Cognitive Biases in Learning

Today’s post is written by Andrea May, #chat2lrn crew member and Vice President of Instructional Design Services at Dashe & Thomson in Minneapolis, MN. Andrea is an instructional designer, project manager, wife, mother, Girl Scout troop leader and theater artist.

Cognitive biases color almost every aspect of our daily lives. We all have them, whether Cognitive Biases Woprd Cloudwe want to admit it or not. They develop through our lives as we gain experiences that allow us to take “mental short-cuts” to navigate situations and make decisions. They are usually an indication of our values and beliefs, and in many cases cognitive biases can be helpful. Cognitive biases can help us make decisions more quickly in situations where time is of the essence. They can help to keep us safe in times of heightened emotional or physical stress. But cognitive biases can also lead to bad judgements and a resistance to learning and incorporating new information into our thought processes.

As learning and development professionals, it is imperative that we maintain an awareness of both our own cognitive biases and also an understanding of the common cognitive biases that the majority of us, as humans, hold on to. By keeping these common biases in mind as we design and develop instructional materials and events, we can incorporate strategies to mitigate them and open the way for learning.

So what are some of these common biases that most of us fall back on consistently, but can get in the way of learning?  There are dozens of them documented, but here is my top ten list of cognitive biases that I try to find ways to mitigate in both learning and organizational change situations:

  1. Confirmation bias: This is the tendency to easily accept information that confirms your point of view and reject information that does not support it.
  2. Anchoring bias: This is the tendency to place excessive weight or importance on one piece of information – often the first piece of information you learned about a topic.
  3. Dunning-Kruger effect: This is the tendency for incompetent people to overestimate their competence, and very competent people to underestimate their competence.
  4. Curse of knowledge bias: This is when well-informed people are unable to look at an issue from the perspective of a less informed person.
  5. Functional fixedness: This bias limits a person to utilizing an object or idea in only the way it is traditionally used.
  6. Mere exposure effect: This is the tendency to like something just because you are familiar with it.
  7. Not invented here bias: This is the tendency to discount information, ideas, standards, or products developed outside of a certain group.
  8. Reactance: This is the urge to do the opposite of what you are asked to do in order to preserve your freedom of choice.
  9. Status quo bias: This is the tendency to want things to stay relatively the same as they have always been.
  10. System justification bias: This is the tendency to try to actively maintain the status quo.

Are there biases that you attempt to mitigate in your work? What strategies have you found to be effective?  Join us for a #chat2lrn about cognitive biases in learning on Thursday July 2nd, 8:00am PDT, 11:00am EDT, 4:00pm BST.

Creativity and Constraints in L+D

This week’s post was written by #chat2lrn crew member Holly MacDonald.

I recently read: Push Button Creativity and it really got me thinking about creativity and constraints in the L+D field. Push button creativity is:

“…outsourcing all the creative decision making and creative work to some software or another designer”.

Let’s assume that this is driven by business constraints. What constraints exist for us? What might push us towards push button creativity?

  • Time – more specifically the lack of time. Most people I talk to are under pressure to complete projects by a deadline. And they are often juggling many projects or demands on their time.
  • Resources – many people are also in a place where they have to skimp on budget or people to do the work. I think this is the most common constraint, and it’s really where push-button creativity is targeting. We are often pushing L+D folks to be multi-disciplinary in their approach (visual design, development, LMS Admin, change management) and it’s hard to do it all and to do it well when you are limited by money or people.
  • Skill – with the increase in WYSIWIG authoring tools and free or easily accessible creative elements, many people CAN create learning solutions. This is the real crux of the push button creativity problem. You don’t necessarily need to know much, you can use a template or a wizard that makes it so easy. But it can also mean you don’t have to learn or grow, you can just download.

