We recently sat down with Marty Rosenheck, Ph.D., a thought leader and sought-after consultant, speaker, and writer on the application of cognitive science research to learning and performance. He has been helping people and organizations develop expert performance for over 30 years. He also just joined the eLearning Brothers team! In this interview, Zach Batty, Director of Marketing, and Marty discussed everything from the beginning of eLearning to where the industry is going, touching on new advancements in tracking learning and proving performance improvements.
Zach Batty: Today I am interviewing Marty Rosenheck, who has recently joined the eLearning Brothers team and we are absolutely thrilled about that. Marty, tell me about yourself.
Marty Rosenheck: Sure. I am very excited to become a part of the eLearning Brothers team. I’ve actually been involved in the learning industry for a long time actually; since the Apple 2 computer came out! My uncle actually created one of the early adaptive learning programs with 32K of RAM; that’s ‘K’—not megabytes—of RAM.
Zach Batty: Wow!
Marty Rosenheck: I’ve always been interested in the psychology of learning—since high school actually. I really started to focus on technology and how technology can support the learning process. And that’s kind of the work that I’ve done in consulting and studying it. And I ended up recognizing that, in order to really design learning that really helps, you need to understand how people learn; the science of learning. So, I did my doctorate in Cognitive Science and studied how people develop expertise, asking “how do you use technology to accelerate that process of developing proficiency or developing skills and expertise?” And that’s been basically my life’s work up to this point.
Zach Batty: This is something that you’ve been fascinated with your entire life. Even in high school, you were interested in this.
Marty Rosenheck: Yeah, I started out being in interested more in biology and neurobiology, but I realized I didn’t want to spend my whole life studying one macromolecule; I wanted to study more—how people learn and how people can perform most effectively in organizations, and how organizations can do really well in what they are doing.
Zach Batty: What keeps you coming back to this topic? When most people change careers and industries multiple times in their lives, what keeps you coming back to learning?
Marty Rosenheck: Well, actually I think it’s interesting you ask that question. It’s the way that technology is enabling us to do more and more with learning, I think that’s the thing that really excites me. And there was a period where I was very early involved with eLearning, for example and really kind of an early eLearning evangelist.
It wasn’t even called eLearning then, it was CBT (computer-based training.) But after a while actually, I did quit the business for a short time. I got a little bored with it because back then it mostly used CD-ROMs and things like that. About 8 or 10 years ago, things got really exciting again. And I think that has to do with the newer technologies, the things we can do with the web now, the experience API, which is a new standard that’s come out and enables us to track learning anywhere, social learning, social media, all of these and now artificial intelligence and virtual reality, all these technologies are now enabling us to do stuff we could never really do. Never in the history of humans could we do this stuff that we can do now.
And so we are actually at, I think, a very exciting time in our business. And we have the possibility to do some really cool things. I’m very excited about it now because we have the opportunity to harness this technology to enable learning, and learning that really makes a difference in terms of performance of individuals and organizations. And that, to me, is really, really exciting.
Zach Batty: You know, you mentioned 2 or 3 things there, social learning, xAPI, things like that, if you were to pick one thing, what is getting you most excited about what’s going on in the learning world right now?
Marty Rosenheck: Well, the one thing that I didn’t mention is—those are all exciting— but the top one is mobile. I think that’s the other thing that made a huge difference. Mobile is really enabling learning to be untethered from the desktop and learning to be out in the field, combined with the ability to get any information that you need. So, for example, knowledge and information—content—used to be one of the main things we did in learning and in teaching and in schools, well, content is easy now, because you can pretty much find anything out by asking Google.
But the main thing is, how do you develop the skills to apply that knowledge to really do the job well? Those are 2 different things; getting access to it and using it effectively, knowing how to use it effectively. That’s where a lot of the work on expertise comes in. What I’m excited about is, we are also at the point where the science of learning is developed to a point where we’re really understanding more principles of learning. When it comes down to it, it comes down to one very simple thing that has been elaborated on. And that simple thing is, we learn by doing, by experience and then reflecting on that experience, getting feedback and reflecting on that experience and then making adjustments based on that. That’s basically it. That’s how paramecium learn, that’s how humans learn, that’s how organizations learn. At every level, that’s the process.
The question from people who are designing learning is, “How do we support that process of learning?” And what now is emerging as a term is “learning experience design.” We’ve been talking a lot about learning experience design. How do we design experiences that will enable the learning process? The key thing that’s different from instructional design is that instructional design is focused on just formal instruction. But only a small part of learning happens in the form of formal learning. Most learning happens on-the-job while people are doing things through experience, trying things, making mistakes, getting feedback, getting some coaching, getting some mentoring from someone and reflecting on that and then trying again. That’s how we learn. And so most of the learning happens out in the field.
Getting back to mobile, for example, the problem we’ve had with mobile up to this point is that formal learning is easier. It’s easier to do classroom-based training, it’s easier to track what’s going on, and then later on with eLearning. That’s a 20th-century learning paradigm—classroom plus eLearning, which is very scalable. But really, the best kind of learning is basically going back to apprenticeship. You know, like a blacksmith, learning-by-doing, being in a social community of people who are doing that thing, having a mentor or a coach right near you helping you with that and structuring and giving you support as you go; that’s the best way to learn.
