Article • February 4, 2021

Buzzword Bingo: L&D Tech Buzzwords and What They Mean

By Amy Parent and Karen Foster

Any field of expertise is bound to have its fair share of buzzwords—those terms or phrases that become highly fashionable for some period of time before fading away.  Inevitably, they get replaced by newer buzzwords and the cycle never seems to end.  Learning and Development is no exception.  In fact, our field might be better than most at coming up with new buzzwords!

We could write an entire book on L&D-related buzzwords, but our goal here is considerably less ambitious than that.  Instead, we’d like to focus on a few terms that relate to learning technology, with an eye towards sorting out how those terms have changed over the years.  Hopefully, we’ll clear up some confusion in the process.

From e-learning’s humble beginning…

In general, e-learning is a term typically used to refer to learning that is enabled by electronic technologies.  If you rewind a quarter of a century, back to the mid-1990s, the term e-learning was coined to describe learning that involved a computer in any form.  Back then, it was the height of the dot-com boom, and people were tacking “e” onto everything: e-mail, e-commerce, e-research, E-Trade, e-tailing, e-filing, and so on.  It basically referred to the electronic version of to whatever the “e” was added.

It was the same with e-learning.  Initially, the term referred to any form of electronically-enabled learning, which might include computer-based offline resources (e.g. CD-ROM-based programs) or online learning.  For many years, e-learning as a term retained its catch-all status even as the “e” field branched out into increasingly specialized approaches. 

Today, the term e-learning can be polarizing.  It can be a bit of a turn-off for some, because it hearkens back to experiences that were just glorified slide presentations that people clicked through with a quiz at the end (not the most effective way to facilitate learning).  For others, it generates enthusiasm and promotes effective learning practices. It is a skillset that is promoted and in high-demand: the e-learning designer and developer.  

Ultimately, e-learning is still a relevant and popular term that is intended to broadly describe both synchronous and asynchronous learning enabled by technology.  Its most popular use is to describe self-paced learning that is formalized and often delivered through a learning system such as an LMS. 

A collection of “specialized” buzzwords

Now, a broader collection of specialized buzzwords are available to help us distinguish between different forms of…well…e-learning.  And that has caused some confusion, so we’ll attempt to clear up some of that.

Digital Learning

Digital Learning is sort of like today’s e-learning.  It’s a broad term that refers to various forms of learning where the delivery is facilitated via digital technologies and mediums. Because of the broad nature of this term it is often positioned as a learning strategy. It can refer to learning delivered via a web browser, e-mail, a learning management system, or even offline digital media.  That learning can be self-directed, but it doesn’t have to be.

Virtual Learning

Many people use “virtual learning” to refer to any form of online learning, where the internet is required.  However, these days, its definition has morphed a bit, primarily referring to live, synchronous learning approaches, such as live webinars, virtual instructor-led training (VILT), or other forms of synchronous learning that’s enabled by online technologies (whether instructor-led or not).  It’s fair to say that all virtual learning is digital, but not all digital learning is virtual.  Confused?

Platform-Based Learning

Platform-Based Learning refers to any form of digital learning that must be accessed via some type of portal, LMS, or some other system that integrates various services like data analytics and assignment management.  It’s not one you often hear, but when you do it is usually meant to call attention to the system functionality nuances and services that differentiate the experience.   You might hear people refer to a learning curriculum or program as a “learning platform.”  That’s not a correct usage of the term, as the “platform” is the digital system that hosts the learning experiences and the portal through which they can be accessed.  The curriculum is delivered through the platform.  In the end, this term is a nuanced way to talk about digital and virtual learning experiences.

Where do we go from here?

Most assuredly, digital learning technologies will continue to expand and proliferate.  As they do, more buzzwords will be developed to describe them. 

However, other buzzwords not related to technology will also continue to blossom in the field of L&D.  Just think about synchronous and asynchronous learning.  A few years ago, nobody outside of specialized L&D circles used those terms.  And even then, they didn’t use them much.  Now, everybody is using those terms…a lot.  Thanks to COVID-19, schoolkids all over the country know the difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning, as their schools now routinely use those terms to describe their pandemic-altered approaches to education.

In future articles, we’ll tackle other buzzwords and digital learning nuances that are emerging and explore them with you.

Article • January 8, 2021

Playing Catch-Up: Boosting Medical Affairs Training to Match Evolving Job Requirements

By Jodi Tainton, RN, and Kimberly Blanchard Portland, Ph.D.