“It isn’t so much that some people want to be instructional / training / learning designers who find ways around doing actual design. It’s more the attitude of wanting something for nothing. It’s about putting the minimum effort (and expense) into a design task and expecting good results. (excerpt from Push Button Creativity)”

I think that’s a great point. But, we don’t live in the ideal world where every project has what it needs and we can be creative on our own schedule or within an open-ended budget. Clients and managers expect outputs and training needs have to be met. Sometimes we need to get creative about the process as well as the “product” we’re creating. Here’s the rub, though. If we continue to participate in push button creativity (especially the freebies), we are essentially driving down of price and value of creative work like training solutions, and we are effectively de-valuing our own work and the field as a whole. If we use push-button creative solutions, we need to do so with intention.

Constraints can actually push us to create better things. Sometimes working within a set of constraints can help us focus. A creative team that I know very well recently posted on how constraints impacted them:

“Constraints can seem like a barrier to doing good creative work, but there are actually benefits to a limited canvas. On the plus side, imposing limitations drives innovation and forces focus. This can be especially useful in a large project with multiple stakeholders. Limiting certain choices can reduce the burden of making decisions and allows more time to be applied to the creation and follow through of the main objective.”

So, what’s the deal? Are constraints a bad thing or a good thing? Is the drive to push button creativity going to push us over the edge or should we embrace the constraints and treat every project as our own version of “the Biggest Loser”? I’ll leave you with this final quote from Marissa Mayer

“Yet constraints alone can stifle and kill creativity. While we need them to spur passion and insight, we also need a sense of hopefulness to keep us engaged and unwavering in our search for the right idea. Innovation is born from the interaction between constraint and vision.”

Come join us at the chat on June 18th and share your insights.

Communicating your training strategy

Tell_EveryoneThis week’s chat2lrn is from Brent Schlenker (@bschlenker), who is one of our new crew members. Brent is Chief Learning Officer for Litmos

How do you communicate your training strategy to everyone who needs to know? Technology has changed so much over the last decade but many still see training as not having changed. It may seem strange but most of the world is not interested in training the way we are. That one realization will change your life. It will not only change your approach to instructional design but it will help you better communicate the benefits you bring to the organization.

Despite 20 years of self-paced eLearning tools, methods, and amazing possibilities, most people still see training as a teacher and a student, or students. People seem to easily make the leap from live classroom to virtual online live classrooms. But for them that’s as far as technology-based learning has come. Oh sure, everyone knows about interactive self-paced elearning but the process is a mystery…and seemingly unnecessary unless you have money to burn.

And if mysterious technologies aren’t enough to cause them anxiety, then try talking to them about your epic instructional design process you intend to inflict upon them. Trust me when I say that rarely goes over well.

I’ve seen the blank stares of many managers in my career. I have no doubt each and every one appreciated my efforts and found the self-paced course I created to be quite good and effective. But I also know they wondered why we couldn’t just create and plan many more classroom sessions in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost. And whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is what they believe.

The art of communication is well documented by others. Listening is critical. Spend more time understanding your stakeholders before telling them about you and your plans. Building relationships early on will pave the way for implementing successful training solutions.

Be prepared to over simplify your work. Being able to state your core beliefs about the career you’ve chosen is also helpful when communicating with stakeholders. I call these core beliefs the Guiding Principles of the Training Department. Communicate these principles early and often. In all of your communications make sure you show how your work connects to each of these principles.

We are knowledge brokers.
We build expertise in those who need it, by leveraging those who have it.

We put People first–Technology second.
We recognize the best training is often 1:1, but that doesn’t scale.  We strategically  use technology to amplify, and efficiently scale up, the human element of training.

We build as we deploy.
We iteratively develop scalable solutions while meeting current and immediate training needs.

We see learning as a long-term process.
We believe training events are only a part of the journey towards expertise.  We  leverage multiple content delivery channels to make content more readily available on demand in real-time.

We measure to evaluate success.
We ensure the effectiveness of training solutions by linking desired outcomes to business performance indicators, and tracking and evaluating results.

These are my principles. And you can read more about them here. They may or may not apply to you in your current situation. Do you have certain beliefs that guide your work?

We’d love it if you could join us on chat2lrn to discuss these principles with Brent, Thursday 4th June.

Storylistening versus Storytelling?

