Monday, July 25, 2011

Tip #384: What is Magic About the Number Three in Brain Research- and What It Means for Training Design and Delivery

"There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge . . . observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination." Denis Diderot

Evidence-based research findings regarding how the brain works have serious implications for training design and delivery. Paying attention to these findings, which just happen to occur in sets of three, will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning that occurs.

a. Three Types of Memory

Research shows that there are actually three types of memory:

1. Working memory is where thinking gets done. It is dual coded with a buffer for storage of verbal/text elements and a second buffer for visual/spatial elements. Working memory is short-term and limited in terms of the amount of information that can be simultaneously stored.

2. Sensory memory occurs when we experience any aspect of the world through our senses. A sensory experience is involuntarily stored as episodic knowledge in long-term memory. We need to pay attention to sensory memory episodes for them to get introduced into working memory.

3. Long-term memory in humans is estimated to store the equivalent of 50,000 times the text in the U.S. Library of Congress. Learning is accomplished when information is stored in long-term memory and learners use that information to solve problems.

There are also three types of long-term memory:

(1) Episodic memory stores images of past events. It recalls both events and information related to those events.

(2) Semantic memory stores mental models of meaningful facts and generalized information. It contains verbal information, concepts, rules, principles, and problem-solving skills.

(3) Procedural memory stores the series of steps necessary to perform different tasks. Remembering one step stimulates the response of remembering the next step.

b. Cognitive Load

Working memory has a limited capacity for the amount of information it can hold or process at one time.Cognitive load refers to the amount of work imposed on working memory.

There are three different types of cognitive load, and only two of them are helpful to the learning process:

1. Intrinsic load is the mental work imposed by the complexity of the content to be learned and is primarily determined by the training goals.

2. Extraneous load imposes mental work that is irrelevant to the training goal, such as unnecessary information, learning activities, and visuals.

3. Germane load is relevant mental work imposed by learning activities that help to achieve the training goal.

The three types of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous and germane, are additive. The more there is of one, the less room there is for the others.

c. Expand Working Memory Capacity

There are three ways to expand the virtual capacity of working memory:

1. Increase expertise so the schemas, or mental models, in long-term memory grow and enable working memory to process larger content segments.

2. Automate knowledge or skills so they are coded into long-term memory and can be exercised with minimal or no resources from working memory.

3. Divide content between the auditory and visual components of working memory so that neither processor is overtaxed.

d. Information Processing

Cognitive scientists have discovered three important features of the human information processing system that are particularly relevant for PowerPoint users:

1. Dual-channels: People have separate information processing channels for visual material and verbal material. As a result, PowerPoint design should use both words and pictures to present material.

2. Limited capacity: People can pay attention to only a few pieces of information in each channel at a time. As a result, PowerPoint should be designed without extraneous gimmicks that can increase the possibility of cognitive overload.

3. Active processing: People understand new information when they know what to focus on and are able to organize the information and integrate it with their prior knowledge. As a result, PowerPoint design should use simple graphics to highlight key points, include some type of outline, and provide real life examples that are familiar to the learners.

Designers of training curriculum will increase the probability of successful learning if they follow the precepts of this evidence-based information from brain research.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Tip #383: What is Magic About the Number Three in Curriculum Design?

"No one can remember more than three points." Philip Crosby

It may seem surprising, but the number three plays a significant role in curriculum design in both theory and practice. Following the principles outlined in the eight triads below will significantly improve the likelihood that the training you design will effectively achieve the desired learning results.

a. Needs Assessment

Curriculum design begins with finding the answers to three key questions that will help determine whether training is the right solution to the identified problem:

1. Who is the target audience?

2. Why is there a need for this specific training?

3. What should the learners know or do differently when they leave the training?

Answers to these key curriculum design questions will ensure that the right:

1. People will be in the right training program;

2. Solution to the problem will be identified (which will avoid unnecessary training); and

3. Knowledge and skills will be developed.

b. Trainer Decisions

Trainers make three decisions before, during and after interaction with the
learner that will increase the probability that learning will occur. The UCLA Mastery Teaching Model states that, regardless of who or what is being taught, all training decisions fall into three categories:

1. Content [what content to teach next];

2. Learner Activities [what the learner will do to learn and to demonstrate that learning has occurred]; and

3. Trainer Activities [what the trainer will do to facilitate learning, through group facilitation and stand up presentation techniques].