It’s no secret that the life sciences industry is getting more complex each day: Customer and stakeholder groups are becoming increasingly sophisticated, evidence requirements are getting more stringent and the need to engage more effectively with key stakeholder groups is paramount.

This growing complexity is driving an important phenomenon: The rise of Medical Affairs as a highly strategic pillar for biopharma companies, alongside Clinical Development and Commercial & Market Access.  McKinsey & Co., in their recent report, A vision for Medical Affairs in 2025, documents this trend that many of us have seen with our own eyes over the past few years.

There is a challenge, however: As Medical Affairs gains in prominence and strategic importance, the capabilities that medical affairs professionals must possess are compounded.  It used to be that strong scientific acumen was the key qualification.  However, as needs in medical affairs have changed, so have the job requirements.  Now, medical affairs professionals need to be highly strategic, think critically, have excellent communications skills and possess strong business acumen to be successful in this evolving environment.

Excellent training is needed to ensure these professionals are prepared for the tasks at hand.  Medical affairs teams are aware of this need, but they’re confronted with a challenge:  The traditional approaches to medical affairs training — and the resources available for it — have not advanced as rapidly as the job requirements.  Here we explore the challenge and what can be done to help.

Read the full article here.

Article • December 16, 2020

Should L&D Teach Learners How to Learn?

By Karen Foster and Debbie Deale

There are a lot of top 10 lists out there.  Some are just for fun and some are useful.

Consider the list created by the World Economic Forum in its 2022 Skills Outlook.  That list identifies the top 10 capabilities employers are looking for in their team members and includes skills like critical thinking, complex problem-solving, technology design and programming, emotional intelligence, systems analysis and evaluation and others.  Unfortunately, most working professionals have never learned these skills.

To be successful in today’s work environment, professionals must be able to learn and continue learning as things evolve.  This is especially true in the complex biopharma industry.

But there’s a challenge: Learning is a skill all by itself.  And for many of us, it’s not a skill that is very well developed.  This has implications for learning and development (L&D) teams tasked with helping develop team members and begs the question, “Does L&D have an opportunity to boost outcomes for all by actually training learners how to learn?”

We think the answer is yes.  Let’s explore why and how.

Read the full article from LTEN here.

Article • December 8, 2020

Government scrutiny of biopharma peer-to-peer, or speaker programs, is rising…Here’s what to do about it.

By Karen Foster and Krista Gerhard

Speaker programs are a common tactic of most biopharma companies’ peer-to-peer education efforts.  The Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the US Department of Health and Human Services refers to speaker programs as marketing “presentations” or “speeches” that pose, “fraud and abuse risks,” for which the OIG is, “skeptical about their educational value.”  As a recent Fraud Alert indicates, OIG is ramping up its scrutiny of these programs.  This article shares several steps biopharma companies can take to demonstrate that their peer-to-peer programs do, in fact, prioritize education, are “conducive to learning,” and help improve patient care.

Why the increased scrutiny?

The OIG’s core concern is that biopharma peer-to-peer programs are primarily marketing tools to drive prescriptions rather than educational programs that can enhance patient care.  They also cite a range of characteristics that can indicate fraudulent programs, such as:

  • Remuneration for speakers that’s tied to meeting targets for a certain number of prescriptions written
  • Events held in venues that are not conducive to educational presentations (such as wineries, sports stadiums, golf clubs, fishing trips, etc.)
  • Events at high-end restaurants with expensive meals and alcohol served
  • Attendance at events by people with no legitimate business reason for being there (e.g., spouses and friends of physicians)
  • Programs that present no new data or “repeat” programs that the same physicians attend multiple times

Most biopharma companies do not engage in peer-to-peer programs with these characteristics.  In fact, most companies have established in-depth internal controls and hired individuals, if not teams, dedicated to ensuring that peer-to-peer programs are deployed in accordance with the OIG and other regulatory agencies’ guidelines (for an example, see Pfizer’s White Guide here).  Unfortunately, that compliance can be overshadowed when a few “bad” actors skirt the rules, thus drawing the attention—and criticism—of the OIG. 

Nevertheless, OIG is skeptical about the educational value of such programs in general.  Our intent as a learning company is not to focus on the compliance and the legality of peer-to-peer programs, but the true intent of what we all hope to achieve with them: education.  Below, we look at steps pharma companies can take to demonstrate the educational benefits of programs that leverage adult learning principles and cognitive science.

