Podcast • November 23, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 31: Why are capability models so important?

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Krista Gerhard and Kim Portland discuss the difference between competencies and capabilities, and why capability models matter now more than ever.

Access the episode here.

Article • October 25, 2021

Why Capabilities Matter and How Training Your Teams on Them Drives Results

By Karen Foster and Irene Boland

A man working at a computer

Not long ago, success in the life science industry could be attributed to how well one mastered and executed skills:  skills in selling, account planning, customer engagement and more. Someone who perfected a skill could apply it repeatedly across similar situations without breaking a sweat.

Unfortunately, in today’s world it’s rare that the same situation happens twice, and skills are no longer enough. The products are more complex, the marketplace is more complex, the ways of working are more complex. And everything is constantly changing. As the industry evolves, so must you. Success in the life science industry today will be powered not only by narrower skills like selling and planning, but also by broader proficiencies that are called capabilities.

What Is a Capability?

A capability is a set of behaviors and characteristics applied fluidly and flexibility across conditions, situations and contexts. Critical thinking is a capability. It consists of behaviors like asking questions, thinking slowly and assessing one’s thinking. It entails certain personality characteristics, such as being skeptical and comfortable with ambiguity. One could think critically about scientific data or when dialoging with a colleague or when deciding where to go for dinner.

Capabilities come in handy across situations. They are foundational and allow you to adapt to changing circumstances and a continuous flow of information. They enhance information gathering, decision-making, and problem-solving. They’re a kind of all-purpose superpower. 

What Is a Skill?

On the other hand, a skill is a set of actions executed sequentially to achieve a defined outcome in a narrow set of conditions. Cutting vegetables with a knife is a skill. To execute this skill, you would: hold the knife safely, stabilize the item on a surface, and slice the item with the knife. You would carry out these steps in order, to make a whole into parts, and could apply this to tomatoes, carrots, basil or any vegetable of your choice.

Skills come in handy when the conditions don’t change much.

But if too many changes occur, the skill loses its value. Imagine for a second that “vegetable” is replaced with “tree,” and “knife” is replaced with “chainsaw.” Are the sets of actions for cutting a tree with a chainsaw the same as cutting vegetables with knife?

Most of would say no, unless you don’t mind losing some fingers.

Why Do Capabilities Matter Now?

This is exactly why capabilities matter in a constantly changing, complex world with endless amounts of information. Skills typically apply to a narrow set of conditions, but once the conditions change enough: poof, the skill no longer “transfers,” to use the learning science term. Could someone who cuts vegetables with a knife also cut fruit or meat? Sure. What about paper or rope? Hmmm, maybe. But expand to a tree trunk and a chainsaw and you have crossed a line. A new skill is needed. More training to be conducted. More time out of the field.

A capability, on the other hand—such as using a cutting implement safely—can come in handy whether it’s a tomato, rope or a tree. Capabilities flex further. They go farther.

How do Capabilities Impact the Business?

Professionals in the life science industry need to evolve, and capabilities provide that power.

New therapeutic areas and business models—not to mention the pandemic—have created tumult in the industry. New innovations, new types of work and new ways of engaging with customers require new ways of thinking.

Learning capabilities may not seem as urgent as learning skills, but it’s a forward-looking exercise that in the long run pays off. Capabilities future-proofs a business. Oh, and they supercharge skills, too.

Where Do I Start?

The World Economic Forum recently found that “critical thinking and analysis” was one of the most in-demand emerging capabilities across countries and industries. Critical thinking—the ability to test the validity of conclusions—is a broad capability.

It consists of five key behaviors: thinking slowly, asking questions, gathering evidence, checking assumptions, and assessing the thinking process itself. You can see how critical thinking would come in handy no matter the specific task or ability. It can even help you identify what task to undertake and what specific skill to deploy.

The business world will continue to change—likely at an ever-increasing rate. So, focus on improving both the narrow skills that solve the problem in front of you and also the capabilities that will carry over to the next one.

Learn about Salience Learning’s Critical Thinking Academy

Podcast • September 13, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 30 featuring Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. (part 3 of 3)

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This is the final part of our three-part conversation with prolific author, researcher, and professor Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. Karen, Krista, and Barbara discuss how the patterns and pathways picked up during past learning experiences influence how our brains react to future learning challenges when building new skills.

Access the episode here.

