Making a Skeptic Consider…

I admit it, I’m a skeptic. I’m one of the first people to discount a new “management by best seller” theory. Likewise, I approach each new training theory with the same skepticism.

Years ago, I was working for a corporation that bought whole-heartedly into what was called at the time “adult learning theory.” I know it still exists, but I’m sure its gone through various permutations by now.

During the period I’m referring to, we had to develop a plan for a class that engaged as many sensory processes as possible. In other words, we had to have music playing prior to class, during activities and breaks. We had to have the walls of the classroom covered with a variety of images and posters – some relevant to the class, more that weren’t. The general theory was that adult learners needed to have time to check out of learning. Supposedly, with the proper stimuli, their attention would be more engaged, and they’d be likely to retain information.

That’s why Eric Jensen’s article, “Brain-Based Learning: A Reality Check” caught my attention.  Jensen looks at brain research and some of the myths and realities that have resulted from this field of research.  As an example, Jensen sites the “Baby Mozart” study.  The original researchers, Shaw and Rausher, indicated only a slight improvement of spatial reasoning (Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky, 1993). While they never claimed that listening to Mozart would make for dramatic changes in intelligence, the media and capitalists clamored over the study.

Jensen contends that while the “Baby Mozart” craze was just that, a craze — there was some important research that was overlooked from this and other ancillary studies. Specifically, that early, long term music instruction does have a positive impact on learning, memory and intelligence.

I think Jensen has a great point: brain research is constantly changing and improving our understanding of the brain, and information processing. While it’s easy to b skeptical, or discount new ideas, there’s significant research that is relevant and provides information we can use to create better educational experiences and training materials.

Another great example of how research is changing our approach to education or training is the self-paced learning model.  Twenty years ago, I was developing paper-based training modules upon the theory that adult learners would work their way through training materials as their need for understanding of a topic created a demand.

I found an article by Reinhard Oppermann and Christop G. Thomas to be of interest. Their article “Learning and Problem Solving as an Iterative Process: Learning Living Repository: LEAR” references their learning system (LEAR). While the article explores their learning process, I did find that many of their theories are relevant to developing training programs. Oppermann and Thomas state the learning on demand is an excellent strategy to employee for adult learners. Like the original self-paced modules, their method of learning depend on the motivation of the employee, just with a much higher tech, computer generated approach.

It’s interesting to study the way learners engage with training and how their brains function. I’m looking forward to learning and exploring more approaches to learning. It’s a whole new world of instructional design, and I’m just getting started.


Jensen, Eric (2000). Brain-Based Learning: A Reality Check. Educational leadership, 57, n7, pg: 76-80.

Oppermann, Reinhard, and Thomas, Christoph G. Learning and Problem Solving as an Iterative Process: Learners’ Living Repository: LEAR.  Retrieved from http//


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