I thought I might continue with one of the training myths that Keeps and Stolovich point to in Telling Ain't Training. One myth, especially prevalent in our fast moving, highly technical society is: "All other things being equal media provides a major difference in learning effectiveness." In 1913, Thomas Edison predicted the demise of traditional teaching with the advent of "Moving Pictures". In the 1960s, educators believed television would usher in a new and revolutionary way to teach and train. Then in the 1980s, we became convinced that computers would hold the key to better, faster and quicker ways to train. All these things have in their own way added to our ability to train, however the overall effectiveness of our training has not really improved with the addition of the latest technologies. Now we have the internet, literally all the knowledge in the World availed to us. Companies have their own LMS or Learning Management Systems which are being hailed as the latest and greatest way to "train up" your organization. Ideally training via the web can provide learners an interactive learning experience by offering discussion forums, online chartrooms, and automated multiple choice quizzes and questionnaires, but unfortunately many such systems are simply glorified document repositories. The scary part is that they are so cost effective. Training has always been most venerable to the corporate bottom line, and so the organization may be too willing to settle for a flashy, new, economical but really not very effective training delivery method.
I can recall when voice mail was first introduced. I remember thinking to myself what a wonderful advancement. Communicating, I believed, would be as easy as just dialing and dropping a message. Every one would be "In the loop". My feeling was that my company would certainly be so much more productive. Years later however, with voice mail firmly entrenched in my organization, it appeared as if the benefits I fully expected were never realized. In fact, I, as many do, don´t really like voice mail today. It seems we now never get to speak to a real person and the time spent listening to meaningless messages negates any of the promised benefits...
It is really not the fault of technology but our fault. Because even if external information delivery systems have changed, we have not! We pretty much learn the same way we did thousands of years ago. I am a bit annoyed with companies that force employees to get on-line and wade through immense amounts of company policy and procedure, effectively forcing huge amounts of rote memorization just so they might stamp another one "TRAINED".
People need to be motivated to learn. Trainers play an important role here. Training is an art as well as a science. You need to capture the learner´s attention. Having someone read a computer screen is naturally about as effective as having them read a book (the old fashioned information delivery system). Training retention is still going to be about the same: 5 – 10 percent. Our brains are extremely efficient information filters. We are constantly being bombarded with new sensory stimuli, and our very survival depends on us paying attention to the ones we determine are important and disregarding the rest. If you think about it, it is not a problem of providing more information, but more a concern with presenting the information so that it might be assimilated into the learner´s knowledge base.
This is why it is important to consider multi-sensory training methods, right and left brain teaching techniques, collaborative learning environments, and things that will help the learner stay focused (attending), intellectually engaged (thinking) and learn. Plainly said, information availability is not an adequate substitute for good instructional design.
Simply providing the information is not going to induce learning. People need to be motivated to learn. I'd put my money on the motivated individual working in the local library building more synapses than the unmotivated Harvard student. Trainers need to engage students, to interest them and then challenge them to learn. It is no wonder that bigger, better, and more technically advanced media information delivery systems have not translated into more effective learning.