How would it feel to have trainees come away with twice as much learning and much higher levels of engagement?
It’s not a dream. Recent research shows that a simple teaching technique can double the performance of trainees on post-tests.
In a recent experiment, a control group of physics students sat through three lectures by a professor. He was an experienced teacher with high student evaluations.
Another group of students was taught by a researcher without much previous physics-teaching experience.
The three classes covered exactly the same material.
Results: The seasoned professor’s students scored an average of 41% on a post-test; the researcher’s students scored 74%.
Given that random guessing would produce a score of 23%, the researchers concluded that the second group learned twice as much.
So how did the inexperienced teacher outperform the old pro?
By having students retrieve information every few minutes while they learned – for example, by embedding short quizzes into the lesson plan and taking breaks to practice just-learned concepts.
These in-lesson “retrieval events” weren’t there to assess the learners’ knowledge. They were there to make the learners actively engage with the material.
Trainers can apply the researchers’ framework to their training sessions and get similar results.
Here’s an an example of how you might design in-lesson retrieval events to make your training more effective.
Let’s say you’re training supervisors on how to respond when a worker requests a reasonable accommodation for a disability.
1. Link them to objectives
Of course, training should have clear learning objectives. Your retrieval events should be directly related to these objectives.
For example, one of your objectives might be for supervisors to recognize informal requests for accommodation, which are often subtle and easily overlooked.
Right after you cover this material, you might present five different statements and ask supervisors to identify which ones might be an informal accommodation request.
Learners don’t get a grade on this exercise. The idea is simply to apply the concept as soon as they’ve learned it.
2. Break it up
Look at your lesson as a series of small chunks – each with its own learning objective and retrieval event.
For example, we’ve just described one such chunk – how to recognize an informal accommodation request. Your next chunk might be how to respond to requests, followed by a quick role-play exercise.
Lots of little chunks are better than a few big ones. As the research shows, you’ll want to incorporate a retrieval event every five or six minutes.
If you find your chunks are longer than that, you’re probably trying to cover too much. Boil down each chunk so it’s focussed on just one idea or concept.
3. Keep ’em guessing
To keep involvement high, mix things up. In addition to multiple-choice quizzes and role plays, the researchers also used:
- Small groups, where students answered a question or discussed a scenario for two or three minutes and then offered an answer.
- Instructor demonstrations of the correct way to perform the task.
Example: One of your learning objectives is to have supervisors contact the HR department before taking any action on a request for accommodation.
The related retrieval event might be a scenario involving a worker who demands an on-the-spot response.
4. Extend beyond the lesson
After you’ve completed a unit, of course you’ll want to conduct a post-test to assess the learning.
Keep in mind that this test also serves as an additional learning event.
Don’t stop there. Although in-lesson retrieval does result in more effective learning, it’s still subject to the same natural memory decay as other training methods.
So you’ll want to create additional reinforcement intervals afterward – perhaps sending out another post-test via email in a week, and another in a month.
Each time you require trainees to retrieve info, you’ll strengthen the memory and make it more likely they’ll know what to do when the time comes.
Source: Deslauriers, Louis, et al., Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class, 2011: Science magazine, May 2011.
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