Podcast • August 31, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 29 featuring Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. (part 2 of 3)

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This is part two of our three-part conversation with prolific author, researcher, and professor Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. Karen, Krista, and Barbara discuss how the patterns and pathways picked up during past learning experiences influence how our brains react to future learning challenges when building new skills.

Listen to the episode

Podcast • August 16, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 28 featuring Barbara Oakley, Ph.D.

An abstract cover for the podcast episode.

How to learn (and teach) like a pro…

Prolific author, researcher and professor Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., joins Karen and Krista to discuss how the patterns and pathways picked up during past learning experiences influence how our brains react to future learning challenges when building new skills. This is part one of a three-part series.

Access the episode here.

Article • July 2, 2021

Learning & Development Recommendations for Small Biopharma Companies

By Anjani Patel and Jodi Tainton

A woman writing on paper next to a computer.

Do you work for a small affiliate of a large biopharmaceutical organization or perhaps a small startup that’s eager to hit the ground running? Are you looking to provide development opportunities that allow your team members to grow professionally and gain new experiences?

If you answered yes to both of these questions then, welcome.

In today’s dynamic environment, it’s no secret that more organizations, big and small, are investing in Learning and Development (L&D). From employee satisfaction and retention to protecting your bottom line and withstanding the tumultuous nature of business, investing in effective L&D programs is shown to prepare organizations to succeed in the future. Consider these figures:

  • Nine out of 10 millennials rate professional or career growth and development opportunities as a major consideration in job satisfaction.[1]
  • Organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees.[2]
  • Technological advancements are shortening the shelf life of employee skills; a typical business competency now lasts about five years.[3]

To compete, organizations need to quickly adapt to new business realities by empowering their people to build new skills before they need them. Investing in L&D is no longer a nice-to-have but an economic imperative.

However, small businesses may not have the resources or budget of larger competitors for L&D activities. Yet, to grow and expand their business in a world of continuous change and disruption, L&D programs are needed to upskill, reskill and build capacity for employees to navigate the ever-changing marketplace.

But how do you create an effective L&D program for your small business? Where do you start? Here are a few practical steps to help you get started establishing an L&D program:

  1. Clarify the business’s goals: Effective learning programs align to the business’s goals. Collaborate with cross-functional business leaders to understand their goals and define the behaviors individuals and teams should start, stop, and continue to achieve those goals. Establishing a strategic partnership with the business at the onset of your program will secure L&D’s role at the table and be seen as a value-add.
  2. Conduct a needs analysis: Once you have identified the business’s need and key behaviors, assess the current state and identify opportunities for L&D. This can be accomplished through stakeholder interviews, simple observation, or employee surveys.
  3. Develop a set of capabilities: As the marketplace evolves and the rate of demand for new skills is faster than ever, the workforce is pressured to reskill and adapt. The needs for transferrable knowledge and skills, adaptability, and enduring capabilities are critical.Capabilities are defined as a collection of knowledge and skills that an individual applies across various situations. Using the L&D opportunities identified from the needs analysis, identify transferable knowledge and skills that can be organized into overarching capabilities. These capabilities will enable your workforce to endure evolving conditions through application of transferable knowledge and skills to new domains and contexts.
  4. Draft a plan: Since resources are often limited, the key for small businesses is to use them as effectively as possible. First, develop a plan that articulates focus areas and goals. Then, identify what resources you currently have and identify the gaps. A thoughtful plan can also help gain buy-in from stakeholders and can be used to communicate what resources are needed and when.
  5. Exercise change management: Inciting behavior change is difficult, but a structured approach to change can make it easier and have a far-reaching impact on the organization. That said, implementing and communicating change is more than a simple email. Gain leadership endorsement and identify opportunities for buy-in from the workforce; change agents are your greatest champions. Set success criteria, keep articulating your plans and provide continuous support through reference materials, coaching, and training opportunities. The development of new learnings is only as powerful as change adoption.

We recognize that these efforts require an investment that an individual or small team may not be able to implement alone. In these situations, quick wins or low-investment, high-impact initiatives can still be attained with some help.