What to do about it?

First, following all applicable regulations is clearly a must.  Beyond that, leveraging adult learning principles and employing active learning activities establishes educational value and enhances learning.

Of course, that starts with delivering new and relevant information to the health care providers (HCPs) in attendance, not just key marketing messages.  But, what about how that information is delivered?  That’s where you can add some significant value.

The traditional format for peer-to-peer programs involves little more than didactic slide presentations for upwards of an hour or longer.  In that format, it’s challenging for anyone to retain—and in the future recall and apply—even the most interesting information.

In recent years, medical and healthcare education curricula have been moving away from didactic methods and proactively toward active learning.  A good overview of active learning and its growing use in medical education can be found here.

Incorporating active learning into your peer-to-peer programs improves retention and recall and delivers educational value to the HCPs by establishing social/experiential learning opportunities that far exceed reading articles online or processing alternative sources where HCPs might, “gather information..[for the] treatment of patients.”

For example, peer-to-peer programs could incorporate:

  1. Patient Clinical Scenarios – HCPs are asked to think through a series of patient case scenarios and discuss how they might vary their treatment decision-making based on the factors specific to each case.
  2. Peer-to-Peer Dialog – HCPs engage in discussions around an issue or challenge relevant to the disease or its treatment process to share their best practices, outline potential solutions or draw conclusions.
  3. Critical Thinking Exercises –Rather than passively receiving information, HCPs review the relevant clinical data and then formulate questions, conclusions, or concerns that could then be discussed in open forum.

These are just a few examples.  The possibilities are only limited by the creativity and expertise of the individuals you have partnered with to design and develop your peer-to-peer program and materials.  However, the right program design is only one link in the chain.  The two additional links are how it’s facilitated and setting attendees’ expectations.

What is necessary for success?

Previously, the individual who delivered these programs was a “speaker” and was accustomed to presenting a didactic presentation.  As a result, these same individuals may not be 100% comfortable or proficient shifting to an approach that is less “presentation” or “speech” and more learning facilitation. As such, empowering facilitators with their own opportunity to learn and practice facilitation techniques only further reinforces that peer-to-peer programs will have educational value and be “conducive to learning.”

There is yet another key link in the chain: the learners. Those who attend peer-to-peer programs need to come with the mindset that these programs are more akin to continuing education than a dinner out.  We recommend that learners receive communications and even pre-thinking exercises before they arrive to see these experiences as learning-focused and providing educational value.

If peer-to-peer programs empower facilitators and learners while employing adult learning principles and active learning techniques, then the results will be positive in all sorts of ways.  By making programs about the educational experience, we improve our ability to have participating HCPs see the company and its program as a valuable resource.  In addition, patient care will improve, as HCPs use what they’ve learned in their day-to-day clinical practice.

Salience Learning has already helped other biopharma companies ensure their peer-to-peer programs bring educational value and are, “conducive to learning.” Contact us for more information on how we can do the same for you.

Insight • October 6, 2020

Please, Don’t Ever Read Your Slides!

By Karen Foster

In your career, you’ve probably delivered or sat through dozens, maybe even hundreds, of presentations; the vast majority of which have probably faded into the deepest recesses of your memory.

But did they all?

Chances are a few of have stuck with you.  Take a minute to reflect and identify those that were truly memorable.

Have you got a few? 

Most likely, the ones that stuck with you have done so for a reason: they were either really great…or really bad.

Recently, I sat through a presentation that, unfortunately, will stick in my memory for being not so great.  Why? Well, because throughout the 45-minutes the presenter often resorted to one of the worst things a presenter can do: read content from the slide out loud, word-for-word to the audience. 

As someone who has presented in front of audiences from 5 to 500, I understand why a presenter might do this.  The pressure of an audience, one’s undying passion for the content or a lack of preparation can lead us all to use this tactic―myself included.  In addition, presenters rationalize that reading the text on a slide will help audiences, “really get it,” and, “be excited!” Unfortunately, it is just the opposite. In fact, there are several valid reasons why reading content from slides is really, really bad. And in some cases, those reasons are backed by scientific research.

Let’s take a look.

It’s boring.

For one thing, it bores our audiences. Why? Here is the science behind it.

