Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Business of Training: Is the Customer Always Right?

The Big Picture

There is a difference between a Systems Approach to Training and a Systematic Approach to Training.

In a systems approach to training, training is one of the functions that support a business at an “organizational level” (1).  Training supplies a product of use to the overall system (the business).  For example: A means of communication company policies, documentation that an employee has been trained to meet a regulatory requirement, enhancing the company brand, or fixing a performance problem.  Graphically it could look something like:

A systematic approach to training concentrates at the “job/performer” level; (1) it focuses on how best to help humans learn with the end goal of creating a performance potential.   Or, the application of instructional systems design. (Refer to my first post).  Graphically it could look like:

When Worlds Collide

There will be times when Training as part of the business system and the known good practices of Instructional Design will conflict.  You’ll know it when the hair on the back of your neck try stand up so quickly they may just fly off and you just want to smack some sense into someone. Following are a few I have encountered.

Situation: Training as a panacea.  Using training to fix a performance problem that it can’t fix. 

Example:  Performance Concern: Supervisors need to spend more time in the field.  Non-solution; send the supervisors to leadership training and tell them to spend more time in the field.

Business advantage:  Implementable, track able and auditable.  Yep we did something.

Why not to do it: Training can impart knowledge, skills and attitudes but it will not fix a work load problem. If a manager does not change the working environment to allow a supervisor to spend more time in the field, the odds are the situation will not change no matter how many times you train them that is a good practice. 


Situation: Authoritative body makes decisions regarding: implementation, content, or instructional methods against what the analysis shows (read personally or politically motivated).   

Example: One size fits all training; sending employees to training that doesn’t apply to them.

Business advantage:  Appeases some political body.  Offered as a bone to achieve some other agenda.

Why not to do it: It goes against the adult learning principle of “Adults become ready to learn when they experience in their life situation a need to know or be able to do in order to perform more effectively and satisfyingly.” (2)   It is a waste of resources.


Situation: Authoritative body makes design decisions based on business needs not good learning principles. 

Example: Mandating a standard template with branding.

Business advantage: A means to advertise your product, facility, or company.

Why not to do it: It goes against the instructional message design principle of “coherence”; where extraneous visuals, words, and sounds should be omitted. (3)  It prohibits creativity in the design process. It prohibits matching a theme with the content. Can reduce or inhibit learning.

Ok enough of the examples.  I think you have either lived it or get the point.

What’s an Instructional Designer to Do?

I would like to offer three suggestions that you may find useful.

First, if you have the time and resources, build a before (the way they want it) and after versions (the one applying good instructional design principles) and present them to the powers that be.

Second, appeal to authority.  Provide, in a kind and gentle manner, the principles, facts and research findings from authoritative sources that support how an alternative method would aid learning or provide better results.  Present results from an analysis.

Third, take your case to the next higher authority in the management chain.  I think all of know of the inherent dangers of doing this.  But, it is an option.

Lastly, as the sage says, “Don’t Push the River”.  That is: yield to the natural order of the environment you are in, use your energy wisely, and rest with intention.   And, don’t forget who pays the bills.  Since knowledge is power; being able to relate your training situation to the “training systems function” may empower you to persevere.

Your Turn

Your comments, candid and kind, will be appreciated.  It would be great if you could share other solutions that have worked for you when a conflict has occurred.  And, please take time to answer the polling question.

Best regards,



1.   Rummler, G. & Brache, A. (1995). Improving Performance, How to manage
    the white Space on the organization chart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

2.   Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Cambridge Press.

3.   Colvin Clark, Ruth & Mayer R. E. (2008) e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Second Edition. Pfeiffer.  San Francisco, California.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Special Edition: Teaching for Retention

Theory Basis: Learning Theory
Special Edition: Teaching for Retention
Dr. Paul Dowdy from Heritage University gave a workshop on 3.9.2012 about Instructional Strategies for Optimal Knowledge Retention.  For those of you who were unable to make the seminar, I hope to relay some of the more important information Dr. Dowdy shared and add a little bit of my own.
Learning and Retention:
Learning and retention are two different processes (1).
·    Learning is the goes-inta process - It involves the brain, the nervous system, and the environment, and the process by which their interplay acquires information and skills.  Dr. Dowdy shared that, “we learn through similarities”. My interpretation: when the environment provides us with a stimulus that is new to us, our minds seek similarities that we have in memory to attach them to. It’s just easier that creating a whole new one.

·    Retention is the goes-outa process – It refers to the process whereby long-term memory preserves learning in such a way that it can locate, identify, and retrieve it accurately in the future. Dr. Dowdy shared that,” we retrieve information from memory through differences”. My interpretation: when the environment provides us with a stimulus we seek from memory related information in an effort to understand it.

Learning and Retention are two different processes

When designing instruction, learning and retention should be given separate consideration and use different strategies.
For learning, Dr. Dowdy shared the Brain Based Compatible strategies for learning from the book: Classroom Instruction that Works, by Marzano, Pickering & Pollock (2).
They are (in order of effectiveness):
·        Identifying similarities and differences
·        Summarizing and note taking
·        Reinforcing effort and providing recognition
·        Homework and practice
·        Nonlinguistic representations (think graphic organizers)
·        Cooperative learning
·        Setting objectives and providing feedback
·        Generating and testing hypotheses
·        Questions, curs and advanced organizers
To help students retain what was learned, Dr. Dowdy offered the following tactics:
·    Feeling Tone – a welcoming attitude in classroom. When students feel safe they remember more. (Refer to my post on motivation).
·    Transfer – Transferring information from a previous lesson to a new lesson.
·    Meaning – When a lesson is meaningful, students remember the information.
·    Practice – When students rehearse new information they are able to remember material
·    Modeling – When students watch you model what you expect them to learn or the process, they are able to remember the information.
·    Original learning – When students are able to understand, the first time they see new material, they are able to remember that material.