So why haven’t we done this all along? Well, because it’s not scalable and trackable. And in the Industrial Revolution and the Industrial Age in the last 100 years or so, we wanted to make learning very scalable and structured. And that’s where the classroom and then eLearning, more traditional eLearning enable that. But that’s only a small part of the learning process. So now, technology is enabling us to track and manage learning by doing on-the-job, making it scalable and trackable because you can use mobile devices to track that. Your coach or mentor could be anywhere in the world and connect with you on the phone or a video camera. So we now have the opportunity to take the best of learning and make it happen and make it practical and scalable. To me, that’s very exciting.
Zach Batty: Marty, you pioneer a product called the TREK Learning Experience Manager. I mean, it sounds like this is something that you built to try to make this apprenticeship scalable. Is that true?
Marty Rosenheck: Yes. The way it came about was, I was working with customers and helping them design a curriculum and learning paths that involved both the formal and the on-the-job learning and the coaching and all of those pieces. And the problem that we had was that the learning management systems out there were only good for tracking the formal learning, tracking the eLearning or the classroom stuff and for managing that piece of it. The rest of it was kind of like, “Well, let’s hope it all goes okay out there, but we don’t know what’s going on.”
So, we decided to say, “Okay, well, we’ve designed this way of learning that really works well to develop proficiency; that’s our goal. And how do you reduce the time it takes for someone to get really good at what they do? That’s the goal.” There was no technology out there to do it. And at the same time, a new standard was just coming out called the experience API. At that’s now xAPI which enables tracking learning outside of the LMS, wherever it happened. So we used that.
We were one of the first adopters of experience API and created a new tool that manages and tracks the entire learning process—both the formal and the informal on-the-job and the coaching process—and set up a systematic and a scalable way to manage that entire learning experience. That’s why it’s called the TREK Learning Experience Manager. We built it—not because I wanted to build a product—because we needed a tool to enable people to do the learning in the way people really learn and in the most effective way possible. And so we built that tool for a few of our customers and then decided, “Hey, you know what? Other people may want this. So let’s make it into a product and make it available to the rest of the world.” And that’s what we’ve done.
Zach Batty: With the TREK Learning Experience Manager, it sounds like that is clearly not something that I go down to Best Buy, buy the DVD and install it on my computer, and now I’m running TREK. How do I deploy that in my corporation?
Marty Rosenheck: Well, it’s a software-as-a-service so it’s pretty easy. It’s a part of eLearning Brothers now, so you come to eLearning Brothers and get a subscription to it and we can also help you design the learning paths that use it most effectively. It works on mobile devices as well as laptops and tablets. But since it’s a software-as-a-service, it’s very easy to get started with it. It doesn’t replace an LMS, but you can use it in conjunction with or in parallel with your LMS to focus on the on-the-job practical learning.
Zach Batty: Say I’m a bank manager and I deploy this at my bank and the new teller needs to job-shadow a more experienced teller. Does that activity gets entered into TREK? Or how does that work?
Marty Rosenheck: TREK has on it, let’s say, “This is a learning path, and first you are going to do a quick eLearning course on how to do something, but then you are going to do some on-the-job type of activity.” And then you can use your mobile device to capture the real world activity. For example, you can use your phone to record a conversation with a customer, if you have permission of course. Or you could take a picture of it or a video. And then, that automatically gets routed to whoever is set up as your coach.
It can be set up by the organization to have multiple coaches, you know, the coach based on what you are doing or the expert for that or it could be a manager or supervisor. And they don’t have to be standing right next to you, they could be anywhere. They could be in the next state or across the world. You send them what you have done and then they can give you feedback on that. And then TREK also enables us to provide performance support and checklists and guidelines for the coach, so that all the coaches can be up to the level of the best coaches and giving excellent feedback.
Zach Batty: So it’s a 2-way street?
Marty Rosenheck: Yes! We actually call that process a nano-coaching process, because the focus is on short coaching interactions that are very focused on a particular task. And it’s a cycle basically. The idea is that you don’t learn any complex task or any real-world a task by just doing it once. So you may do something, send it to the coach, the coach can then give you feedback on it and might say, “Try it again.” You might have to try it once or twice. And that’s that cycle that I talked about; about learning by doing, getting feedback and then trying again. Eventually, the coach says, “Okay, good. You got it, good!”
So now when the coaches say, “You’ve got it,” the coach does that within TREK and then you get the checkmark that says, “You got it,” and you get a badge. But that badge is really meaningful because it’s not just that you took a course, it’s that you’ve demonstrated that you can do this thing, whatever it is, this task, and there’s evidence that’s been captured by TREK. So it’s very good for assessment and for a compliance and making sure that people actually can do what they say they can do. So it’s focused on performance, really being able to do the job, which is what we all care about. Who cares if they really if they took a course or whatever? The question is, “Can they do the job?” And that’s what TREK is focused on.
