The Communication Project Logo

The Communication Project, Inc.
2601 Wyoming Blvd NE #204, Albuquerque, NM 87112
(505) 332-9244 ▪ Fax: (505) 332-9038

TCPI News Vol. 1, No. 3

January 3, 2001

In this issue:

  1. Instructional Design and the "Law of Small Numbers"
  2. Effective Negotiation Skills, Part Two
  3. Online Participation Survey

1.     Instructional Design and the "Law of Small Numbers"

Marvin Gottlieb ( offers his views on adult learning theory as it relates to instructional design and training. He writes:

Consider it a pet peeve, but when I hear discussions (online or in person) that refer to the activities designed to result in knowledge transfer as "learning," something inside my pin ball brain flashes "tilt." The assumption is that if one understands the research on, say, adult learning theory, one will be able to back into the teaching or training activity that will achieve the desired results. The problem is that learning theory (if it’s worth anything) is tested using the law of large numbers, where populations of substantial size are systematically presented with defined tasks that hopefully produce outcomes that are objectively measurable. The results are subjected to statistical analyses which determine if certain outcomes occur in the population at a rate greater than chance. So, in the case of adult learners, one may arrive at the conclusion that adults acquire specific types of information at a higher level of probability if they are placed in an experiential setting. Using this finding, it could be said that if we are training large numbers of people on a particular competency, more of them will succeed in achieving the desired level of competence if they are subjected to experiential activity.

This hardly reflects the reality that most trainers and instructional designers experience on the job. Most of us are dealing with groups that by definition consist of small numbers, and therefore, are totally unpredictable when it comes to how each person (or the group as a whole) prefers to learn. In fact, we may have "learners" in our classroom or on the receiving end of our WBT that would "get it" if you chiseled the message on a rock and placed it in the middle of the room. While others wouldn’t retain the message if you had it surgically implanted. Believing that you are doing a great job when you espouse a particular methodology as superior to others makes you a victim of the law of small numbers.

You are applying the law of small numbers when you view a random sample of subjects as being representative of the larger population in all essential characteristics. In training terms, this means that we often make judgments about what is best for the few based on what we believe is true for the many. This is what psychologists call reasoning on the basis of representativeness, an approach to judgment that leads to serious errors.

Perhaps too much emphasis is placed on the learner and too little on the trainer. Many training and development professionals have come to believe that they automatically become better practitioners if they adhere to one learning theory or another, rather than learning how to be better trainers, to present their messages in varied ways, to create environments within which it’s possible to acquire competencies in the manner best suited to each individual. If we instead continue to focus on learning and the learner, the result could be the ultimate learner-centered approach – one that eliminates the trainer altogether.

For more information the law of small numbers and the gambler’s fallacy see:

A comprehensive discussion of reasoning and probabilities is presented in Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, by Daniel Kahneman (Editor), Paul Slovic (Editor), Amos Tversky (Editor) (London: Cambridge University Press, 1982); and at

Responses? Additional ideas?

Let us hear from you
(By your response you automatically provide permission for TCPI to publish your remarks in part or in total in future newsletters.)

2.     Effective Negotiation Skills, Part Two

This is the second of a four-part series on negotiation skills, based on the Twelve Principles of Negotiation by Marvin Gottlieb and William J. Healy. Each part will handle three principles as follows:

Part One: The Players

Part Two: The Process

Part Three: Success Defined

Part Four: The Power of Disagreement

In our first installment (published in December’s issue of TCPI News) we covered the players involved in negotiation. This month our discussion turns to the negotiation process. We know who the players are, but what are the forces at work? What are the collaborative steps to keep all players satisfied? What are the signals that the negotiation is progressing?

PART TWO: The Process

Principle 4: Single-Issue Bargaining Leaves Both Parties Unsatisfied

All of the components of a deal must be kept open until the very end. This promotes the development of creative alternatives and helps ensure that the deal satisfies the substantive needs of both parties.

Efforts must be made constantly through negotiations to raise the level of decision or the focus of the problem. Do not focus on one issue and miss the bigger or better opportunities available to you beyond the single issue.

Constantly look for and force yourself and the other party to identify and seriously consider more options than are normally considered. This encourages comparison of alternatives. In addition, it may identify other issues which can be favorable to both parties, and perhaps identify or allow concessions on other issues to be made.

Principle 5: Urgency Drives Decisions

Time is a powerful force in negotiation. If you have a deadline, you have urgency to close a deal. If you have more urgency than the other party, you are in a weaker position. If you can build a sense of urgency into a negotiation, you can motivate the other party toward making a decision.

Never signal your own limitations on time. It will put you at a distinct disadvantage. The longer a negotiation continues the more likely an agreement will be reached. However, the outcome of the negotiation still favors the party with more time in which to negotiate.

Principle 6: Agreement Is the End; Tradeoff Is the Means

There are many variables surrounding concessions in negotiation. Some of these include the following points.

Rate: How quickly am I willing to make concessions?