Forgetting is a mental state when one ceases to or fails to remember; unable to recall.  Marcy Driscoll in, Psychology of Learning for Instruction (3), suggests three explanations for forgetting.
·        Failure to encode: the information sought was never learned
·        Failure to retrieve: inability to access learned information
·        Impediment: other events or information get in the way.

If You Don’t Use It – You Lose It
I have struggled with the concept of forgetting and time.  Filtering through misinformation and research these are my conclusions:
·        The appropriate teaching strategies do enhance the amount of retention.
·        The ability to recall information accurately (retention) will decrease with over time unless it is periodically utilized.

Part of the message:

Typical Learning Pyramid
You might have been exposed to (with legitimacy) about the “Learning Pyramid” indicating the average student (whatever that is?) will retain 5% of a lecture, 10 of what is read… 90% of what we teach others.  This information has been used to advance the idea of “Active Learning” and various agendas about instructional design.   Now the rest of the story”:  Since it is a rate, it is missing half of the units.  The retention happens over some period of time.  So we (OK at least I) have been led to believe it is indefinite since no time period is given.

The only complete information (based on research) I have found on the affect of method on retention is by Moore (4) which specifies a time of 24 hours. So what happens after that? The first 24 hours is part of the typical “Forgetting Curve”. Retention decreases over time unless rehearsal or recall takes place.
The major point I wish to make here is, don't be duped by misinformation to make inappropriate design decisions. The studies conducted by Hermann Ebbinghaus in the nineteenth century on retention have stood the test of time and are still valid. “Ebbinghaus hypothesized that the speed of forgetting depends on a number of factors such as the difficulty of the learned material (e.g. how meaningful it is), its representation, physiological factors such as stress and sleep, and the initial memory strength. He further hypothesized that the basal forgetting rate differs little between individuals.”  See an example of a “Normal Forgetting Curve” below:

Example of a Forgetting Curve over Number of Days

Further, how the information on the pyramid is shown is misleading. Being at the bottom are doing and teaching; this suggesting this is the base.  The base should be inverted since the strategies are an additive process.  You cannot teach others about something without learning about via: lecture, reading, audiovisual….
In addition, all of the strategies are not practical for certain types of learning outcomes. For example: when learning first aid, you do not have to have a heart attack (doing) to remember the symptoms.

To Reiterate and My Conclusions with Amplifications:
·    Don’t take the “learning pyramid” at face value.
·    Appropriate teaching strategies do enhance the amount of retention because the strategy directly affects the strength of the memory. The stronger the initial memory strength the longer the memory will be retained.
·    The ability to recall information accurately (retention) will decrease with over time unless it is periodically utilized. It is true! If you don’t use it you lose it.
·    Spacing learning events over time to cause memory recall is the most effective tactic for long term retention. Note: not helpful at all for short-term memory.

The Bottom Line (News You Can Use):
In the realm of instructional design we don’t have much influence on what happens prior to or after instruction, therefore the best we can do is to provide our students with the strongest memories possible while we do have influence. How?
You can use a variety of tactics to reduce the effect of each of the explanations for forgetting.  See the table below for tactics:

Forgetting Explanation
Failure to encode
Provide a learning environment that enhances motivation to learn (See prior post.)

Use appropriate strategy (method) for the learning outcome (think objectives) (5) See Analyzing and Selecting Instructional Strategies and Tactics

Use appropriate rehearsal strategies:

Rehearsal: Rote and/or Elaborative
·    Rote: simple repetition and cumulative repetition
·    Elaborative: Paraphrasing, selecting and note taking, predicting, questioning, summarizing.

Apply the Primary-Recency Principle

  • Length of teaching session (Prime Time (1)) Dr. Dowdy recommended for a one hour session, the first 20 minutes in learning the rest of the hour in rehearsal.

Check (think formative evaluation) & remediate as necessary.

Failure to retrieve
Mimic on-the-job learning environment as closely as possible(6)

Periodic review/Practice

Teach retention strategies to the students. Have them make a plan

Interference (Retroactive & Proactive)
Avoid teaching similar skills at the same time.

Retroactive interference - meter information (Chunking)

Proactive interference- single out main ideas

For long term memory less is better!

The rest is up to the learner and his or her work environment.
Application Challenge:
Write a comment and share how you would implement one of the retention tactics shared by Dr. Dowdy.

Look forward to your comments,
1.   Sousa, D. A. (2006). How the Brain Learns. Third Edition. Corwin Press. Thousands Oakes, California.
2.   Marzano Robert, J. Pickering Debra, J. & Pollock Jane, E. (2001). Classroom Instruction that Works: Research based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, Virginia. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
3.   Driscoll, M. P. (1994). Psychology of Learning for Instruction. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
4.    Moore, K. D. (2005). Effective Instructional Strategies: From theory to practice. Thousand Oaks, Ca. Sage Publications.
5.   Jonassen, D. H., Grabinger, R. S. and Harris, N. D. C. (1990), Analyzing and Selecting Instructional Strategies and Tactics. Perf. Improvement Qrtly, Vol-4, ppg 77-97.
6.   Encoding Specificity Principle – whatever cues are used by the learner to facilitate encoding will also serve as the best retrieval cues for that information.