This week’s chat2lrn is a post from crew member Fiona Quigley, who works for Logicearth Learning Services based in Ireland. 

I just love stories; it was an integral part of my Irish upbringing – two Scottish grannies and family of singers tends to make it that way!

And over the last few years, I’ve had a bit of a hobby collecting stories. I’m not a great storyteller myself, but I do love to listen to others’ stories and to collect them. Over the last few years, I’ve collected more than 1500 women’s career stories. Some are short – a couple of paragraphs, while others go on and on for pages, reaching a eureka moment at the end.

This ‘hobby’ started off very innocently. I kept reading about the pay and gender gap, and also read various statistics about women’s prospects in the workplace. The so-called glass ceiling seemed as far off as ever. I sent a few emails to friends asking for their career stories and in particular to reflect on any transitions or decision points they encountered. These friends also kindly sent emails to other women and before I knew it, I was getting lots of stories from all over the world.

I’m lucky to know lots of strong, capable and ambitious women, so I was intrigued when many of the gender/pay statistics hadn’t seemed to have changed in the last 10 years. The decision points in the women’s stories ranged from going for their first promotion, getting married, to having children, and dealing with personal or family illness. All impacted their careers – some in a good way, some not so good.

The stories are precious to me, and I won’t ever share them but I have learned a lot from them.

So what did I learn?

Well often the most important storylistener needs to be ourselves. We go through day-to day life, almost automatically at times. We get caught up in our own and many other people’s narratives; the dutiful wife/husband, the diligent worker, the stressed out commuter and so on.

By narrative, I mean a set of related stories. We live our lives as an evolving set of lived experiences – or unfolding story. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether we are living the story or the story is living us! Due to on-going life and work pressures and the general busyness we get caught up in, often we flit from narrative to narrative either giving away our power or not realising what power we have to create better story endings for ourselves.

Many of the 1500+ women’s stories that I have collected so far, made this same point – they haven’t had the chance to sit down and collectively reflect or join the dots between all their career experiences to date. They’ve missed patterns and repeating bottlenecks, simply because they haven’t had a chance to listen to their own stories. Worse still, no-one else had listened to their story to help them confirm or validate it.

Which brings me to one of the often forgotten points about stories in general – we learn from others’ stories precisely because stories give us a chance to reflect on lived experience and join the dots in our own lives.

What has all this got to do with chat2lrn?

Stop rambling Fiona I hear you say! There is a point to this, I promise…

I wonder if, in the workplace, we helped others to pay attention to their own stories or narratives, would it make a difference to our workplace relationships and how we collaborate and share knowledge? What If we were able to just slow down or stop for a few minutes each week and ask each other to share a career story or how we overcame a difficult challenge? And no I’m not advocating tree-hugging or therapy for all, I’m just thinking about re-tuning the radio of our lives from busyness to a few moments of quiet reflection. If, according to the 70:20:10 model, we learn most from others, then surely listening to others’ stories has to be a part of that?

If you understand the concept of tacit knowledge, then it is easy to see that we all know more than we usually express. Giving our staff time and space to reflect is the first step on the way to freeing that knowledge. As a final example, I asked a colleague to reflect on what learning meant to them. I was writing a blog on workplace learning and I kind of knew what answer I wanted back (we all do that don’t we?), but I was blown away by her response. Helen is a keen mountaineer and reflected on learning like this:


How many other rich answers are we missing from our colleagues just because we don’t give them time and space?

Getting more practical

I tried this exercise a while back with a few friends and I was surprised by how much they enjoyed it. They have since tried it in their own workplaces and have told me that it has improved some of their workplace relationships as well as revealing some interesting insights.


Are your ears twitching?

So what do you think? Could you give this a go in the workplace? What might stop you? Join us this Thursday 21st May in chat2lrn to continue the discussion.