Zach Batty: It sounds like that evidence, that the phone clip or the audio or whatever with compliance, that’s a huge part of that. Now there is proof that not only have they sat in a seat for 2 hours in a training session, but that they are qualified to do that task. I am reeling a little bit thinking of all the things that that can do! That’s very cool.
Marty Rosenheck: And it to use it well, you want to design the learning a little differently too. We’re used to designing formal courses and focusing on content. And one of the things I love to say is that, you know, how people say, “Content is King,” you know, you’ve heard that expression?
Zach Batty: Right, right.
Marty Rosenheck: Well, what I like to say is, “If content is King, then experience is the Emperor.” Because content really supports experience. We need to stop focusing so much in our industry on content and focusing more on the experiences and things people need to do. The content comes in at the teachable moment. But that’s what technology can do in order to support people doing the job and having the experiences.
Zach Batty: Kind of the difference between knowledge and wisdom?
Marty Rosenheck: Yes, exactly.
Zach Batty: Somebody once said, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing that it doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.”
Marty Rosenheck: Right. But there’s one more step here—being able to make the fruit salad in the first place.
Zach Batty: Right! Now, part of what you will be doing at eLearning Brothers is developing and building out our new learning strategy services. Talk to me about that.
Marty Rosenheck: We’re going to help organizations kind of move upstream and realize it’s not just about creating training, it’s about, “How do we actually get the performance we need?” We have some methodologies that can really help organizations get their people up to speed, to reduce the time to proficiency, to make sure that they are learning the right things.
One of the first things is what I call knowledge harvesting. We say, “Let’s take your best people, the actual master practitioners, and ask, ‘What is their implicit knowledge? How do they think about what they do? How do they organize their knowledge?’” And that is part of the cognitive science methodologies we use to extract knowledge, experiences, and scenarios. We use this knowledge harvesting process and that sets the standard of “What do people need to know and what are the experiences they need in order to get to that point in an optimal way?”
We also help with creating competencies. Competencies alone are not enough because they are generally too high level. We break them down to what we call proficiency statements that say, “I can do this to this level.” That guides the learning paths that we need to do, and then, of course, designing the learning paths in the curriculum takes into account the entire learning.
We look at the whole learning experience in a broad sense so we can create the whole methodology and the plan based on what your best people are doing and, “How do you get your other people closer to the way your best people are doing this job?”
Zach Batty: So would you say you’re kind of taking a step back from just, “Hey, you need a course built, we can build the best course on the planet and here you go.” Instead, you’re saying, “What courses do you even need to build? Why are you building them? What’s the goal here? What’s the overall picture of the entire learning in your corporation?”
Marty Rosenheck: That’s right. And then also going beyond just courses. What kind of experiences do people need to have, whether it’s on-the-job or talking to people, and the informal experiences as well? We take into consideration the courses, but also look beyond the courses.
Another piece that’s very important is looking at, “How do we integrate technology?” When designing a learning ecosystem, there are many different technologies available. And now that experience API is starting to take off, everything can be connected and tracked. We ask, “How do you set up the technology infrastructure and put together the right pieces that will support that process most effectively?”
Zach Batty: This is extremely exciting. When you think about the future of that and everything eLearning Brothers will be able to offer—a true one-stop shop for anything in learning all up and down the scale.
Marty Rosenheck: Exactly. I’ve been doing this business for a long time as I’ve mentioned. And you know what? We are recognizing—and our colleagues who are in L&D organizations are recognizing—that we have to show performance. It’s imperative to show that what it’s not just about taking courses—it’s about positively impacting the organization. You need to be able to track and show management and executives that, yes, what you are doing is actually affecting performance.
Now that you can track and show performance, it motivates us to design even more effective learning. If you have stuff that you kind of know deep down is not really going to make that big a difference, then you don’t really want to track it. Whereas, if you are going to track it, you also need to design stuff that’s going to really make a difference and can really improve people’s performance. And then you’re going to be proud to track it and you want to track it and you want to see those results. And now there are great technologies that enable us to do that tracking well.
Zach Batty: Well, Marty, I know that we are really excited to have you as part of the eLearning Brothers team. Clearly, you have been and continue to be a mover and shaker in this industry and are really able to see what’s around the corner. Anyone to get stuck in a rut sometimes; it’s so beneficial to have some thought leadership and the things that can push people out of that and say, “Hey, did you ever think about it this way?” So, thank you so much.
Marty Rosenheck: Oh, you’re very really welcome, it’s my pleasure.
Zach Batty: One last question. Just for fun, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the learning in industry, what would it be?
Marty Rosenheck: It would be that learning becomes kind of analogous to the IT. IT used to be a separate department. Learning is still a department but IT—Information Technology and the Computers and Technology—has become integrated into every aspect of the business. I see that that’s the way that things are going to go with learning as well.
Learning will not just be a learning group that says, “Hey, let’s send you over there to do training,” learning will be embedded in the job, performance support will be embedded in the job and all of that is just part of the organization at every level. That’s where I think things are going and that’s what’s exciting, and that’s where I’d love to see it go more quickly.
We are so excited that Marty has joined our team. Contact us to learn how we can help you design and track effective learning experiences.