Increments: How large a concession on a given issue is the negotiator willing to make?

Quid pro quo: When placed in a position of being required to make a concession, at what point do we attempt to receive something in return? Don’t be forced into giving too many concessions without asking for a concession in return. Don’t wait until you’ve given just about all you have to give before slowing down the concession and seeking answers from the other negotiator by requiring some concessions on his/her part.

Avoid being ashamed into concessions. And don’t be afraid or reluctant to "nickel and dime" on issues as they come up. First, the other negotiator will have no reluctance to do this to you, and second, it will slow down their request for concessions.

The value of any service or concession offered diminishes rapidly after the point at which it was rendered or conceded to. If you make a concession, the value of that concession is unlikely to be any higher than at the time you made it. Therefore, request a counter-concession (quid pro quo) as soon as possible thereafter.

For more information on Gottlieb and Healy’s book visit our Books page.

For information on TCPI’s customizable Negotiation Skills course, visit our Courses & Programs page.

To request back issues of TCPI News

Send an email to or visit the Publications page on our Web site

Got a question? Looking for answers?

Submit your question to TCPI News. We will publish it in a future newsletter for the readership to answer.

3.     Online Participation Survey

In case you didn’t get a chance in December, we are asking for your response to the following survey. Please fill it in and return it to us via e-mail. It will take you between 2 and 4 minutes.


(1) BEFORE returning the survey, select options by typing in an "X" from your keyboard into the space next to your selected response(s).

(2) Use the return feature of your e-mail application to return the survey to us.

We will report the results of the survey in a future issue of the newsletter. Your responses will remain anonymous. Thanks!


For those in the training and development industry, e-learning is the next hurdle to clear. Learning online goes beyond point and click testing and reading electronic textbooks. We would like to know what interactive online events you have participated in, both in the office and at home.

1. Which of the following best describes your organizational role? (Select all that apply; mark with an X.)

a) ___consultant

b) ___training manager

c) ___product manager

d) ___line manager

e) ___other HR function

f) ___employee

2. How often do you participate in interactive events online? (Select one; mark with an X.)

a) ___Never

b) ___Rarely

c) ___Seldom

d) ___1 to 2 times per month

e) ___Once per week

f) ___more than once per week

g) ___daily

3. What type of online interactive events have your participated in within the last six months? (Select all that apply; mark with an X.)

a) ___I have taken an asynchronous training course.

b) ___I have delivered synchronous training.

c) ___I have participated in synchronous training.

d) ___I have attended meetings over the Web.

e) ___I have delivered software demonstrations.

f) ___I have viewed software demonstrations.

g) ___I have delivered sales demonstrations.

h) ___I have viewed sales demonstrations.

i) ___I have viewed marketing video clips.

j) ___I have taken opinion/marketing surveys via e-mail or Website.

k) ___I have played games.

l) ___I have listened to the radio.

4. How much of your professional development training in 2001 will be delivered online? (Select one; mark with an X.)

a) ___None

b) ___1-25%

c) ___26-50%

d) ___51-75%

e) ___76-100%

5. If your answer to Question 4 above was (a) None, please select the reason below that best describes your training situation. (Select all that apply; mark with an X.)

a) ___We don’t offer training of any type.

b) ___All training is classroom based.

c) ___Training is accomplished informally by managers and supervisors.

d) ___All training is self-directed.

6. Check the statement(s) below that best describe(s) your opinion about training in your organization.

a) ___As an employee, most of the training offered meets my needs.

b) ___As an employee, most of the training offered does NOT meet my needs.

c) ___As a training manager, much of the training I present is determined by others.

d) ___As a training manager, I determine much of the training that I present.

e) ___As a training manager, much of the training I present is based on thorough needs analysis.

f) ___As a line manager, much of the training I offer my employees is custom designed.

g) ___As a line manager, much of the training I offer my employees is off-the-shelf.

h) ___As a line manager, much of the training I offer is handled internally by work groups.

7. Complete the statement below by selecting the statement(s) that best describe(s) your position on e-learning.

I believe that the current emphasis on e-learning:

a) ___provides the best opportunity for knowledge transfer in the future.

b) ___is a fad that will disappear along with other computer-based initiatives.

c) ___will evolve into a hybrid of classroom and e-learning instruction.

d) ___is more costly in the long-run than classroom-based training.

e) ___is more efficient and economical overall than classroom-based training.

f) ___is limited in terms of appropriate content.

g) ___lacks the interactive capabilities of the face-to-face classroom model.

Thank you for your participation! We will publish the results in a future newsletter issue. And again, your answers are confidential.

Comments?  Questions? 

We want your feedback.  Send e-mail to
(By your response you automatically provide permission for TCPI to publish your remarks in part or in total in future newsletters.)

Subscribe for free

TCPI News is a monthly publication from The Communication Project, Inc.  Sign up on our Publications page.

[Learning Room] [Table of Contents] [Contact Us]