In most cases, when you project a slide on a screen, it will have text written on it in the form of key messages or bullet points.  Research has shown that audience members read those messages on their own, without prompting.  If it’s in their first language, they actually can’t help but to read it.1  It’s automatic.  And, they read it in a matter of seconds.

The average reading speed of adults in their first language is about 200 words per minute.2,3

Top executives and those who love to read can double or exceed that to 400 ̶ 500 words per minute.4

Let’s assume a slide has about 40 words on it in your audience’s first language5 (33 is the recommended maximum number of words per slide, however, most go far beyond that).  You just advanced from the prior slide and took 10 seconds to set-up the current slide.  By the time you get around to the reading the text out loud on the current slide, audience members are in one of two possible situations. 

It can harm understanding and retention.

In one situation, the fastest reading audience members finished reading your slide over five seconds ago! And in their minds, they are already thinking, “so what?”  If you resort to reading the same material to them, they droop and wilt from boredom, silently screaming in their heads, “I already know this!  Tell me something new!”

In the second case, other audience members are still silently reading the slide content in their heads at the same time you start reading the content on the slide out loud. This creates an even worse situation than boredom―confusion. 

Why? Well imagine listening to your favorite song using earbuds. However, in the right earbud, the song is broadcast at ½ speed and on a five second delay versus the left. Painful, right? It’s the same in the second case and again, it comes down to words per minute. 

Presenters are generally coached to speak at about 100 words per minute.6 Average audience members are reading at 200 words per minute.  So, the average audience member is simultaneously receiving the same information in two different ways at two different speeds; visually by reading at 200 words per minute and auditorily by listening to you at 100 words per minute.

The brain struggles at effectively processing information in this way7.  So, when the presenter reads out loud content on the slide, he or she is not reinforcing what’s on the slide, they’re actually interfering with it. From the audience members’ standpoint, it all just becomes noise.  Overall understanding and retention are reduced.

It’s disrespectful.

This may sound a little harsh, but parroting slide content out loud to an audience is a bit disrespectful.  In a way, it communicates to the audience members that they cannot read the content for themselves. 

No presenter wants to bore their audience while disrespecting them, making the information harder to comprehend and reducing their own credibility! Whew! That’s not exactly a recipe for success.

Don’t worry, there’s hope!

So, I’d like to offer some useful tips that have worked for me.  Anyone who delivers presentations can use these tips to be more effective and have more engaged audiences.

  1. Don’t be afraid of a little silence. When you put a slide on the screen, it’s OK to be silent for a few moments so the audience can read it (and they will).  Give them a little time to read and absorb the key messages on the slide before you start talking.
  2. When you speak, supplement what’s on the slides. When you do start talking, say things that expand upon the information on the slides.  The audience has already read the key messages, so now you can offer examples to illustrate key points; tell an anecdote to drive home a particular message; offer additional details regarding a specific bullet point.  The words you say should explain, elaborate, illustrate or otherwise reinforce what you’ve captured on the slide.
  3. OK, sometimes you can read what’s on a slide. Occasionally, it makes sense to read out loud exactly what’s on a slide.  For example, if you really want to emphasize a specific point, you can give the audience time to read it on their own…and then read it out loud slowly.  This avoids the “noise” issue mentioned above while effectively emphasizing the point.  In other cases, you may have to read certain points out loud verbatim due to regulatory requirements.  This can be the case in some compliance-oriented training sessions.  In those cases, remember to give the audience a moment to read it first, and then you can read it aloud for emphasis.

You may also have tips or suggestions regarding this topic.  If so, I’d love to see them in the comments.  Until next time, here’s to delivering only positively memorable presentations.


  7. Mayer, Richard E. “Cognitive theory of multimedia learning.” The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (2005): 600-601.

Article • July 15, 2020

How Metacognition Can Help You Get the Most from Virtual Learning Environments

By Karen Foster

Over the past couple of months, a lot has been written in the Learning and Development (L&D) world about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on learning design.  We’ve all read—or written or recorded—about how L&D teams are transitioning learning programs from live in-person formats to virtual formats and the challenges that brings.  Today, I want to go a bit deeper and address this question:  How can enhancing metacognitive skills boost learning in a virtual environment?

