Last week I wrote about the importance of letting recruits and in-service people know up front that this training will be different from what they experienced in the past. It is important at the Academy level that you also teach the recruits strategies to effectively study. I strongly believe this should be done up front, and by up front I mean starting Week 1 of the Academy.
When you read Make it Stick and How We Learn you discover that the study habits most people have used throughout high school and then in college or university (if the went that route), are flawed. Strategies like highlighting material in a book and then going back and rereading it numerous times creates the illusion of fluency but, is not effective for long term retention Strategies like cramming may help them pass the test the next day but, are not conducive to learning, retention and the ability to recall and apply the information in the future.
In an ideal world you would have the funds available to give a copy of Make it Stick to every instructor for them to read, study and discuss and a copy of How We Learn to every incoming recruit before they get to the Academy. In an ideal world the instructors would all put in the time and energy to study the book and continually discuss with fellow instructors how to best apply the information. In that same ideal world every one of those recruits would read the book before they get to the Academy and diligently apply the effective learning strategies throughout basic training and throughout their careers. The reality however, is that we don’t live in an ideal world.
So what can you do for the recruits instead? Here are three ideas:
- Identify key learning and study strategies that have proven to be effective and teach them at the start of the Academy and then remind them of those strategies throughout the Academy.
- Create a series of short videos highlighting one study strategy per video along with an explanation of why it is effective and make those available before they start at the Academy as well as while they are in training. Also make them available for inservice people who will have to study for promotional exams or for post secondary classes they are taking.
- Identify people in every class who are already using these effective strategies and have them mentor others in their class.
- When you build in reflection and active / effortful retrieval exercises remind them why you are doing it and how it is beneficial to their learning. Do the same when you create desirable difficulties and utilize the principles of interleaving and spaced practice into training.
There are some trainers who will say, “It is not my job to teach them how to study. That is their responsibility.” Your job as a trainer is not to weed people out, it is to help the people you are training learn and retain what you are teaching. So, actually it is your job. Part of helping the recruits learn and retain the information is helping them create new study habits that support that goal. It is not enough for them to pass the tests in training, they need to learn the material for the real tests that will come on the street during the next 20 to 30 years of their career.
In order for you as a trainer to develop those training modules on how to study you will need to read one or both of those books, put in the time and effort to identify key study strategies and then put them into a teachable format. That process will be extremely beneficial to you on a number of levels so it benefits you, as well as the recruits.
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