Mar 20

Attention Training Professionals, You Don’t Have to Guess Anymore.

Training Methods that Work: It’s Science

Training and development professionals no longer need to guess which training methods are the most effective. In many, if not most cases, the empirical evidence has been collected to show the effectiveness of techniques in assessment, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. There is validated proof to show us what to use and why, if we take the time to read and absorb the results.

Ruth Clark is a well-known speaker and writer in the learning and development community and has worked extensively with ASTD. She has presented twice to ASTD Sacramento in the past three years. Clark has written extensively about which training methods and techniques to use for both classroom and online training. A few examples of her findings follow, but you can find much more information about these methods and others in two of her books entitled “Evidence-Based Training Methods” and “E-Learning and the Science of Instruction”.

One widely held belief that many training professions don’t want to abandon is the myth of “Learning Styles”. This is the belief that learners can be categorized into auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. The concept is that some learners are visual and need pictures while others learn best by touch, contact, or by hearing the information. The research, according to Clark, says otherwise. She makes a clear case that in controlled tests, people who identified themselves as auditory or another style tested equally when taught using any of the three modalities. The results were similar when testing or assessment was conducted to determine a learners “style” before training. Whether self-assessed or assessed by an instrument, the actual learning measured (using mixed styles of presentation) was the same regardless of the learning style. Clark instead recommends using brain based evidence to influence delivery media, communication modes, instructional methods and design architectures. Both books, cited previously, are full of pragmatic and implementable information.

Clark points out that training participants’ prior knowledge of subject matter is a much better indicator of differences in how learning is absorbed. She recommends that training professionals focus their efforts here. In short, the research shows that novices need more structured or step-wise instruction, while intermediate or advanced learners can profit from immersive and less structured training. There are also multiple examples of how to use graphics, photos, audio, and text in different ways for each group. Graphics and photos are much more impactful for novice learners, while intermediate and advanced students are able to absorb and make decisions about what to read and what to skip in text rich materials.

How about an example from the field of e-learning? In Ruth Clarke and Richard Meyer’s illuminating book, “E-Learning and the Science of Instruction”, they discuss the use of text, illustrations, and simultaneous narration to enhance learning. They present ample validated evidence that when creating e-learning, one should avoid using all these means simultaneously. The evidence shows that learners are unable to effectively process this much information at the same time. They recommend visual and text or visual and narration, but not the three together. When the three are used simultaneously, the learner experiences cognitive overload and their learning actually decreases. The book is filled with many more examples and validated findings for the e-learning designer or developer. Though there are scores of insights and lessons to be gained in the books, one overarching lesson permeates both texts. We should avoid guessing whenever possible, by going to the literature for validated research to offer guidance.

Other authors in the world of training are sharing similar empirical evidence for training and development professionals. Sharon Bowman, in her book, “Using Brain Science to make Training Stick”, took the work of John Medina (Brain Rules) and other brain science authors to produce practical advice and guidelines for training and development professionals. Bowman uses a card-playing analogy throughout her book to produce clear lessons about six superior training methods that “trump” inferior ones.

Bowman advocates shorter versus longer teaching moments, or the use of what she calls learning “chunks”. Many trainers will develop an intuitive sense of when to stop and process with their groups, but if you are new to training or worry about when to pause, Bowman provides an easy to follow guideline. She advocates the use of the “ten minute rule”. After ten minutes of delivering any information, Bowman says to pause and allow your learners to do something tangible with the information. Learners can write, discuss, or use the information in an exercise, or any number of other interactive applications. The book points out the training participants can only process so much information before being overloaded. The empirical findings from the research tell us that to maximize short and long-term memory, we need to chunk our teaching into smaller more digestible and retainable pieces and then follow each “chunk” with an exercise to reinforce the learning.

Another of Bowman’s lessons is that movement trumps sitting. She advocates getting training participants to stand up, to move around, and to incorporate this activity and movement into your training plan. Basic physiology reinforces this concept in that the brain needs oxygen and movement increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Of course movement also simply enhances learner’s attention by boosting their wakefulness.

Validated research from many fields of study is being synthesized and presented as useful advice to training and development professions. This work is coming from social scientists, cognitive neuroscientists, and the field of positive psychology, among others. I’ll be using upcoming blogs to explore more examples of associated research and how it is being used in the training field.

If you have a favorite example of empirical evidence that you use in your training practice or that your see your contemporaries using, please consider posting it in the comments section.

Lastly, before you make your next training and development decision based on a hunch, stop to see if there is any empirical evidence that would help you make a more informed decision.

Get Results From Training
Bruce Winner

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