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is most simply defined as, “thinking about thinking” (Flavell, 1979). One is being metacognitive when questions such as, “Why is it I have such a hard time remembering names?” or “How come this email isn’t making sense?” or “What assumptions am I making in this decision?” are either said out-loud, or more likely, echo within the confines of our heads. (More on that in a moment)

Going a little deeper, metacognition is often divided into two distinct components:  a knowledge component and a monitoring and control component (Fernandez-Duque, Baird, & Posner, 2000). Different researchers may use varying terms, but the concepts are basically consistent. 

The knowledge component relates to one’s knowledge about how humans think and the processes the brain executes to support thinking.  These include memory, attention, perception and decision making, to name a few (Pintrich, 2002). One would have high metacognitive knowledge if they knew the rule of 5 +/- 2, that efficient multitasking is an oxymoron and that the black/blue dress internet sensation is due to color constancy, which is when our brain attempts to interpret colors based on past experiences and lighting effects.

The monitoring and control component refers to the self-reflective, higher-order cognitive actions taken to regulate ongoing cognitive processes (not only thinking about thinking, but actively trying to think more effectively) (Roebers, 2017).  Think of this like the so-what component.  Now that you know the dress can literally be seen differently due to the brain’s visual perception pathways, what steps do you take to assess and evaluate information you receive via visual perception?

Someone is engaged in monitoring and controlling their metacognition when, knowing the rule of 5 +/- 2, they chunk a list of 15 statistics and facts into three to four categories to increase the accuracy of recalling them.  Other examples of monitoring and controlling metacognition could include when:

  • Knowing the myth of multitasking, a person logs off of email when embarking on completing a demanding thinking task
  • Knowing the variability of visual perception, a person recognizes that a colleague might really perceive a customer’s intentions as benign while they saw them as dismissive.

How metacognition relates to virtual learning environments

Research supports that learners with strong metacognitive knowledge, monitoring and control skills will learn better than one whose skills are more limited (Ford, Weissbein, Smith, Gulluy, & Salas, 1998).  This holds true for in-person and virtual learning environments.  However, those skills become even more critical with virtual formats.

With virtual learning formats, learners are more often at home, and the home environment typically has more distractions with which learners must contend. This pertains to both adults learning and children homeschooling.  In addition, the very nature of virtual learning (lack of cues, increased cognitive load, etc.) and the added stress of the current times can conspire to further challenge the attention of even superheroes, thus limiting learning’s impact.

All of this makes learning harder for the learners, unless they empower their metacognitive skills. By doing so, they must be more self-regulated and employ greater metacognitive skills to truly absorb new information and be able to use it.  The problem is, those skills are often underdeveloped for most learners.

To help students get the most from any training, L&D needs to help them boost their skills in self-regulated learning and metacognition.  For example, research has shown that, “when metacognition is effectively taught in schools then there is a very positive effect on pupil outcomes.” (Perry, Lundie, & Golder, 2019)

It stands to reason that teaching metacognition will help adult learners, as well.  But how to do that?  Should we teach learners metacognitive theory by itself and then hope for the best?  Or is there a better way?  Before reading on, think about that question for a moment and see if you can think of a better way.

Boosting skills in self-regulation and metacognition

While there is some utility in teaching learners about metacognition as a “stand-alone” subject, that’s not the preferred way.  Instead, the priority should be on teaching metacognitive skills in the context of the domain in question, as research has shown that will have the greatest impact on learning (Veenman & Beishuizen, 2004).  In short:  integrate metacognitive training into the core subject matter.

But what does that look like?  How can we encourage learners to think more deeply about how they’re thinking?  Below are a few techniques.

Content Reflection – Ask learners to think about the material they are reviewing and answer a few questions to themselves.  This is most useful in pre-reading or home study situations.  For example, you might ask learners:

  • What parts of this material are most difficult for you? 
  • What parts are the easiest to grasp?
  • What is most familiar to you, or most closely related to things you already know? 

Asking learners to categorize the content and reflect on it gets them to more deeply engage with it.  Plus, it focuses attention on areas that might be more difficult for them.

Self-Monitoring – Have learners set goals for themselves and monitor their own progress.  For an exercise or pre-read packet, for example, you might ask the learner to estimate how long it will take him or her to get through it. Then, ask the learner to set a timer for halfway through.  When the timer goes off, have the learner evaluate their progress.  Are they ahead, on track or behind?  Have them think about why.  If they are behind, have them articulate to themselves why they think they are behind (i.e., What’s been giving them the most difficulty?)

