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Practice, practice, practice...

by Ethan Edwards, cheif instructional strategist

by Ethan Edwards, cheif instructional strategist

I went to a trivia night fundraiser over the weekend.  It was fun in the way those kinds of things are.  The questions were a mixture of items I knew and other things that were really interesting but unknown to me. Now it's only two days later and I can't recall more than a handful of the pieces of information I was exposed to.  I can remember the things I got correct (what I already knew) better than the things I didn't know.  So, all-in-all, a nice party but a petty useless learning opportunity.

It does make me wonder why I actually learned so little.  Even though it wasn't a formal learning environment, I was highly motivated to get answers correct, I was given clear feedback, and I was rewarded for my successful performance along the way. This doesn't differ that much from a lot of e-learning interaction models.  Can we learn anything from this that we could use to improve e-learning?

A couple of the key failures were:

  • Insufficient Repetition.  There are very few things that create long-term memories without extensive rehearsal and retrieval.  One exposure to anything, unless it is infused with significant emotional significance, is unlikely to create a lasting impression.

  • Context-free Presentation.  Encountering information in the abstract without tying it to a context in which it gains relevance is of little value. A lot of learning has to do with the mental structures that we build as we integrate new information.
  • Missing Performance Opportunities. Information is made more significant when it is used to achieve some performance outcome.  This is particularly important in training as the valued outcome is performance in the work environment, not recall.

I'm sure there are several more very important factors, but I think if our designs for e-learning would really deliver in just these three areas we would see vastly improved retention and performance change in our learners.

And now if I could only remember if it was Ransom Olds or Henry Ford who died in 1950, I'd be all set for the next trivia night...