The curse of knowledge, trainers’ cognitive bias

The curse of knowledge, trainers’ cognitive bias

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.


Before going any further…​

Before exploring the curse of knowledge concept, ask yourself these 3 simple questions:

  • As a learner have you ever sat open-mouthed thinking, “wow, he’s talking gibberish…
  • As a trainer, have you ever struggled to communicate a concept because the vocabulary you used required prior knowledge of the subject?
  • As a trainer, have you ever felt helpless when faced with your learner’s lack of understanding and your own ability to put yourself in his or her shoes?


You’re not the only one!

This concept, coined by Robin Hogarth in 1986 (Curse of Knowledge) addresses the difficulty of a person having acquired a particular item of knowledge to “backtrack”, that is, to recreate their state of mind. Let’s look at a specific example, the famous “Where’s Wally?” books. As long as you are unaware of Wally’s location, he seems totally absent and impossible to find. Once you know where he is, it becomes hard to imagine how invisible he is for other people and this can even become frustrating at times.

illustration ou est charlie malediction du savoir


Training and education, the two major victims

All grown-ups were once children…but only a few of them remember it,” Antoine de Saint Exupéry. As you will have understood, it is extremely hard to remember the difficulties we faced before fully grasping a topic or a tool. Without being able to put ourselves in the learner’s place, it’s complicated for trainers to provide optimal support, to flag or pinpoint important issues for learners.

Let’s do a test, imagine you no longer have Internet on your computer and you’d like to get it back.
Below is part of a tutorial I found after doing a quick search:

On a scale of 0-5, how well did you understand this part of the tutorial? Personally, I’d give it 4/5!

And here is another part of the same tutorial:

On a scale of 0-5, how well did you understand this part of the tutorial? Personally, I’d give it 2/5!

Now, let’s ask ourselves a few questions about the answer provided:
When considering the question, “I have an internet connection problem, how can I solve it?”, can we guess the learner’s level?

  • If yes, can we consider that the answer is suited to the learner’s implied level?
  • If no, can we consider that the answer is suited to all levels?
  • Did we answer the question? Is the answer satisfactory?


Regarding the grades you gave above, would you have given the same grades if you were 12 or 70 years old? This issue raises so many questions which require an answer.



Training for the benefit of learners

Remember: you cannot overcome the curse. So, you’ll need to work with this cognitive bias in mind. We’d like to give you some good practices to put in place in order to alleviate its impact.

  • Stipulate the necessary prerequisites. When creating content which is not designed for novices, stipulate what knowledge is necessary to do the course under good conditions.
  • Adapt the vocabulary and the course level to target learners. Your learners cannot concentrate on vocabulary and new concepts to learn. So, get used to connecting a known expression to a new concept.
    For example : The platform also known as the Mission Center, the Mission Center (the platform, the back office), etc.
    If the learner population is heterogenous, opt for the combo:
    • vocabulary
    • fundamentals recap
    • link to an annexed course
      For example : for this course, you’ll need to be at ease with the concepts of IP address, VPN, etc. If you do not fully master these subjects, please do the “IT beginners” course.
  • Test your content on a sample of the population. It is important to test a population with the same level of skill as the target. Gather feedback from this target and do not judge their feedback, remember that the curse of knowledge skewers your assessment.


Thanks to these different means, your learners will only open relevant content, while completion and retention levels will be enhanced. Similarly, cross-pollination between different levels of education will spotlight other courses for ever greater fluidity.

In concrete terms, in a Teach on Mars course:

  • You flesh out your course description with objectives and prerequisites
  • You use the Toolbox to insert vocabulary in annex to your course
  • Use a Mobile Course at the start of the course to review the fundamentals or you insert a refresher card in your activities
  • At the end of the course, you provide a link (Weblink activity) to a higher level course or to a connected topic
Learn and process information differently with chunking

Learn and process information differently with chunking

Have you ever heard of chunking? The idea behind this cognitive phenomenon is to help people remember information sets by providing them with meaning. Learn more about its role in the learning process with Anissa, Cosmic Training Coordinator at Teach on Mars.


What is chunking ?

Try this little experiment to find out more. I’m going to give you my password and I’d like you to try to remember it:

mot de passe article apprendre avec chunk

You have 30 seconds to memorize it. Tick, tock…

countdown 30 secondes


How did you go about retaining the information? Chances are that you used the chunking method, also known as sequential cutting. This method, often used subconsciously, enables us to make information easier to disgust by breaking it down into units of meaning.

Going back to the password, we can break the information down into several units:

decoupage mot de passe apprendre avec chunk

When we read this information out loud, it has MEANING, so it is easier to retain.

