it once or twice a year, or once or twice
across their entire career. The book's original 5-Step Model, which
then continues in the second edition, can be used for multiple
situations-one-on-one, informal, as well as formal training. It
doesn't matter whether it's a classroom of seven or a thousand. The
size is not relevant to the model itself. Then, the activities
presented can also be incorporated, for almost any aspect of skill
and knowledge development, and appropriate to small groups as well
as large ones.
And we must not forget that the Beyond Telling Ain't Training
Fieldbook is really a guide for how you can incorporate the
principles of Telling Ain't Training into your
organization in a planned way, moving chapter by chapter in terms
of what you can do to own these principles and make them work for
you. It allows for the kind of adoption and adaptation that one
would expect when you bring them into different organizations in
different places on the path to becoming more learner-centered and
Stolovich: There are several messages in the book
for managers. First, training does not equal performance
improvement. It may be necessary but it is never sufficient.
Second, it is in the active engagement of trainees that learning
occurs. It is important that managers not cut these out in an
effort to save time. Also managers must remember to work with those
whom they ask to train to "do it right." We know that expertise
does not produce learning in others. On the contrary. The greater
the expertise, the greater the distance in the way that experts and
novices process information. A final caution to managers: Don't
rely on technology to produce superior training results.
Q: Can you tell us about one specific
update/expansion/enhancement from the 2011 book that excites you
Keeps: The Technology Section with two brand new
chapters. The first chapter addresses the underlying fundamentals
and considerations for integrating technology into total learning
systems. The second is more pragmatic on steps to take and also
resources and types of technologies you can use. Certainly, given
the timeframe, technology has had its impact, and these sections
help us to understand what it all means and how it will affect us
Stolovich: There is a deep commitment on our part
to continuously search the research to support or modify what we
present in our book. While it is unobtrusive, we provide a real
treasure trove for any reader who wants to dig into a particular
topic. The endnotes and references were based on nearly two years
of study and investigation. Thank goodness that there now is an
index that allows readers to quickly locate specifics of what they
are looking for.
Q: Any thoughts to share in
Keeps and Stolovich: Doing a new, updated,
expanded, and enhanced edition of Telling Ain't Training
was both fun and difficult. Human learning doesn't change much in
10 years, but our world sure did!