In these cases, we suggest taking the following approach to help you deliver impactful learning:

  1. Refresh, reuse, repurpose: Often, help is closer than we think. Invest time to investigate what resources are currently available in your organization. Once materials are identified, assess the gaps and focus on curating new content as needed. This process enables you to utilize existing training and resources to deploy more relevant learning faster.
  2. Join an industry group: Great ideas are only a click away. Joining online industry groups allow you to stay informed on the latest insights, find and reuse publicly available resources and develop your skills by learning from communities of practice and other leading professionals.
  3. Invest in yourself as an L&D professional: In smaller organizations, L&D teams often play multiple roles––content developer, project manager and facilitator––while also balancing high workloads and competing business priorities. Professionals that invest in their development can become more effective in their roles and gain the confidence they need to maximize their value proposition. Programs like Salience Learning’s Trainer Academy aim to help L&D professions build skills to efficiently design, develop and deliver impactful training that empowers teams to learn new skills in fresh and engaging ways.

Regardless of what stage your organization is in, establishing an effective L&D program will foster growth not only in your workforce but your business as a whole. We encourage you to assess what stage your L&D program may be in and dig deeper to explore the learning gaps or needs of your organization. These initial steps will get you started on your approach to an L&D program that gives you, your employees and your organization the desired results.


[1] Rigoni, B., & Nelson, B. (2020, October 20). For millennials, is job-hopping inevitable? Gallup.

[2] Ratanjee, V. (2021, March 1). 4 ways to continue employee development when budgets are cut. Gallup.

[3] World Economic Forum. (n.d.). Skills stability. The Future of Jobs Report.

Podcast • June 30, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 27: What’s Trending in Medical Affairs, featuring Kim Portland, Ph.D. (Part 2)

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Krista continues her conversation with Salience Learning’s own Kim Portland, Ph. D., about the changes and challenges Medical Affairs teams are facing in 2021, and how L&D experts can better support key roles. This is the final part of a two-part series.

Access the episode here.

Podcast • June 17, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 26: What’s Trending in Medical Affairs, featuring Kim Portland, Ph.D. (Part 1)

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Krista sits down with Salience Learning’s own Kim Portland, Ph. D., to discuss the changes and challenges Medical Affairs teams are facing in 2021, and how L&D experts can better support key roles. This is part 1 of a 2-part series.

Access the episode here.

Podcast • June 1, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 25: A Conversation with Clark Quinn, Ph.D. (Part 3)

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This is the final episode of a three-part series with author Clark Quinn, Ph.D., a recognized leader in learning technology strategy. Karen, Krista, and Clark discuss how L&D experts can advocate for learners and better mediate experiences to drive a greater culture of learning within innovative organizations.

Access the episode here.

Podcast • May 24, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 24: A Conversation with Clark Quinn, Ph.D. (Part 2)

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This episode is the second part of a three-part series with Clark Quinn, Ph.D., an author and recognized leader in learning technology strategy. Karen, Krista, and Clark discuss using humor to engage learners, and how simple conversations can greatly benefit self-directed learning in the workplace.

Access the episode here.

Podcast • May 3, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 23: A Conversation with Clark Quinn, Ph.D. (Part 1)

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Karen and Krista speak with Clark Quinn, Ph.D., an author and recognized leader in learning technology strategy, about the latest in cognitive science, and how to hook learners and make knowledge stick. This is the first part of a three-part series.

Listen to the episode here.

Podcast • April 19, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 22: A Conversation with Bob Sottilare (part 3)

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In this episode, Amy Parent and Irene Boland of Salience Learning continue their conversation with Bob Sottilare, Director of Learning Sciences at SoarTech, about practical ways to apply adaptive learning in almost every learning scenario. This is the last part of our three-part series.

Listen to the episode here.

Podcast • April 5, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 21: A Conversation with Bob Sottilare (part 2)

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In this episode, Amy Parent and Irene Boland of Salience Learning continue their conversation with Bob Sottilare, Director of Learning Sciences at SoarTech, about all things adaptive learning. This is part two of a three-part series.

Listen to the episode here: https://share.transistor.fm/s/fb0a3ea9

Podcast • March 22, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 20: A Conversation with Bob Sottilare (part 1)

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In this episode, Amy Parent and Irene Boland of Salience Learning take over to interview Bob Sottilare, Director of Learning Sciences at SoarTech. The company is a leader in developing intelligent systems that emulate human decision-making for military, government, and commercial applications.

Amy, Irene, and Bob discuss all things adaptive learning and how to create programs structured enough to keep learners motivated, and flexible enough to remain practical. This is part one of a three-part series.

Access the episode here: https://share.transistor.fm/e/7c67bb4e

Article • March 9, 2021

Invest an Hour to Boost Your Critical Thinking Skills

A woman pointing to her head.

