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ATD Blog

Principles Don’t Change — Applications and Practices Do

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The more things change, the more they stay the same. As I look back at more than 50 years in the talent development profession, I’ve seen more cycles than evolutions. Decades ago we talked about something called the importance of participation, then it morphed into involvement, and today it is engagement. All three are virtually the same thing, just a repackaging with maybe a few new nuanced distinctions.

What has stayed the same over time is the human brain. In the 1880s, Hermann Ebbinghaus published research called the Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting. It says that if we are exposed to an idea one time in 30 days, we retain less than ten percent. Over 100 years later that is still true. Tony Buzan in his book, Use Both Sides of Your Brain, shares some interesting data: adults can listen with understanding for 90 minutes but can only listen with retention for 20 minutes. My daughter, Becky, pointed out that college speech competitions were only eight minutes in length due to the spacing of television ads.

I did some research on ERIC, a higher education database, and found that by the time American students graduate from high school they have been in school about 14,000 hours, but they have watched 19,000 hours of television. Imagine adult learners in your classroom that have 19,000 hours of programming that says you’ll get a break every eight minutes! This is why I developed my 90/20/8 rule. Adults can listen with understanding for 90 minutes, with retention for 20 minutes, and we need to involve them every eight minutes.

When virtual learning was thrust into the forefront, I modified 90/20/8 to 90/20/8 (4).
When virtual, we need to involve every four minutes at a minimum.


Principles of learning don’t change. How we apply them does. Let me challenge you to apply what I’ve shared and add value and make a difference!

You can read more about other learning principles in ATD’s Handbook for Training and Talent Development.

About the Author

Bob Pike, CPLP Fellow, CSP, CPAE Speakers Hall of Fame, is known globally as the “trainer's trainer.” He has written more than 30 books and created a dozen video systems on designing and delivering training. His Master Trainer's Handbook is the bestselling train-the-trainer book ever published, with more than 333,000 copies in print in four editions. He has designed more than 600 training programs of one day or longer since 1969. He has presented at every ATD International Conference & Exposition since 1977, and is a regular keynoter at global training and performance conferences. He has worked in more than 25 countries during his career and his works have been translated into Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish.

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