Curriculum design addresses the first two categories. Classroom management addresses the last category.

c. Desired Level of Learning

It is essential to clearly identify the desired level of learning and mastery the participants should attain. Although Bloom's Taxonomy of Behavioral Objectives includes six progressive building blocks of knowledge, achieving the first three levels will convert a training session from trainer-focused to learner-focused:

1. Level 1 is knowledge, where the instructor imparts information to the learners.

2. Level 2 is comprehension, where the learners both know and demonstrate their understanding of what has been taught.

3. Level 3 is application, where the learners know, understand and practice using what they have learned.

If the training goal is to build or strengthen specific skills, application must be the minimum desired learning level.

d. Learning Objectives

Learning objectives explain in specific, observable and measurable terms what the learner will do to (a) learn specific skills and (b) demonstrate that they have learned them. When we streamline the task analysis process, we make it easier to create learning objectives. This process has three phases:

1. Identify the key content.

2. Determine the appropriate level of learning for each learner action in the key content template.

3. Add a learning-level appropriate verb to each learner action identified in the key content template.

e. Learning Activity Selection

The decision regarding which learning activities to incorporate into a training program must satisfy the need to:

1. Select an activity that can effectively achieve the desired learning level;

2. Fit the learning into the specific time available, given the fact that different activities require different amounts of time; and

3. Use a variety of participatory activities to meet the needs of different learning styles as well as to keep the learners engaged.

f. Learning Styles

The most basic learning style model is based on the senses:

1. Visual learners who rely on sight, so they learn best through the use of audiovisuals;

2. Auditory learners who rely on hearing, so they learn best by listening; and

3. Kinesthetic learners who require movement, so they learn best through hands on activities.

This simple learning style model explains why a training program that relies on only one training method or learning activity will be much less effective than if it incorporates a variety of learning activities.

g. Learner Practice

There are three closely related approaches that a trainer can take to ensure that the learners have the preparation and practice they need to build their confidence in their own competence:

1. Plan for the learners to demonstrate their learning in the classroom. When designing the curriculum, the learning objectives should identify what the learners will do both to learn and to validate their learning during the learning session.

2. Ensure that the learners are able to get immediate feedback regarding their mastery of the new learning. Participatory learning activities enable learners to practice and, at the same time, assess their ability to use new learning.

3. Provide practice opportunities for learners that require them to assume increasing responsibility for their learning. Brain studies have found that learners require three examples or iterations to learn new skills or concepts.

The three practice opportunities can include:

1. Directed practice, in which the trainer walks the entire group of learners through a new process or procedure;

2. Guided, monitored practice, during which the learners work in small groups so they can support each other; and

3. Independent practice, during which the learners either work singly or in pairs or triads. By the time of this third practice session, the learners should be sufficiently prepared to perform without the assistance of the trainer.

h. Hands On Learning Activities

Hands on learning activities accomplish three results:

1. Learners can practice and demonstrate their ability to apply what they have learned.

2. The trainer will have observable proof of the actual learning that has taken place.

3. Learners will gain confidence in their ability to apply what they have learned. As a result, they will be much more likely to use their new learning back on the job.

Curriculum design that follows the principles stated in these sets of three will result in a training program that will effectively achieve desired learning.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Tip #382: How to Convert Naysayers into Facilitators

“I've always believed that you can think positive just as well as you can think negative. Sugar Ray Robinson

The bane of a trainer’s experience in a classroom is the participant who comes in with a negative attitude and stays that way. It would be fine if the person simply stewed in peace. Unfortunately, misery actually does appear to love company, so the disgruntled individual is much more likely to make negative statements to all and sundry in the vicinity rather than sit quietly.

There are techniques to handle behavior like this, such as using humor, agreeing to disagree, asking other participants how they feel, and, if all else fails, inviting the individual to leave.

However, the greater challenge is to co-opt the individual into constructively contributing to the training. There are two techniques that can help to convert negative behavior into positive participation. They are predicated on treating the individual with respect and validating the individual’s participation in the class. Both of these techniques also give the individual an opportunity to rise to the challenge and problem solve.

1. If the concern is valid: assign responsibility for problem resolution.

If the individual has a valid concern, ask if the individual is willing to assume responsibility for identifying possible solutions. If the individual is willing, have the individual facilitate a brainstorming session with other participants, write down their recommendations on a flip chart, and then give a report to the rest of the class.

Sometimes, the person only wants to voice a concern but not expend any more energy. If the individual is not willing to be involved in identifying possible solutions, give the individual a graceful “out.” “That’s fine. You have accomplished your goal of bringing your concerns to our attention. We will be mindful of them as we move into the next section of the training. Thank you.”

2. If the concern is not valid: acknowledge, dissociate, and redirect.

This is a three- step process. First, without arguing or getting defensive, acknowledge the participant’s concern and right to express that concern. “I appreciate that you feel that way.”

Second, do what you can to dissociate the current training focus from the individual’s concern. “It sounds like that was a real problem last year. Now that a full year has passed, we have a new opportunity to get it right.” Or “Your concern about the new policy may be very valid. However, our focus today is on how to implement the policy now that it is in place.”

Third, redirect the individual’s attention to providing constructive recommendations. “Given what you know, what would you suggest to help us make implementation of that policy as effective and seamless as possible?”

Adults like to solve problems and everyone likes to feel appreciated. If you treat them with dignity and give them a positive role to play, there is a high probability that you will be able to convert naysayers into facilitators.

May your learning be sweet.