• Personal Resonance© is a research forum engaged in transforming findings from proven research studies on learning, training, performance and expertise into practical training solutions and practices to 'accelerate time-to-expertise' of organizations and professionals. Aggressive time-to-market drives organizations to develop complex cognitive skills of their employees at faster pace to beat their competitors. Goal of forum is to find and share the answer to that ‘speed’. The forum is trying to develop a core knowledge-base in four areas by systematically assimilating, analyzing and synthesizing the proven research studies in wide range of disciplines like cognitive sciences, neuroscience, psychology, education, learning and brain science, etc.: 1) Accelerated Workplace Expertise: Proven research-based strategies and methodologies to accelerate expertise of organization as a whole through training and learning. 2) Accelerated Professional Expertise: Science-based resonance techniques to accelerate expertise, peak performance and effectiveness of individuals. 3) Strategic Training Management: Experience-based competitive philosophies and processes to manage large-scale complex learning and knowledge operations to produce proficient workforce. 4) Competitive Instructional Design: Advanced instructional and learning design techniques to deliver higher order complex skills like problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, technical troubleshooting.

5 E-learning Strategies to Accelerate Time-to-Proficiency in Complex Cognitive Skills

E-learning in complex skills

There is no consensus on what e-learning is and what it is not. e-learning definition changes with endless possibilities every new electronic technology bring for driving learning  (Kahiigi et al., 2008). Long back computer based training was deemed as e-learning while in most recent time virtual reality is considered to be new face of e-learning

No doubt that e-learning has emerged as one of the most attractive and cost effective solution with flexibility to support self-paced learning which can be delivered geographically to any place on the earth. 2014 survey by Elearningindustry.com reported that over 47% of the Fortune 500 companies now use some form of education technology and corporations value e-learning as the second most valuable training method which saves business at least 50% cost when they replace traditional classroom training with e-learning (Pappas, 2013). According to ASTD 2014 State of the Industry Report, 38% of the training is delivered using technology based solutions. The report also cited an IBM report stating that companies employing eLearning have potential to boost productivity by 50%. According to their estimates, every 1$ spent on e-learning results in $30 productivity (ASTD, 2014).

However, there is some caveat to these trends. Organizations have not been able to harness the power of e-learning fully beyond one-way informational content. There are some examples of highly interactive e-learning solutions which boast of delivering complex cognitive knowledge and skills in any kind of complex job.

E-learning to Develop Complex Cognitive Skills

Jobs are becoming increasingly complex at workplace. A task as simple as ‘calling a customer’ has now become over-complex with considerations like ability to hold the client’s attention, cultural and situational sensitivity to customer’s surroundings, ability to connect and relate with customer’s needs not just in business sense but in socio-cultural sense too, ability to think through options and be able to research certain information for customer. Karoly & Panis (2004) emphasize the changing nature of workplace requires non-routine cognitive skills.

Complex cognitive skills require different kind of design or approach. It is general belief that face-to-face instructor-led and on-the-job mentored training have proven potential to develop complex skills at workplace as well as in educational or training provider’s settings.

However, e-learning’s ability to deliver highly complex cognitive skills have come to scrutiny many times. It appears that it fails to deliver results when designers get into trap of using principles meant for simpler skills to design e-learning for complex skills. I am sure many of you may have seen that happening. Reality is revealed by Wulf & Shea (2002) in their study who argued that “principles derived from the study of simple skills do not generalize to complex skill learning” (p.185). They further emphasized that complex skills indicate the need to approach learning of complex and simple skills differently. For example, learning simple skills profits from an ‘increase in load’ whereas the learning of complex skills requires ‘reduction in load’.

Many researchers have even questioned whether or not e-learning is a plausible media to deliver complex cognitive skills. E-learning also get questioned about its ‘stickiness’ or effectiveness in transferring skills to workplace, particularly for complex skills. Sims, Burke, Metcalf, & Salas (2008) state that “In fact, a common criticism of elearning is that face-to-face courses are directly transferred to an electronic format with the assumption that the courses will be equally effective and accepted by trainees.” (p. 24)

Point here is that e-learning targeted to develop highly complex cognitive skills need different set of strategies. Lately several researchers have proposed different strategies by which e-learning could be designed or administrated to develop complex skills of the learners. Here are some most common or popular ones:

1. Blended e-Learning

Sims, Burke, Metcalf, & Salas (2008) provided research based guidelines to design blended learning instead of relying purely on e-learning. Blended learning is an approach where electronic learning and face-to-face learning are combined by choosing appropriate strategies and is typically used when skills or knowledge to be delivered is complex in nature. They argue that “….a blended learning approach may be more effective than a training session that relies completely on one mode or strategy.” (p. 26)

2. Technology Enhanced e-Learning

Dror, Schmidt, & O’connor (2011) introduced the strategies on ‘Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)’ to facilitate acquisition of complex cognitive and hands-on skills such as used in medical domain through e-learning.  They argue that: “An effective way of achieving this is through challenging interactions that requires the learners to take an active role in the training and learning experience. Technology can be a great tool in achieving this kind of training. As more sophisticated technology is available, new opportunities will arise.” (p. 293)

3. Active Processing in E-learning

Clark and Mayer (2011) specified eight strategies to develop effective e-learning, the most important one in context of complex learning being ‘active processing’ suggested by 11 studies they analysed. They stated that “People learn by actively processing information, which includes constructing mental models of learned information. Including relevant graphics is a powerful way to aid with active information processing.” (p. 65).