Revolutionize Learning and Development

#Chat2lrn is delighted to have a guest post from Clark Quinn. Clark Quinn, Ph.D., is a recognized leader in learning technology strategy, helping organizations take advantage of information systems to meet learning, knowledge, and performance needs. His approach is learning experience design, combining what we know about how people think and learn with comprehension of technology capabilities to meet real needs. He combines a deep background in cognitive science, a rich understanding of computer and network capabilities reinforced through practical application, considerable management experience, and a track record of strategic vision and successful innovations. He is a well regarded speaker and author on human performance technology directions. You can follow Clark on Twitter: @Quinnovator. See more of Clark’s views on this subject in his book Revolutionize Learning & Development.Revolutionize Learning & Development , Clark N. Quinn


Is Learning & Development achieving what it could and should? The evidence says no. Surveys demonstrate that most L&D groups acknowledge that they are not helping their organizations achieve their goals. It’s worse than the cobbler’s children, because they at least got others shoed, but here we’re not getting ourselves effective enough to help anyone else. Where are we falling apart?

My short answer is that we’re trying to use industrial age methods in an information age. Back then, one person thought for many and our training was to get people able to do rote tasks. There wasn’t a real need for knowledge work, and we were happy to filter out those who couldn’t succeed under these conditions. In this day and age knowledge work is most of what contributes to organizational success, and we want to foster it across the organization.

To succeed, there are a few things we need to get into alignment. The simple fact is that much of what is known about how we think, work, and learn isn’t being accounted for in L&D practices. We use courses to put information into the head, but there’s clear evidence that our thinking is distributed across information in the world. It’s also hard to get information into the head. So we should be focusing on putting as much information into the world as we can. We also now know that the way to get the best outcomes is to get people to work together, and that silos and hierarchies interfere. If we want the best outcomes, we want to facilitate people working and playing well together. Finally, we know that learning should involve models to guide performance, be emotionally engaging, and have sufficient, appropriate, and spaced practice. All of this is antithetical to so-called rapid elearning.

Underpinning this is the fact that we’re measuring the wrong things. We’re out of alignment with what the business needs; when we’re measuring how much it costs per seat per hour, we’re worrying about efficiency, and we’re paying no attention to effectiveness. It’s taken as a matter of faith that ‘if we build it, it is good’, and that’s empirically wrong.

Quite simply we need a revolution; a fundamental shift in what we value and what we do. It’s not redefining what we do completely; e.g. courses are still a viable tool, but they’re just one part of a bigger picture. There are two things organizations need: optimal execution of those things they know they need to be able to do, and continual innovation to adapt to the increasingly complex environment. Courses are only a part of the first, and essentially irrelevant to the latter. We need to incorporate performance support for one thing, and sponsoring innovation is about facilitating communication and collaboration. That comes from using social media (all of it, not just technology) in appropriate ways.

The upside is big. We can, and should, be the key to organizational outcomes. We should be designing and fostering a performance ecosystem where people can work in powerful ways. We should be shaping culture to get a workforce that is motivated and effective. If we do so, we’re as fundamental to organizational success as anything in the business. I suggest that this is an achievable goal and emphasize that it’s a desirable goal.

To get there, you need to ‘think different’. You need to shift from thinking about learning and training, and start thinking about performance. You need to take development to mean facilitation. L&D should be Performance & Development, or even Performance and Innovation. That’s the promise, and the opportunity. Are you ready to join the revolution? Your organization needs it.

Let’s discuss in #chat2lrn this week.  See you on Thursday, May 7th 8:00 am PDT / 11:00 am EDT / 4:00 pm BST.

Getting Started with Mobile Learning

This guest post comes from Nick Floro. Nick is the president of Sealworks Interactive Studios. Nick has over 20 years of experience developing e-Learning solutions, applications and web platforms. He has worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies to help them understand the technology and develop innovative solutions to help their teams and customer base. In 2011, Nick designed and launched a new web application,, to help developers and designers simply project management. Nick has won several awards from Apple and Fortune 500 organizations for productions and services. Nick is passionate about how technology can enhance learning and loves to share his knowledge and experience to teach, inspire and motivate.