The same approach can be used with a sequence of digits such as a telephone number or social security number. Chunking is a method whereby we break down information to enable memorization by creating meaning. Georges Miller defined the concept in 1956; he noticed that people had a limited capacity for processing information. This limitation depended on the type of information provided. It is thought that there is a 7-unit limitation (plus or minus 2 items).

The information to retain is easier to memorize if it is familiar, so Miller called a unit of information which stands out because of its meaning — a chunk. The familiar unit of meaning is held in the long-term memory and enables the information to be accessed quicker and easier.

If we take a similar example, the series of letters AYSNCFPPSOSUI features, at least, the following units of meaning:


So, instead of retaining 13 letters, you retain 5 groups of letters, of which at least 2 have meaning [SNCF is the acronym for the French railway company]; personal experience enables learners to create others. (PP for papa, UI for User Interface and so on).

media article apprentissage chunk

This mnemotechnic method enables us to push the boundaries of learning or at least the boundaries of memorization.


Why is chunking important in learning?

Memorization is a genuine sport – with training you can become a champion of learning. Your learners may eventually be able to retain more than 70,000 digits of Pi like Akira Haraguchi and Rajveer Meena.

decimales pi apprentissage chunk

From a practical point of view, understanding this method enables us to understand how learners learn and helps us design content that is easier to grasp.


Supporting learning with sequential cutting

But how can we use this information when designing courses? We can look to the chunking strategy for a few pointers: by making information easier to digest, you help learners memorize. Get straight to the point. Of the 5 units your learner can retain, make sure that he or she chooses the vital information by highlighting the most important content. To do so:

  • put key words in bold or use capitals
  • repeat and reformulate key ideas
  • delete any irrelevant information and avoid being overly wordy


With Teach on Mars:

  • Mobile Courses don’t contain more than 10 cards.
  • 4 key units of information per card max
  • Use transition cards to show you’re switching to a new idea.
  • Anchoring activities only cover key information. By doing the game activity, learners grasp crucial information.

Break your content down into key ideas to create units of meaning. Try to avoid teaching several different points at once. Organize your content so that the plan is easy to memorize: if the training plan is clear, you’re already half way there.

  • Use titles with meaning, rather than titles with style.
  • Help learners to put information in sequence by using numbering and bullet points.
  • Always provide a concise recap of the information to be retained.

Illustrate your ideas. Consciously or subconsciously, learners always try to make information more concrete. To do so, they create images and find concrete examples or stories. For more technical subjects or lists, they try to create mnemotechnic strategies.

  • Tell them your own mnemotechnic methods (FANBOYS) [for, and, nor, but, or, yet,so — the 7 coordinating conjunctions in English], Sohcahtoa and so on
  • Use diagrams, tables or infographics without restraint (or almost)
  • Provide visuals to illustrate ideas. Do you know the memorization technique known as the mind palace*? By illustrating your ideas, you help learners to store the information in their mind palace.

Remember that learners need intelligibility both in style and substance. By understanding the operation and utility of sequential division and the mind palace*, you make your content more efficient.

*memorization technique which involves creating a place in your mind in which to store information using idea combinations…perhaps the subject for an upcoming article?

Creating surprise to boost learning

Creating surprise to boost learning

Have you ever tried the surprise effect in training? It’s a wonderful way of improving knowledge retention. To consolidate learning, it is important to keep learners in suspense and to keep them active. By creating surprise, you encourage them to be active and to embrace the concept(s).



There’s no surprise then if we begin this article with a definition of the concept of surprise: “To be struck with a feeling of unexpectedness” (Source: Larousse). As you can tell from the definition, surprise is more linked to the effects it produces than to the act itself. Surprise is an emotion. To be more specific, surprise is one of the 6 primary and universal emotions, which include happiness, fear, sadness, anger and disgust (Paul Ekman). Like all of these emotions, surprise is fleeting and possesses an infinite number of subtleties. Therefore, within the scope of surprise we find astonishment, amazement, stupefaction, impatience and so on. A whole host of tools which can be used in the learning process.

fille surprise formation mobile learning



Surprise and teaching

Surprise therefore has a role to play in teaching but how and why? The answer is fairly straightforward. Surprise upends what learners believe and helps them to make discoveries; giving strong opportunities for independent learning. Socrates and Aristotle thought that, “surprise combined with astonishment is the beginning of knowledge”. This effect brings about questioning and reappraisal, both things which give fresh momentum to curiosity and therefore learner engagement. It will also enable greater memorization — faced with the surprise effect, learners will have to use all their senses and all their concentration to analyze the surprise component. Doubt therefore triggers a cognitive process which helps memorization.

