THE Performance Improvement Conference this year will feature the half-day Research-to-Practice Symposium, Myth Busting: Separating Evidence-Based Findings from Unsupported Beliefs. To find out more about myths in the industry and how they affect performance improvement professionals, I spoke with presenter and symposium coordinator Dr. Harold Stolovitch. The symposium will take place Sunday, April 22, from 1:30-5:30 pm.

Why is it important for PI professionals to be able to differentiate myths from truths?

It’s not just for human performance professionals. It’s for anyone who is responsible for those who have an impact on other people’s lives. Our clients depend on us to create interventions that have a strong foundation based in science. We should be sure to investigate what science is telling us works or where we should be cautious.

What are some of the damaging effects of performance improvement myths?

Waste of time, waste of money, waste of scarce resources, and a lack of results, which ultimately leads to a loss of credibility.

Why is it difficult for PI professionals to separate reality form myth?

There are many reasons why it is difficult to separate the two. For instance, popular press will take a partial scientific finding and extrapolate from it beyond its true value. Also, people continue to perpetuate lore that has been hanging on for a very long time, even though it has no scientific basis.  And, of course, there is a tremendous amount of propaganda that comes from enthusiastic vendors to get people excited about technology. They provide selective data to support their claims. These are just a few of the ways we can become convinced that there is legitimacy in what is being touted. The result: We sometimes make decisions that can affect people adversely in human performance and training.

Out of all the myths you have come across in your career, are there any you think are the most harmful or widespread?

The first one is that with each new technology that comes forth, there is a belief that it will somehow revolutionize learning and performance. Thomas Edison back in 1913 predicted the demise of the school classroom because of the invention of the moving picture. Obviously, that never happened. These types of myths have caused large financial investments to be made within schools, organizations, and governments–investments that never generated the anticipated effect. A second myth is the overall belief that learners who are enjoying themselves will learn better. That is also more wishful thinking than supported “truth.” It is the persistence, the time on task, the practice, and the feedback that is important to learning, not whether or not the learners are having a good time. Result: We end up wasting resources and time on silly activities that do nothing more than amuse. Enjoyment is OK. It’s just not enough.

What can attendees expect to take away from the Research-to-Practice Symposium?

The symposium’s purpose is twofold. First, we are encouraging professionals to be more cautious when strong enthusiasms or fads arise; to make sure that they do not distract us. We don’t want to confuse what is fundamental to helping people learn and perform in the workplace with what is incidental.  Second, the speakers will be presenting information on specific myths–or half-truths–that are currently circulating in the workplace. Topics covered in the symposium include discussions on how different “digital natives” are from previous generations when it comes to learning, what adding seductive elements to enhance training design can and cannot do, how important attending to learning styles really is, and how we use evidence to make (or not make) professional decisions. Dr. Watkins will provide rapid review of published research over the last 12 months, highlighting scientific findings from various domains that are relevant to HPT  professionals.

The most important concept I would love performance improvement professionals to take away from this symposium is to always make sure you have strong, credible evidence before encouraging clients to invest energy, hopes, and resources to achieve valued performance. If you think something is true, examine it; make sure it has a strong foundation before you expend a lot of time and effort on it. And if you don’t know how to go about examining and researching it, come to the Research-To-Practice Symposium where we will share with you a host of available resources and bring you up-to-date on some current themes!

Dr. Harold D. Stolovitch, emeritus professor of Workplace Learning and Performance, Université de Montréal, principal, HSA Learning & Performance Solutions LLC, and symposium coordinator, will open the session with a welcome and a brief, warm-up “Hit or Myth” activity, challenging the group to start the process of separating data-based fact from strongly held folklore in learning and performance.