We’ve seen mobile learning gaining steam over the past couple of years due to the growing popularity of our smartphones and tablets. Most of us can’t walk too far without making sure we have our phone or favorite device with us, whether we’re at home, work or traveling. As of January 2014, Americans used mobile apps more than PCs to access the internet with 55% of internet usage. Source CNNMoney Feb 2014.  As of October 2014, 64% of Americans owned a smartphone. Source PEW Research Center Mobile Technology Fact Sheet. As a learning professional, instructional designer or learner we need to pivot and with any new project or development, if your organization supports mobile, you need to start planning, testing and allowing time for mobile delivery of your learning.

Personally, I believe we should be able to use any device wherever and whenever to access content. We should not limit our users to a desktop or just mobile but we can enhance or optimize for each device when appropriate. The primary challenge is understanding how to develop content with the flexibility to view on any device or add to the experience based on the device that is being used at that time. When starting a new project, you should consider whether you want to support mobile, provide an add-on or content that can be optimized to compliment your learning course or classroom. For example, if we have our learners taking an online course to prep for an in classroom training, can we create any support or content that can be viewed on their mobile device to enhance the experience.

One of the big learning trends today was discussed in last weeks #Chat2Lrn about microlearning. You can view the curated transcript at or post at Many L&D professionals connect the mobile movement with mircolearning because we often grab our device when have seconds or minutes in between other tasks. I think that is great but we have also seen a growing trend where our participants are using mobile devices as their primary device.Pasted Graphic What does that mean? If you haven’t started already, you need to start to develop a mobile strategy or better yet a content strategy which allows your content, tools, or support add-ons to work across multiple devices based on your audience.

There are a lot of exciting ways (and buzz words) that we can use for mobile learning, such as performance support, location based learning, responsive design, personal learning plans, and designing an app to provide a unique experience for your learners. For the purposes of this #Chat2Lrn I wanted to get everyone on the same page by providing a foundation and then in a future chat we can continue to grow the conversation based on your feedback, needs and experiences.


Defining What is Mobile for Your Organization

A first step in getting started, is to define what  mobile learning is to your organization. Do you want to support phones, tablets and desktops or do you want to create unique content, apps or add-ons for each device type? Some questions to share with your organization, development team and audience to better define and understand where you are at and develop a strategy.

  • Does your audience use mobile devices? What percentage?
  • What types of devices are we using?
  • How do we create content today?
  • Do our tools support HTML output or a app?
  • Which platforms do we want to support? (iOS, Android, Windows, Other)
  • How often do we update our content?
  • What is the normal lifespan of our content or course object?
  • Does your LMS or Learning platform support mobile devices?


Your First Mobile Project (or your next project)

At the start of every project, we always start with understanding three key factors:

  1. Define who is the audience? Who is the primary participant, do they have a mobile device, where will they use it and how will they use it?
  2. Document what technology will your audience use to interact with the course, content, app or tool? Will they have a slow, fast or possibly no bandwidth based on their location?
  3. Create a user story that explains how the average participant will use your content, course, or tool.

Pasted Graphic 3It is important to document each answer, for each project and have each stakeholder agree with what is discussed and the plan. Ask WHY, when appropriate to better define and understand each factor and response.



HTML5/Browser vs Native App Delivery

With any project, you need to consider the time frame, budget, resources, and type of delivery. When you consider mobile delivery there are 2 primary way to develop a solution:

  1. HTML5 / Browser Based Delivery requires that you export or develop your content in HTML format and requires a internet connection to download or interact with your content. The biggest benefit to this format is that you can create one primary content set and use responsive design to optimize for each type of device requires less time to develop a custom solution then for each platform. Content resides on a server, so each time a participant accesses the information they automatically see latest version.
  1. Native Apps provide an amazing experience but typically require more time, budget and optimization or custom code for each operating system that is required to support. The primary advantage is the speed and experience is optimal and a internet connect may not be required if all content is pulled into the app. An alternate format is a Hybrid App which combines the native code on the mobile device but will pull in the content from a server when requested.

