Study the literature on how humans best learn and retain information. The books Make It Stick by Peter Brown, Mark McDaniel and Henry Roediger and How We Learn by Benedict Carey are both good sources to access the information in a readable and understandable format. There are a number of other resources out there to add to the information provided in these books. You may want to follow up and do a deeper dive into some of the research and literature they reference.
Once you have read the books spend time reflecting on the research and identified strategies such as Reflection, Active / Effortful Retrieval, Interleaving, Desirable Difficulties and any others you glean from the research. As you reflect on the key ideas imagine ways to incorporate those strategies into the programs you teach. As you go through this phase remember the question from Dr. Robert Cooper, “Where might the smallest change make the biggest difference?” In an ideal world the academy command staff, curriculum designers and trainers would all be on the same page and syllabi would be built based on the research. Few of us however, live in an ideal world. Most of us live in the Box World I talked about in last week’s post.
Once you come up with strategies to implement the research take action and start building these strategies into your programs. It might be through the use of low stakes or no stakes quizzes or starting the morning off having people reflect on and write down what they learned the previous day. Both of these utilize the principles of reflection and active retrieval to strength the learning and enhance retention. You might choose to apply the principles of interleaving (mixing things up) and spaced practice into the blocks of instruction you have so you ultimately cover the same material, but cover it in a manner very different to the way we have historically taught the material.
Once you have implemented a few of the strategies then step back and assess to determine their effectiveness, if there is a better way to apply those strategies, or a better way to sequence the material or other tools you need to give them. You need to determine ways to assess if learning and retention is actually taking place. Be cautious of using student satisfaction and happiness as an assessment tool. Applying these strategies will result in some frustration for both the learner and for you as the trainer. The way we have historically taught makes everyone feel better, but may not be effective in the actual learning and retention of the material. The assessment phase is likely a continuous process where you are constantly learning, adjusting and fine tuning.
This process continually repeats itself as you go back to reread the literature to gain a better understanding, seek out new research, reach out to learning experts for insights on how to apply the principles of learning, or talk to fellow trainers.
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