Learning Strategies responds
to the "NASA Study"
PhotoReading was developed by Paul R. Scheele of Learning Strategies Corporation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was first offered in 1985 as an in-company training created for IDS/American Express Information Systems Data Processing Group.
In 1986 Learning Strategies Corporation became licensed as a Private School by the Minnesota Department of Education in order to teach this groundbreaking course. According to State Statutes reading improvement could only be taught by properly trained teachers at an institution licensed by the State. The licensure process included adopting sound business practices and submitting a complex and detailed curriculum document to be reviewed by State experts. The license is renewed every year even though it is no longer required by State Statutes. (This program is now monitored by the Minnesota Department of Higher Education.)
The PhotoReading book was first published in 1993, and the fourth edition was released in 2007. The PhotoReading home study program was introduced in 1995.
The PhotoReading program has evolved significantly through the decades and has been taught in 12 languages and in 40 countries. PhotoReading instructors have been certified in 35 countries.
In 1999, a preliminary exploratory study of PhotoReading was conducted by a researcher from the Department of Psychology at Old Dominion University in Virginia, who was on contract with the Ames Research Center at NASA. The author's conclusions, published in January 2000, are often cited on the Internet without qualification of the admitted limits of the study.
The following, written on November 3, 2008, is the Learning Strategies response to the study:
NASA Study Flawed
A preliminary exploration of PhotoReading was privately commissioned by NASA and a report published. The report, despite the weaknesses, flaws, and limitations of the study, has appeared through the years in various citations on the Internet.
Although the January 2000 report was examined years ago and dismissed as irrelevant by Paul R. Scheele, developer of PhotoReading, new instructors from time to time have inquired about its implications. In response to these inquiries, Scheele again thoroughly examined the report and on September 10, 2008 spoke with its author, Dr. Danielle McNamara, to discuss the study's limited parameters.
NASA commissioned McNamara, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, to conduct a preliminary exploration of PhotoReading to determine if it should be studied in more depth by NASA.
McNamara's report was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, but was written solely for the NASA Center for AeroSpace Information. As such, the protocols followed, while professional, were not sanctioned by the standards of the International Review Board for human subject experiments.
NASA paid McNamara's tuition to attend a PhotoReading course and later test the instructor and herself with reading and comprehension measures. The 2-day course was not the standard weekend intensive program, which is 2.5 days in length. It was not a Learning Strategies Corporation sponsored program, and neither Learning Strategies nor Paul Scheele was ever contacted about or informed of the study, or interviewed for background information and discussion on the study.
The instructor was never identified, so it could not be verified if the instructor was in fact a certified by Learning Strategies Corporation as a licensed PhotoReading instructor. McNamara could not remember the name of the instructor and said she "assumes" that the woman teaching her was certified. McNamara states in the report that her instructor was "an authorized instructor" who had trained 150 students. This person apparently never showed any certification documentation to verify her status as active and certified. For years following the published report, Master Certifying Instructor Lynette Ayres and Paul Scheele asked all certified instructors if they had participated in a NASA study, and no one was ever identified as the subject of the study. In spite of this disturbing fact, throughout McNamara's report the subject of the study was referred to as "the expert."
The study consisted of only two subjects: "the expert" and McNamara ("the trainee"). Had this been a narrative ethnography of McNamara's experience of the PhotoReading course, the study may have fared better as an examination of the principles of the course. However, this study was presented as a true experimental design study. This means that the validity of the study is severely limited by two dominant considerations; namely, researcher bias, and subject numbers.
Unfortunately, this study is profoundly handicapped by both of these factors. In peer-reviewed studies, the limitations of a study are always addressed within the findings of the published report. Neither of these factors, researcher bias nor subject numbers, were mentioned as limitations. When Scheele discussed these points with McNamara, she laughed and said, "Don't people understand that this was just a preliminary examination?"
The fact that the researcher is one of the two subjects in this study is confounding enough to make researcher bias a major consideration for dismissing the validity of the study entirely. However, far more disturbing was the claim in the introduction of the study's report that explicitly states her bias:
"…skilled reading involves active, conscious, and strategic processing of the information in a text…"
"…Learning from a text requires the reader to consciously process the information…"
"Thus, according to theories of reading comprehension, successful comprehension using the PhotoReading technique should not be possible."
The researcher also stated, "The objective of this study was to provide a relatively objective examination of the effectiveness of PhotoReading."
It is customary for a researcher to state a bias and a working hypothesis prior to conducting research. However, when the researcher is also the subject of the study, then the study cannot be an "objective examination" and cannot be taken as a true experimental design.
When McNamara was questioned about the nature of her bias toward conscious processing in reading, she admitted to having no awareness of the work in cognitive psychology regarding the nonconscious acquisition of information nor preconscious processing, both of which are the basis for the PhotoReading step of the PhotoReading Whole Mind System. Even though she had no awareness of the profound work that had been done by Brenda Milner, Pawel Lewicki, G. William Farthing, and N. F. Dixon in this area of cognitive psychology, McNamara stated in the interview that "…most of the notions in PhotoReading are not widely accepted by cognitive researchers." She went on to state during the interview:
"There really is no such thing as implicit learning. Something is either learned consciously or not. There are implicit tasks but that is not implicit learning. You can have unconscious processing of information, I guess. But if it is not conscious, it is not learned. We have to define learning somehow. Learning is something you remember after a delay."
McNamara's insistent biases during her research and 10 years afterward creates a significant problem for any conclusions the study may offer.
On the issue that the number of subjects was also a deficit to any conclusive study, N=2 is a tremendous handicap. This is compounded given that the researcher was herself one of the two subjects.
McNamara stated that a subsequent study would have to include more subjects and be conducted with trainees who were treated with and without PhotoReading with matched materials, and who were tested before and after treatment. She said at least 12 subjects, in general, would need to be used.
During the NASA study, the Previewing technique played a dominant role in the procedure used (taking 7 minutes). Since then, PhotoReading has evolved to include a significantly shortened Previewing step (lasting just 1 minute) to prevent the conscious mind from subordinating the benefits of preconscious processing. In addition, a distinct Postviewing step has been introduced. This refined PhotoReading process must be used for any subsequent research.
For further information about research on the PhotoReading Whole Mind System, please contact Paul Scheele directly through Learning Strategies Corporation.