Self-Directed Learning Strategies – Ask the learner to focus on an area or areas of content that are the hardest for them to understand (or those things that are causing them to fall behind).  Then, have the learner outline several strategies he or she could use to boost performance.  Those strategies might include a 15-minute call with the instructor, a quieter learning environment, or any number of others.  Encourage them to articulate a few ideas that might be helpful.

Process Reflection – When asking learners to create a deliverable or complete some type of exercise, have them do “talk-alouds” or self-reflections on the approaches or processes they used.  For example, when creating a SWOT analysis, it might be helpful for a learner to stop and articulate out loud the process he or she used to identify threats or strengths.  Then, ask the learner to answer if it was a good process and why or why not.  Finally, you could encourage them to outline ways to make their process(es) better.

Self-Regulated Retention Strategies –  At key points in self-directed learning, it’s sometimes helpful to ask the learner to pause and think about how they are trying to absorb content.  Have them answer a few questions to themselves such as: 

  • What approaches am I using to absorb this content? 
  • Given the limitations of short-term memory, what am I doing to overcome my own brain’s barriers to retention?

By compelling the learner to truly think about how they’re learning, you also encourage them to think of different or better ways to overcome barriers and learn more effectively.

What about your ideas?

These ideas mentioned above offer just a few ways L&D professionals can incorporate metacognitive training into their programs to improve results.  And while we are talking about these ideas in the context of virtual training, it’s important to remember that they can apply to all types of training.

What do you think about the ideas listed above?  Which ones would be easiest for you to apply to your own programs?  Which ones would be most difficult to apply?  Do you have other ideas that aren’t reflected above?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Works Cited

Fernandez-Duque, D., Baird, J. A., & Posner, M. I. (2000). Executive Attention and Metacognitive Regulation. Consciousness and cognition, 288-307.

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, 906-911.

Ford, J., Weissbein, D., Smith, E. M., Gulluy, S. M., & Salas, E. (1998). Relationships of Goal Orientation, Metacognitive Activity, and Practice Strategies with Learning Outcomes and Transfer. Journal of Applied Psychological , 218-233.

Perry, J., Lundie, D., & Golder, G. (2019). Metacognition in schools: What does the literature suggest about the effectiveness of teaching metacognition in schools? Educational Review, 483-500.

Pintrich, P. R. (2002). The Role of Metacognitive Knowledge in Learning, Teaching, and Assesing. Theory into Practice, 219-225.

Roebers, C. (2017). Executive function and metacognition: Towards a unifying framework of cognitive self-regulation. Developmental Review, 31-51.

Veenman, M. V., & Beishuizen, J. (2004). Intellectual and metacognitive skills of novices while studying texts under conditions of text difficulty and time constraint. Learning and Instruction, 621-640.

Insight • April 13, 2020

5 Ways to Maximize Results in a Virtual Classroom Environment

By Karen Foster, Iris Hill, Teresa Atkinson, Debbie Deale, and Marcy Lantzy

As this article is being written, many people are adjusting to a newly imposed work-at-home lifestyle, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has been very disruptive to people’s lives and livelihoods all around the world and those of us who work in learning and development (L&D) are no exception.

As an immediate response, L&D teams have been rapidly converting previously planned live instructor-led training (ILT) into remote learning, often in the form of virtual instructor-led training (vILT). They’ve also been looking down the road, trying to figure out what short- and long-term changes to their training plans might be required.

While live and vILT solutions each have their benefits and drawbacks, it’s clear that — for the time being anyway — vILT formats are going to rule the day. So, it pays to make sure those solutions deliver the best results possible.

To do that, we need to understand the limitations of virtual training and follow some best practices to maximize its benefits.

Read the full article here

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Article • March 4, 2020

The Perfect Storm, or Why We Launched Salience Learning

By George Schmidt

Why did we launch Salience Learning?  It’s a question I sometimes get, so it seemed like a good idea to write a short article about it. 

Back in 1997, Sebastian Junger published a (mostly) non-fiction book entitled The Perfect Storm about a ship that was lost in a massive Nor’easter off the coast of New England a few years before.  In 2000, a movie adaptation was released.  The storm itself was supposed to have grown so powerful because of an extremely rare confluence of three meteorological events. 

The story itself is a tragedy, but it also touched off a cliché that the business world clings to even today:  Calling any rare combination of events that come together to make a big impact a “perfect storm.”  In fact, Lake Superior State University put “the perfect storm” at the top of their 2007 list of words and phrases that should forever be banned due to overuse.  However, I’m going to drag it out one more time because I think it’s appropriate when describing why we launched Salience Learning.

