Six ways to make examples more effective
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Six ways to make examples more effective

Examples. Every trainer uses them. Whether they take the form of stories, demonstrations or role plays, people benefit from seeing a new skill used in a real-world context.

A recent study by leading training and development researchers has revealed how to make examples even more effective. The researchers analyzed current research and best practices to create a step-by-step method you can implement in your training.

The core finding of the study: Example-based learning should be active, not passive. Build in ways for learners to interact with the content, not just sit and absorb it. While stories and scenarios are engaging, you need to create follow-up activities that prompt learners to grapple with the material. It’s the grappling that increases long-term retention.

Six key elements

Here’s a six-step model for example-based instruction, based on the best practices identified in the research.

  1. Pre-Discussion. Introduce the skill you intend to teach and ask questions that help connect the new skill with learners’ existing experiences – for example: How have you dealt with this situation in the past? Reveal why the new skill is important to their careers. When necessary, provide pertinent background information and correct misunderstandings.
  2. Narrative. Demonstrate the new skill using a story, scenario or demonstration. To help lock in the new concept, you may choose to show an example of the “wrong” approach first, followed by the recommended approach.
  3. Group discussion. Next, have learners discuss the example with each other. Social interaction boosts learning and creates opportunities to share knowledge, express opinions and get advice from peers. Ask questions to spark the discussion, such as: What did you learn from the example? What do you intend to do differently as a result of what you’ve learned?
  4. Rules of thumb. Through discussion, help trainees identify the core takeaway(s). The goal is to find the key insight or “aha” that will stick. The rules of thumb should be simple sentences or phrases that are easy to remember in the moment of need. Caution: Avoid the temptation to serve up the key points for learners. Give them time to generate their own “ahas” and step in when needed to refine them.
  5. Goal setting. Guide your learners through setting goals for themselves. How will they implement the new concept? When? Help them set goals that are specific, realistic and challenging.
  6. Practice. Create follow-up role play scenarios, simulations and other opportunities for learners to practice the new skill. During role plays, have learners switch off to play different roles so they can gain a broader perspective. After practice sessions, give learners feedback, either from you or their peers. Consider videotaping role plays so learners can view their performance and identify any weaknesses themselves.

Grossman, R., et al. (2013). Using instructional features to enhance demonstration-based training in management education. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 12(2), 219-243.

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