If you are using a software package to create your learning, such as Captivate or Storyline or one of the other amazing tools on the market, it is important that you test your concept in the software product prior to starting a project to understand how it works, what features are supported and consider how will you distribute the content. You also may want to consider learning HTML5 or adding a resource to your team if you want to create custom experiences or better control the experience on each platform.


A Few Ways to Get Started?

1. Start Small & Measure – Launch a small, manageable initiative to measure what devices and how your audience is using the content. How? This can be done in a lot of different ways but to get you thinking and started you can email or provide a link in a upcoming course where the learner can download a document in PDF document and suggest they view or use it as a resource on their mobile device. You can also provide a audio, video or link to content. Make sure to test prior with a small group and gather feedback to insure the best outcomes. You can design a pdf with interactive hotspots using just about any tool today from Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote or Adobe Acrobat to add links over your content. You can actually simulate or use a PDF to provide a simple interactive guide or tool to quickly link to content so that the learner can use as a resource or to dive deeper. You can deliver the PDF by emailing or providing a web link or share via a cloud service such as Google Drive or Dropbox.

Look at adding Google Analytics, if you are not currently supporting it to measure the web link, what type of device was used to interact with the content or site. If you are not familiar, you can learn more at It’s free and requires you to setup a account and then you can add a custom code to any html page to help you measure results.

Below is a example report displaying the browser that was used to interact with the sample site over the past week:

Pasted Graphic 5

This view demonstrated the break down of mobile device that interacted with the content:

Pasted Graphic 62. Upgrade Your Tools or Add a New One – Do your current tools and development team support creating mobile content? If not, start to think about which tools you want to utilize and how you can start to incorporate mobile into your development process. Remember start small and look at creating a road map where you scale up your solution.

3. Observe, Capture & Brainstorm – Think about what your favorite app whether its a tool, utility, game or resource and consider how you might apply that concept to your learning. Two great examples:

Pasted Graphic 7Zite, a knowledge browser that customizes your viewing to your personal topics and learns from what you like and dislike. Its available for free for iOS and Android and if you haven’t used it, take it for a spin. Imagine a app for your audience where they can customize the content or learning they want to focus on, provide feedback, share and automatically see the latest when launching the app. Download and play at 64a382abd3a6724d1493bf529a6f54a6

Yahoo!Weather App is a great visual example, using imagery and animation to provide you with the current temperature with the low and high of the day. If you want o view more information, such as the hourly breakdown or next couple of days simply swipe up and it allows you to dive deeper into the weather (content). This is such a simple but beautiful design and experience. For homework, think about how you might apply it to your learning.

4. Prototyping a Concept – Got a idea or need to demonstrate a concept to your team? Checkout a great mobile app, which you can download for free, used to prototype your concept called Prototyping on Paper or POP. This tool works on your iOS or Android device to capture your sketches of a idea, allows you to add hotspots and then demonstrate on your device how the concept works or share a link and a team member can view in their browser. Learn more and download at

I hope you found this post helpful and we got your brain thinking about the possibilities. Join us on Thursday, April 23 at 16:00BST/11:00EDT/8:00PDT to dive deeper into Getting Started with Mobile Learning on #chat2lrn.

Much Ado About Microlearning

MightyMouseMicrolearning (1)Much is being made of the concept of microlearning these days, and perhaps rightly so. Microlearning products and collections, assembled and offered by learning and development organizations, fit into available time slots and busy work schedules. If available on mobile devices, they can also be used in performance support applications at the time and place of need.

From the producer’s perspective, they are also relatively quick to produce, and both easier to create and maintain then their larger, more complex e-learning counterparts.

But microlearning is not new at all. Countless how-to videos on YouTube have helped millions of people repair appliances or learn to better perform tasks or even hobbies. More interestingly, most of these products were created by people with no instructional design background, and yet we learn effectively from them.

So how can learning and development organizations use microlearning products to meet the needs of organizations? What can we learn from YouTube to encourage the participation of large numbers of employees? Discuss this and more about microlearning products in learning and development at #chat2lrn Thursday, 09 April at 16:00BST/11:00EDT/8:00PDT.