Spacing: Take the tedium out of follow-up reinforcement
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Spacing: Take the tedium out of follow-up reinforcement

Numerous studies have shown that the Spacing Effect works in a variety of training contexts.

In fact, research shows, a schedule of “retrieval events” delivered after the initial lesson helps with virtually all kinds of training, including:

  • remembering facts and rules (such as those involved in compliance training),
  • abstract reasoning skills (which are critical to high-level tasks, such as identifying customer needs or strategic planning),
  • motor skills and physical procedures (for example, learning how to operate equipment or use safety gear).

All well and good, but how can trainers create retrieval events without making them seem endlessly repetitive?

A recent study offers these suggestions:

One way to sneak in a retrieval event without anyone noticing: Start a training session with a quick review of the last session.

It not only reminds people what they’ve already learned, but also creates a sense of chronology and continuity.

Disadvantage: Reviews are passive. Retrieval events are more effective if people must recall information rather than be reminded of it.

You can get around this by asking questions instead of providing a recap. That’s fine for the person who answers, but what about the rest of the class?

Better: Start the session by asking everyone to write down a couple of key points from the last lesson. That gets everyone involved in retrieving what they’ve learned.

During your training, preview what people will be learning next.

You can preview material as you go along: “Later, we’ll explore this topic in more depth.” You can also end each lesson with a preview of the next one: “Next time we’ll show you how to use the ‘agree and amplify’ technique when dealing with a hostile customer.”

Technically, previews aren’t retrieval events, since they take place before the lesson. But they work in much the same way: When people get the next lesson, they’ve already been exposed to the information once.

Another variation on previewing is to conduct a pre-test or assessment. It not only tells you what people need to learn, but signals to learners what’s coming.

Cumulative tests
Ask people to prepare for a cumulative test. That will encourage them to review all previous material – in effect, creating their own retrieval events.

Real-life application of training concepts works the same way. Learners will go back and review to prepare.

Debriefings and mentoring also create more robust retrieval. The same goes for informal and formal coaching. Any opportunity to keep the conversation going and re-engage the learner on the concepts will help the learning stick.

Source: Carpenter S.K. (2012).Using spacing to enhance diverse forms of learning: Review of recent research and implications for instruction. Educ Psychol Rev 24: 369-378.

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