By Karen Foster and Krista Gerhard

These days, you probably hear a lot about critical thinking and how the world needs more of it. It’s true.  Critical thinking skills are in great demand, but they are, on average, not really where they need to be. So, on March 17, we’ll be conducting a virtual session with the Philadelphia chapter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA): Using critical thinking to improve strategies and drive performance. We hope you’ll invest an hour and join us for the session. Our goals are to help you boost your own critical thinking skills and to provide some guidance on how to boost the skills of others.

Why are Critical Thinking Skills Important?

Critical thinking skills are growing increasingly important across a wide range of industries. However, the demand for them is especially great in biopharmaceuticals and healthcare. This is because of our industry’s high level of complexity, rapid advancement and the sheer amount of data that gets generated.

Overall, there are three primary reasons that strong critical thinking skills are needed now more than ever:

  1. Cognitive overload
  2. High-volume, high-speed decision-making
  3. Human cognitive biases

Cognitive overload is a very real issue for both field- and office-based personnel in life science companies. The working environment involves sophisticated customer groups, substantial and ever-changing regulations, rapid market development, complex science and complicated business models. There is a lot of information to process on any given day. It can be a challenge to keep up with all of it and separate the useful stuff from the noise. Critical thinking is like a lifeboat that keeps us from drowning in a sea of information.

In our industry, we don’t just process information for the sake of processing information. We’re expected to do something with it. Life science professionals have to make a lot of decisions, often under serious time constraints. We need strong critical thinking skills to derive insights from information and make good decisions. 

Human cognitive biases also come into play. These biases, such as confirmation bias, overconfidence bias and “the curse of knowledge” can help us in some ways, acting as shortcuts to help us more quickly process information and make decisions. However, they can also hurt us, and we need to be aware of them. In times of cognitive overload, we tend to more easily fall prey to them, which can negatively affect decision-making. Critical thinking is the antidote to cognitive biases.

When it comes to developing critical thinking skills, it’s important to do so within the domain. In our industry, with all of its complexities, it’s much better to build critical thinking skills by leveraging real-world information from the domain, rather than simply learning critical thinking theory in a general sense.

What the Session Will Cover

As we mentioned above, the goals of our upcoming session are to help you boost your own critical thinking skills—within the healthcare domain—and to help you become a more effective “critical thinking coach” for others.  The session will cover these key things:

  1. What is Critical Thinking? —We’ll define “critical thinking” so everyone will have a common understanding of what that term really means.
  2. Why Critical Thinking Is Important—We’ll expand on what we’ve written here.
  3. Critical Thinking Behaviors—There are clear behaviors and processes that people use when they engage in critical thinking. We’ll outline what those are and even dive into the “language” of critical thinking.
  4. Strengthening Critical Thinking—Finally, we will share some exercises, tips and techniques that you can use to develop and strengthen critical thinking skills.

Be sure to join us online on Wednesday, March 17 at 12:00 noon EST. You can register here.

We hope to (virtually) see you then! 

Podcast • March 9, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 19: Critical Thinking & Strategic Thinking

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In this episode, Karen and Krista define critical thinking and discuss why critical thinking skills are becoming more important in the healthcare and biopharmaceutical industries. They also discuss how critical thinking and strategic thinking are different, using real-world examples.

Podcast • February 22, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 18: Part 3 of 3 with Julie Dirksen

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In the final part of our interview with Julie Dirksen, Karen, Krista, and Julie discuss what L&D professionals should take away from new research on learning within virtual environments, and how to best communicate with stakeholders to create effective programs.

Podcast • February 8, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 17: Part 2 of 3 with Julie Dirksen

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In part 2 of our three-part series with Julie Dirksen, Karen, Krista, and Julie discuss how to provide learners with constructive feedback during complex scenarios that often lack immediate results in the form of rewards and consequences. How do we keep learners motivated when success seems far off in the future?

Learn more about Julie Dirksen: https://usablelearning.com

Article • February 4, 2021

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

By Amy Parent and Karen Foster

A hand clicking on a "buzzword."

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.

Podcast • January 25, 2021

Your Brain On…Podcast Ep. 16: Driving Behavior Change Through Better Design

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In part 1 of our 3-part series, Karen and Krista are joined by author and instructional designer Julie Dirksen to discuss how to best encourage behavior change through better design, and what really motivates learners.

Learn more about Julie Dirksen: https://usablelearning.com