The group of us who were involved in founding Salience Learning have spent many years working in biopharmaceuticals, covering both the “business” side of the industry as well as the learning and development (L&D) side.  We began to notice a confluence of factors that seemed to be creating a (cringe) “perfect storm” in biopharma, one that would have implications for business stakeholders and L&D stakeholders alike.  Furthermore, we didn’t see other L&D companies rising to meet the challenge, so we decided to step in and try to make a difference.

A Confluence of Factors

So, what are those factors that I mentioned?  Below, I describe them separately.  However, it’s important to note that they’re all inter-linked and it’s the combination that makes their effects so powerful. 

First, the job skills that are growing in demand are becoming far more focused on thinking skills and the ability to apply them.  In its Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum lists the fastest growing “in demand” skills through 2022 and beyond.  The list includes things like “Analytical thinking and innovation” (#1), “Active learning and learning strategies” (#2), “Creativity, originality, and initiative” (#3), and “Critical thinking and analysis” (#5).  The biopharma industry is no exception, as it is demanding these skills more and more. 

This leads us to factor number two:  The healthcare system continues to grow in complexity.  Biopharma companies must work with increasingly sophisticated customer groups, such as integrated delivery networks (IDNs) and health systems, a range of payer types, and more.  Add in the rise of new data types (such as real world evidence, or RWE), and it gets even more complicated.  Within biopharma companies, customer-facing roles are bearing the brunt of these changes.  In the “old days,” an account manager could succeed by being a great “relationship builder” and networker.  While those skills are still important, that same role must also be able to think more critically and strategically, and be highly confident in his or her use of RWE, health economics data and more.  Furthermore, these roles must be effective as part of larger, cross-functional matrix teams.  Pharma field representatives, medical affairs personnel, and other roles are also facing similar demands.

The third factor grows directly from the first two:  Science-based L&D that leverages active learning is now more important than ever.  Think back to when you learned to drive.  Driving is a physical and a mental skill, requiring knowledge of traffic laws and signage, as well as great situational awareness.  During the classroom portion, you probably learned a little bit.  But, let’s face it, the only way to truly learn to drive is to get behind the wheel and become an active participant in using and building the required knowledge and skill.  Now, back to the biopharma industry:  We had seen that a precious few were actually attempting to help industry professionals stay abreast of the changes we were seeing.  And, those that were had a knack for applying non-scientific approaches to L&D.  Basically, it was the equivalent of giving someone their license, the keys, and a hearty “Good luck to you!” after a few hours of driver’s education in the classroom.

Using the Science of Learning to Help the Business of Science

Our team saw a growing and significant need to use science-based approaches to L&D to help biopharma professionals succeed in the face of major industry changes and the challenges those changes bring.  In short, we saw a need to apply the “Science of Learning” to help the “Business of Science.”

That’s why you’ll see us talk and write a lot about using scientific approaches to designing learning programs, as well as the growing complexity of the healthcare system, changing data needs, and evolving customer-facing roles.  Our goal is to help people in these and other roles be successful in today’s environment, focusing on critical thinking, the complex healthcare system, working in matrixed teams, and more.

For the biopharma industry, the “Perfect Storm” is here and the conditions won’t improve any time soon.  Customers—and healthcare in general—are going to continue growing more sophisticated.  Demands on customer-facing roles will continue to intensify.  We’re here because we believe that L&D must to be at the “top of its game” to help biopharma professionals not only weather the storm, but also succeed.  Those that master the skills demanded by this new work environment have a real opportunity to stand out and thrive.  We want to help them do just that.

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Article • February 17, 2020

Training on Healthcare System Dynamics

By Krista Gerhard

Mention “selling skills” to field reps, district managers, or sales training professionals, and a few things immediately come to mind: ability to listen, message delivery, objection handling, negotiation expertise, business acumen, etc.  But too often, what’s less front-of-mind is how these skills—and overall growth in today’s environment—hinge on a strong working knowledge of the dynamics of the healthcare system.

It’s clear that these dynamics are complex. What’s less evident is how field sales should navigate that complexity to drive growth. 

