Book by Roger C. Schank
Review by Julianne Scibetta,
Academic Support Coordinator
Office of Student and Academic Affairs
Albany College of Pharmacy

The most enticing – and for myself, misleading – part of this book was Schank’s use of the term “e-Learning”  in the title. I opened this book expecting to learn something new about the use of technology in teaching and training. I wondered, “What else could be said about learning and training without the addition of technology?”  I expected to find examples of online training curricula and syllabi.  Instead I was surprised to find there was a lot yet to discover about training adults and about learning. Schank contents that I am not the only one who needed Lessons.

The target audience for Schank’s latest tome includes those responsible for training using any vehicle from classroom interactions to, as the title suggests, virtual classrooms. While Schank’s focus is training in the corporate world, learning and motivation principles are generic to any group of adult learners.  More specifically, Schank’s focus on internal motivation and learning is particularly congruent with the aims of academic advising and our sister department, Student Affairs.  The key, Schank says, is active learning and ownership, for “Experiences make us wiser, not people and certainly not classes” (p. 45); Schank builds the bulk of the book around this main idea.

To this end, Schank details what makes training work or makes it a failure, stressing in particular the effective creation and use of personalized simulations and examples. Moreover, and true to his word, Schank goes further to explain why particular methods are better than others for both the trainer and the student/employee, reinforcing the pedagogical shift of Lessons from passive to active training. We might all agree that advising, like many interpersonal professions, is best learned on the job; training advisors as Schank suggests fast-forwards the process, providing a collection of grounded experiences upon which advisors can practice and reflect.  

Lessons in Training is best suited for advising administrators or those responsible for creating and implementing advisor training. Unlike other workplace motivational books, Lessons is decidedly training-focused.  Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the book is the fact that it forces the reader to let go of the familiar “telling” strategy of training. When designing or moderating training it is easy to keep the status quo – to make training look like a classroom – for a variety of reasons that may include comfort, lack of time, energy, and resources. Schank spends most of his energy convincing the trainer to expend the time and energy necessary to make training new; he promises better results in motivation, learning, and internalization.  Those who want to learn about educational software platforms, beware – this is not the book for you. Although Schank effectively argues that e-learning isn’t, for many reasons, the ideal platform for training, he does provide advice for making it engaging despite its passive format.  As these methods might already suggest, Schank’s book is not a flip-through workbook although the end-of-chapter notes provide a quick summary. Instead, Lessons is meant to be a sit-down read.  Fortunately, Schank’s conversational tone reads quickly and resonates easily, making his principles that much more tangible.

Lessons in Learning, e-Learning, and Training, (2005). Book by Roger C. Schank. Review by Julianne Scibetta. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 320 pp.  Price $40.00.  ISBN: # 0-7879-7666-0
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