Book Review: Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions

Clark Quinn’s book Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions: Debunking Learning Myths and Superstitions lines up a bunch of learning myths and then knocks them down, one by one. If you want a quick summary of research to rebut misguided arguments (and perhaps to double check that you aren’t spreading myths yourself), this is a great reference.

The book is divided into three main sections, plus some intro on the science of learning and a conclusion.

  • Myths
  • Superstitions
  • Misconceptions

Clark talks about the potential upside and downside for myths and weighs the evidence for and against them.

Millenials, Goldfish, and Other Training Misconceptions book cover

Learning Myths

Myths are “beliefs that are prevalent despite repeated evidence that they’re wrong.” These are the most serious problems, the ones that send instructional designers down the wrong paths. Believing these myths can reduce how effective training is and waste time and resources. Learning styles are a good example. Providing different lessons tailored to visual and auditory learners (and separating learners so they get the lesson that matches their style) is time consuming and doesn’t improve results. We can’t even reliably measure learning styles.

Another common learning myth is the one referenced in the book title: “Humans have changed to having the attention span of a goldfish.” If you believe that, you’ll aim for minuscule chunks of learning, probably with lots of things flashing on the screen to hold your 8 seconds of attention. But if this myth were true, would anyone watch a 3-hour-long Avengers movie? People can pay attention for longer periods, and there’s real research about how to do so.

Superstitions and Misconceptions

Superstitions are “semi-myths.” These are bad practices that lead to lower outcomes. For example, assuming that once something has been presented that people have learned it and can perform a skill competently is a superstition.

Misconceptions aren’t as clearly right or wrong. Some of these are ideas with mixed research results. People in the field have reasonable disagreements about the value of these misconceptions. In this section, Clark addresses Microlearning, 70:20:10, problem-based learning, and more.

The misconceptions were one of my favorite parts of the book because Clark distills several complex topics into quick summaries, but he still maintains some of the nuance. These aren’t issues that are obviously right or wrong; they’re partly right, or right for some situations. This is where I think many of us really wrestle with the research. Clark tries to reconcile the different arguments and makes reasonable recommendations for practice.

Quick Guides

At the end of the book, Clark provides quick guides like the one below. These are 1-page summaries of every learning myth, superstition, and misconception. These are perfect for helping you explain to stakeholders and clients why, no, clicking next isn’t meaningful interaction. (They’re also good for arguing with people on the internet. Not that I would ever do that.)

Buy the book

It’s a quick, fun read. You won’t get bogged down in stiff academic language, and you’ll have a reference you’ll refer to again and again to debunk learning myths. Go buy the book already! Check out the website for references and a sample chapter.

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