Socratic Arts:  

A History of Perseverance and Innovation

The Socratic Arts' difference is best captured in a simple memory relayed by one of our clients regarding his first interaction with our President, Mike McGarry. This client oversees the development of learning programs for a big four professional services firm. He was impressed by our immersive learn-by-doing approach, but was curious about what we charged for a traditional, lecture-based training program.


What would you charge for more basic learning programs - something just really straightforward?


We wouldn't do it. We don't think teaching by telling works; there are lots of vendors out there who can do that for you. We only do what we believe really adds value for your organization.


You mean, you're not clambering to do anything I'll give you to make money?

But how is that realistic in business?

Our ability to stay true to our pedagogical values stems back to a key decision our CEO, Roger Schank, made when he founded the company: No investors.

Why no investors?

We need to go back into our history to explain, as our origins are an especially important part of understanding why we are who we are.

It all started when Roger, who was then trailblazing in the world of artificial intelligence and running the artificial intelligence lab at Yale University, was studying how humans remember and learn so that he could get machines to behave similarly. Through his research, he realized that education practices in schools were (and generally still are) completely antithetical to how people naturally learn.

Roger decided to use his expertise in computing and artificial intelligence to develop solutions for schools that would change the paradigm. And, that was the start of a new academic discipline, which Roger called, "The Learning Sciences." Seeing the promise of his insights, Andersen Consulting helped fund the new Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University.

The Institute for the Learning Sciences (ILS)

ILS brought together world-class faculty and students in computer science, cognitive science, psychology, and education whose research informed the development of effective computer-based training and K-12 learning programs (what is now called, "eLearning") in addition to in-person training programs. ILS also studied these programs as research into what works in education and how machines can best support learning.

Andersen put their own employees through the master's degree program at ILS, and adopted the practices in their training approaches. Soon, other organizations were interested in the developments coming out of ILS (including IBM, Ameritech, the U.S. Army, EPA, National Guard, among others). So Roger started a company to use the emerging technologies and instructional approaches to develop custom training solutions for companies, universities, government, and non-profit organizations.

This company had investors

They wanted to pursue any and all opportunities to increase profits, including requests that fell outside of what the team knew was effective. Roger and his team were not only about making money; they wanted a company that would revolutionize education with solutions that were informed by cognitive science and education research.

So that was it - Roger left his own company, and in 2001 started Socratic Arts, which would remain small, without investors, and would stay focused on the goal - to change the paradigm in education and training to one that employed research-based, effective instructional strategies to foster real learning and behavior change.

So who is Socratic Arts?

Our Socratic Arts team has a diverse background of professional and personal interests and achievements. Some of our team members:

No matter how diverse we are though, we all:

Ongoing Research and Development

In addition to our client projects, we continue to invent new approaches and technologies using our expertise in learning, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence to solve problems in learning and corporate memory to help improve individual and organizational performance.

We're proud that our clients and learners say about us things like:

I love working with you because whenever I do, you make me look good.

I forget you're a vendor. You feel like one of us.

This program is among my top three professional learning experiences of [my] career.

About the Author

Tammy Berman

Tammy Berman, Ph.D.

, is Senior Vice President of Design at Socratic Arts, where she oversees and leads projects related to performance improvement for corporations, government, and non-profit organizations, including learning needs analyses, learning program design, and the design of various solutions that enable practitioners to get the help they need when they need it most. Read more.

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