Learning Science Laundering

by Viv Cole on June 10, 2013

When I’m explaining to non L&D people what I do, one thing they commonly say is “Oh yes, e-learning. We had to do a module on Anti-Money Laundering”. Much as I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been involved in making compliance e-learning more interesting, there’s clearly quite a lot of page-turners still in circulation. And the amount of effort that companies have made to address money laundering implies it’s still a serious issue. Whilst Money Laundering Reporting Officers everywhere are facing up to how to stem the flow of the proceeds of crime back into the legitimate economy, I’d like to focus on a related crime that’s far closer to home…laundering science about learning.  

The classic sub-processes of money laundering are placement, layering and integration. For more detail, here’s a nice infographic.http://visual.ly/just-what-money-laundering . It works pretty much the same way in L&D, just substitute science about learning for money.

Placement: A publication makes reference to a scientific experiment, but is economical with the truth e.g. it cherry picks a conclusion or even makes up the experiment altogether – watch out for the telltale phrase “A Harvard study showed…”

Layering: The publication gets quoted in another publication. For most effect, this stage gets repeated a few times without citing the original publication.

Integration: Nobody can find the original source for the science, but the “fact” has become so widely recognised that it’s rarely challenged. Learners have a right to assume that learning material they are being provided with has been checked out so the “facts” spread.

So I almost wanted to call the police when last month I found myself reviewing training materials that made reference to the “fact” that people remember:

•           20% of what they read

•           30% of what they hear

•           40% of what they see

•           50% of what they say

•           60% of what they do


•           90% of what they see, hear, say and do*.

*Source: Accelerated Learning For The 21st Century by Colin Rose and Malcolm J. Nicholl published by Dell Publishing 1997.

Whilst this is a useful metaphor that helps designers strive to make learning interactive, it’s got no basis in science! e.g. The Ten Percent Solution Anatomy of an Education  Myth. Allegedly the percentages were reached by someone measuring Dale’s Cone of Experience with a ruler…

I would also like to take this opportunity to name and shame Rose & Nicholl 😉

More importantly, please look out for anyone laundering science about learning and be ready to challenge hearsay that is masquerading as scientific fact.

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