4. Problem Based e-Learning

Hinterberger (2011) demonstrated problem-based learning as a strategy to teach complex computer science skills in ‘digital laboratory’ settings to acquire skills which require application of software in solving physical problems or phenomenon. He stated that: “It is more effective to focus attention on competences which students can develop in an active learning environment. In other words, it is useful to distinguish between treating the computer as medium or as a tool on one hand and as a subject matter on the other.” (p. 1948).

5. Scenario-Based e-learning

Clark and Mayer (2013) introduced that if e-learning is designed around scenarios it enhances cognitively complex learning. Scenarios could be real cases or fabricated cases from real-life. The short or large scenarios employ the power of storytelling and bringing context in play. This simple term ‘scenario’ refers to various variations of problem-based e-learning, case-based e-learning, gamification of scenarios, simulated cases and virtual reality based games.

E-learning to Accelerating Proficiency in Complex Cognitive Skills

Now I am coming to other side of the challenge to complex cognitive skills. With pace of technology, the time-to-market pressures are changing demands on workforce to acquire these complex skills at faster pace. Though some of the above strategies or examples indicate that appropriate design could allow e-learning methods to help learner acquire complex skills, however, only few of the research studies give some evidences or guidelines to design e-learning that could accelerate expertise or time-to-proficiency. Some industry figures substantiate the fact that e-learning holds the potential to accelerate proficiency. According to statistics reported by Pappas (2013) at Elearningindustry.com, e-learning cuts down the instruction time by 60%, increases information retention rates by 60% and compared to classroom learning, e-learning students are reported to have 60% faster learning curve. Though these evidences are mostly commercial in nature based on limited set of surveys, the value of e-learning technologies, platforms, methods cannot be denied in regards to its ability to cut down training length, allow self-paced learning and reinforcement to traditional training methods (Dongsong, 2005; Clark and Mayer, 2011).

Need of businesses at this moment is to develop knowledge and skills of learners to desired on-the-job proficiency at faster paced. There are some general strategies seen in research which appears to hold good potential to accelerate time-to-proficiency of learners using e-learning. I will highlight some major ones here:

a) Computer-based simulation

Computer based simulation has long been advocated as an e-learning media holding great potential to accelerate expertise. Some 2 decades ago Lesgold, Lajoie, Bunzo & Egan (1988) came up with computer based tutoring system SHERLOCK which have seen great success in its ability to accelerate expertise. Gott and Lesgold (2000) showed that in defense settings 25 hours of scenario-based simulation on the computer accelerated the expertise of 2 years technicians in diagnosing electrical faults in aircraft as equivalent to those holding 10 years of experience.

b) Scenario-based e-learning

Clark and Mayer (2013) advocated that scenario-based e-learning holds the potential to accelerate the expertise. They emphasize the use and importance of scenarios that: “By working through a series of job scenarios that could take months or years to complete in the work environment, experience is compressed. In essence, scenario-based e-Learning is job experience in a box – designed to be unpackaged and stored in the learner’s memory. Unlike real-world experience, scenario-based e-Learning scenarios not only compress time but also offer a sequence and structure of events designed to guide learning in a controlled manner.”

c) Expert system e-learning

Arnold et al. (2013) demonstrated that an e-learning system designed around expert system and case-based e-learning accelerated the expertise of new financial analysts providing highly complex decision making to business corporations.

d) Simulated Games

Use of simulated games is one of the highly talked about e-learning strategy holding potential to accelerate proficiency. In a research study Sitzmann (2011) reported 20% higher confidence of learners after using computer-based simulation games, compared to classroom instruction which resulted in higher transfer of knowledge and skills to the workplace.

e) Gaming and Gamification of e-Learning

Dror, Schmidt, & O’connor (2011) highlighted the value of gaming as an e-learning strategy in complex skills training by stating that “Another element in which gaming can be an efficient technological tool is in training how to cope with unexpected events.” (p.294). Gamification has emerged as one of the recent advances in e-learning strongly believed to build and accelerate the experience in complex skills which otherwise are hard to encounter in real-life or are not feasible to simulate or practice in real-life (Higgins, 2015). For example developing or accelerating skills of firemen to fight with fire in a real fire incident or accelerating skills of underground miners to respond to emergency protocols in the event of fire. Such situations may require higher order complex cognitive skills like problem solving, decision making or troubleshooting (Slootmaker, Kurvers, Hummel, & Koper, 2014).

End Note:

I am conducting a Doctorate research to explore which training strategies can accelerate time-to-proficiency of employees in acquiring complex job skills and trying to develop a conceptual model and theory of accelerated organizational proficiency. During preliminary data analysis one section of the research  revealed several e-learning strategies that appear to accelerate time-to-proficiency successfully in leading organizations by leading experts. I will devote subsequent blog posts to share the initial findings. Stay tuned to learn more.


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Image credits: Blue republican.com

About Raman K. Attri

Raman K. Attri is a complex learning strategist, a transformational training consultant and a researcher with over 20 years of experience in engineering, management and technical training. His primary area of focus is to provide strategic directions to organizations in implementing next-generation competitive training strategies. His research interests include complex learning, accelerated expertise and advanced instructional design. He is also the founder of Personal Resonance©, a research forum with a charter to transform proven research studies on accelerated expertise into organizational training practices. His training and learning solutions are strongly founded in system engineering techniques applied to large-scale training programs. Equipped with scientific training methods, he innovated two research-backed complex learning frameworks namely SEAT© (Systems Engineering Approach to Training) and ProBT© (Proficiency Based Training) methodology primarily meant for organizations to accelerate development of complex cognitive skills of their employees systematically at faster rate. He is highly passionate about learning. He holds Professional Doctorate in Corporate Training, MBA in Operations Management and Executive MBA in Customer Relationship Management. Currently he is pursuing another Doctorate degree from Southern Cross University. His personal interests involve writing and painting.
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