E.g.: “I’ll never forget my seventh grade French teacher. He invented dictation exercises on the fly with us students as the main characters. I remember how excited and impatient I was to find out who would be in the story and what adventures he’d send them on. He taught me to love the beautiful French language, despite its complications. He also taught me a love of humor and self-mockery”. Fabienne, Support heroine.
→ By including students in the story, the teacher created surprise, remotivated students and enabled maximum memory anchoring.



How to create surprise?

There are 3 types of surprise:

  • gifts: look, you’re receiving something → mainly content oriented
  • expérience: experience this special moment with us → mainly content oriented
  • message: you share some memorable information → mainly signifier oriented

Opt for surprise which incorporates all three components.

E.g.: A colleague says that one of her most memorable moments in training happened quite recently. She did a course lasting a few days on management and feedback. The course enabled her to understand what good feedback is, why it is essential in management and how constructive feedback can help colleagues. On the last day, the trainer handed an envelope to each learner. The envelope contained a hand-written message from their direct manager. Each of the participants’ managers had been asked to write feedback about the learner’s work. There was no lack of surprise and emotion when the participants took some time alone to discover what was written and to recontextualize the aim of the course, when they most definitely were not expecting it.
→ The envelope and the message within represented a gift; the infrequence of this type of moment led to a powerful experience, while the content of the message gave full meaning to the course.

In short, by turning surprise into a cornerstone of your activities, you will be able to capture attention, revive interest and engagement and create memory anchoring opportunities.



Moments in which to surprise

Surprise participants during the discovery or conclusion phase of a training session

Remember, surprise opposes the concept of comfort and security. Yet, it is essential for gaining learners’ trust in order for them to calmly absorb new information. So, these moments must come at certain stages of the learning session, such as the introduction or conclusion.

Opt for the discovery phase to create surprise and a “wow effect”, or to deconstruct an idea — an impressive presentation ritual, a surprising fact about a concept, an unknown fact — anything that can kindle curiosity and challenge learners. In Freinet pedagogy for example, discovery is a specific moment in learning which allows trial and error.

Another option is during the conclusion phase. The concept has at this point been learned and you may wish to:

  • demonstrate the limits of the concept or an exception
  • test it out under real conditions
  • go further

Surprise is a good lever for this and it will enable you to deeply ingrain the concept, specifically by shifting from the learning stage about ‘the norm’ to the stage about managing ‘exceptions’.

A concrete example: NASA trainers show the movie Armageddon to their future recruits so they can see all the incoherencies in the movie. To date, the best applicant found 168 errors in a 2-hour thirty movie. Not bad huh?

A surprising experience to create loyalty and a sense of belonging

Routine can be extremely important for creating common places and shared experiences. The summer, Halloween and Christmas vacations come around each year. Use existing conventions to think outside the box. In the same way as you might choose a background for your training course in a web conference, provide a surprising graphic universe for your mobile courses too, to mark a holiday or an important company event.

formation web conference

Of course, you can go even further by proposing specific activities on your application — advent calendars using microlearning, escape games, treasure hunts, brain-teasers and so on.

E.g.: “Yusuke Imai and Ayami Moteki, nameless paints”. Have you ever heard of nameless paint? Artists Yusuke Imai and Ayami Moteki from the Uma Moteki studio created a paint set without color labels, which is thought to broaden creativity, but it also and more importantly helps us to learn the composition of secondary and tertiary colors. You will no doubt agree that this is a surprising way to learn!

A product launch worthy of a blockbuster

Need to initiate a change which will be difficult for learners? Need to train people on a subject that isn’t particularly ‘sexy’? Need to train learners on a tool, a practice or a new process? If you can’t attract them based on the substance, focus on the form. Just like the BPCE Group and their cybersecurity Escape Game, thanks to the application, you will be able to gamify complex subjects and make concepts which may seem unclear or overly dense, more memorable.

Example 1 :

Example 2: One of our customers told us that during the roll out of the new competency dictionary in his company, they grappled with the challenge of training 200 HR managers in the new skills. He therefore opted for the surprise effect. The one-day seminar transformed into a playground where each workshop enabled participants to learn components of these skills through gamified pedagogy with “Guess who?” or “snakes and ladders” games of objections.
→ This surprising day demystified the project and helped participants learn key concepts while having fun.

The Community — your new sharing environment!

The Community — your new sharing environment!

We always seek to serve you better and seeing as you have frequently asked us for one, we have created for you a sharing environment in which you can interact with other users of our solution.
In the Community you will be able to share your questions, good practices and ideas, thus making collective intelligence the central component of this new tool.