Read the full article here

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Article • December 9, 2019

Loss Aversion Bias and the Risks of Not Taking Risks in L&D

By Krista Gerhard

Have you ever invested in something?  Maybe your investment was monetary with the purchase of shares of stock, a piece of real estate, or a few extra rounds at the roulette table.  Maybe you chose to invest your time and energy into a charitable cause or the development of a team member.  Regardless of the type of investment, the goal is to be successful and generate a positive return of some type.  As investors and as humans, gains make us happy. 

However, when an investment doesn’t turn out the way we want, it can really hurt.  In fact, the pain of loss is psychologically stronger than the pleasure of winning.  Our tendency to experience the pain of loss more acutely than the joy of winning is a common cognitive bias known as loss aversion, and it’s one of the biggest drivers of behavior change.

Describing Loss Aversion Bias

In 1979, the work of two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, showed that the psychological impact of a loss is about 2 times that of a gain.  For example, the psychological distress of losing $10 would be twice as strong as the joy you’d feel from finding a $10 bill laying on the ground.  So, in the context of learning and development (L&D), one might hypothesize that to change behavior and overcome the learners’ innate fear of loss, the learning solution needs to promise and deliver twice as much as the old.

Loss aversion bias can make us behave a bit irrationally.  Think back to the example above involving shares of stock.  Loss aversion bias is why some people will hold a declining stock for far too long, choosing to do nothing as it tumbles toward $0.  Simply put, the pain of selling and “locking in” their loss is too great.  So, they just hang on, hoping for a turnaround, despite evidence that no such turnaround will occur.

As L&D professionals, we should be aware of how this bias can manifest itself in our own behaviors and in the behaviors of our business partners.  An example might be continuing to train in the same way despite declining performance or lower “returns” on our training investments.  After all, trying new approaches could be risky.  Maybe we fear that the results of a different approach might be worse.  Perhaps a business sponsor fears losing some control.  It’s human and natural to feel that way, but it shouldn’t paralyze us, keeping us locked into certain methods and approaches just because we’ve invested so much into them over time.

Helpful When Recognized and Managed?

Why does loss aversion bias exist?  Who knows?  It’s entirely possible that it’s a survival mechanism.  When evaluating options prospectively, it probably makes sense to weigh threats more heavily and make decisions that help minimize the risk of loss.  That’s important when you’re making a job-related decision today.  It was a matter of life and death to our ancestors who had to hunt and gather for a living with saber-toothed tigers roaming around.

The point is, we should recognize that loss aversion bias—like many cognitive biases and heuristics—is a tool that our brains can use to help us.  However, it can have some negative side effects.  Understanding what loss aversion bias is and how it may manifest in oneself, one’s stakeholders, or learners is the first step towards finding a solution that will lead to change. 

Dealing with Loss Aversion Bias in L&D

Examples of loss aversion experienced by L&D professionals can include:

  • L&D professionals can become complacent in their approaches and their designs.  They can choose to do the same things over and over again because they’re “safe” and they fear trying something new and possibly losing face.
  • Marketers and other business partners sometimes fear changes to traditional didactic approaches to training because they lose control.  They would prefer to maintain the status quo—regardless of the level of learning engagement or impact—than try something that won’t allow them to control the narrative.
  • Learners sometimes experience training that fails to demonstrate “2X” greater value in learning to use a new resource, as compared to the resources they currently have.  So, utilization of newer marketing materials by field personnel is often low.

Unfortunately, it is not enough just to understand loss aversion bias.  We have to identify ways to overcome it.  That doesn’t mean we should throw caution to the wind and just adopt any new tool, technique, or technology that looks interesting.  However, as L&D professionals, we should:

  • Be open to new tools and approaches
  • Be analytical and develop an honest understanding of our business partners’ needs and objectives, as well the results we’re currently getting
  • Objectively study potential new approaches and make professional assessments about whether and how we should try them
  • Be willing to take “educated risks”
  • Be willing and able to make the case to our business partners, supporting our professional recommendations

We have all experienced some form of loss aversion.  But, if we can recognize it and constructively overcome it, then we take a big step toward achieving the ultimate goal of positive behavior change.

This about this:  A lot of time and money is invested into patient adherence campaigns that are designed to remove barriers to behavior change.  How can pharma invest that same level of rigor into the learning and development of its people?  How can L&D professionals best identify the barriers to adoption to further the development of skills and knowledge, and improve utilization of resources?  Those are big questions but overcoming loss aversion bias is a good first step in getting to the answers.

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