Community you say?

From now on, whenever you are unable to find the answer you are looking for in the Help Center, you can ask the question directly to the Community. Consultants from the Teach on Mars Academy and users of the solution will be able to respond to you directly via the dedicated forum.


Where does it all happen?

Seeing as you already search for answers to your questions in the Help Center, it seemed only fitting for us to offer you a dedicated space in the tool placed at your disposal. The space is divided into 3 subjects:

  • Author
  • Communication
  • Mission Manager

In each of these subjects, you will find questions from other users. You will therefore be able to:

  • make use of existing answers
  • answer the questions and add your own questions by connecting to your account (account creation takes 2 minutes).

That way you’ll reach the peak of Bloom’s Taxonomy 😉


An ecosystem of greater support

You received our Onboarding training, you continue your learning experience with our synchronous sessions such as the FabLab or “I have a question” sessions, you search for the answers to your questions through articles in the Help Center, you find out about our innovations in the blog…now you can share your good practices thanks to the Community. With this comprehensive support, you will never feel alone in your mission!


Enhanced contact form for greater effectiveness

From now on, we invite you to use our contact form, available in the Help Center to create support tickets. As of 1 January 2021, the ticket creation form will become the only way for contacting the support team. From this date on there will be no more emails sent to the support address which you have been using until now. The form has been enhanced and now enables us to get all the information needed to process your request, while avoiding wasting time, for an optimised experience.

The Help Center will become a focal point for your mobile learning project.

How to apply the concept of flipped classroom to your training courses?

How to apply the concept of flipped classroom to your training courses?

Today, traditional pedagogy can be seen as an outdated practice: the trainer is the only source of knowledge while the learners are in a passive and inactive situation. We would like you to discover a brand-new way of teaching, thanks to the “flipped classroom”.


What is the flipped classroom all around?

Flipped classroom is an approach which reverses the order of learning activities in teaching.
While traditional learning tends to offer the following model: learning in the classroom and practicing at home, flipped classroom invites learners to do the opposite.

The aim of this (flipped) approach is to learn concepts ahead of time to be able to practice them in class and make the most of class time to practice, discuss and personalize the exchange. This approach is echoed in the world of training in the era of E-learning, where synchronous training is reinventing itself.

Just starting to design a blended learning training course or a virtual class and want to gain an insight into the flipped classroom? Then this is the right article for you!


What are the advantages of flipped classroom?

Traditionally, trainers presented concepts and explained notions during a synchronous session and allowed learners to put it all into practice back in the work place.

With flipped classroom, concepts are given prior to the synchronous session, allowing time for learners to soak up the content and prepare questions they will ask during the synchronous session.

  • Trainers can vary the type of media as they see fit (podcasts, videos, articles and so on)
  • Learners can keep track of their rhythm and learning methods
  • Learners can prepare questions.


To go further and thanks to the Mission Center (or other LMS), trainers can also offer an initial test prior to the synchronous session to enable them to analyses the results and pinpoint concepts which require review and thus, adapt their synchronous program.

  • Trainers gain an idea of the level of learners’ level prior the synchronous session
  • Trainers prepare relevant content for learners
  • Learners test their knowledge and can then focus on concepts which are yet to be understood.


With Teach on Mars, provide a training course a few weeks ahead of the synchronous session:

  • a Profiling to give you an idea of your learner’s profile
  • a Mobile Course containing concepts, a video or a podcast on the subject
  • a Weblink to an inspiring article
  • a Challenge allowing learners and also the trainer to analyze the level before the session
  • a Survey to gather learners’ questions.


The synchronous session thus becomes a moment of sharing and practicing. Exercises, case studies, work on a concrete project are all ways for trainers to help learners on specific problems.

  • Trainers offer specific exercises calling on the concepts studied by learners
  • Learners take part in co-constructing of the session by asking questions and helping other learners
  • Trainers pinpoint learners’ persistent problems, are able to customize answers and embed key ideas to recall.


With Teach on Mars, during the synchronous session, offer:


After the session, trainers can provide summary sheets, sources to go further on the subject and even a final evaluation.

With Teach on Mars after the session, you can offer :

  • a Flash Game review
  • summary sheets thanks to a Mobile Course or a Toolbox
  • a Training Game to go further in implementation
  • a Quiz Game in a certification module to test knowledge
  • a Survey to collect feedback


Do you want us to assist you with the integration of a blended learning and phygital approach? Please get in touch with your account manager who will tell you about our service offering.

See you soon for some more good practices!