Elizabeth and Robert Bjork first identified the impact of challenge in learning. They called the things that slowed down learning and made it more difficult desirable difficulties. These will feel less productive at the time but in the longer run, they make learning stronger and more enduring.
Some desirable difficulties in learning include spacing out practice over time so that learners have to pull from long-term memory rather than short-term memory, mixing up practice so that the learner does not know what they will be presented with (just like in real life), and interleaving, which is learning related skills or concepts in parallel (as opposed to blocking which presents one skill or concept at a time).
There are undesirable difficulties in learning, too. These are when the learner doesn’t have the background knowledge or skills to respond to a difficult challenge. That makes a case for laying down some background and providing resources before presenting a difficult challenge to learners, or at least understanding learners’ backgrounds and what experience they have had with a skill or topic already.
When learners have to repeatedly use effort to recall information ...
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...w they will use content, brainstorming on how one skill set relates to another, as well as providing repeated practice over time, using variety in training methods and practice so that the unexpected happens (just like it does on the floor), and interleaving related skills and knowledge.
Don’t be afraid to challenge your learners. You will be providing a possibly uncomfortable experience but one with long lasting benefits as they are better able to remember and apply skills and concepts on the job. After all, isn’t improved knowledge and skills on the job the reason why we train?
To learn more about what works in training, with lots of practice and ideas and activities that can be applied to any training, attend ICMI’s Trainer Development Workshop, November 17-18, in San Diego CA. For more information or to register, go to http://www.icmi.com/Symposiums/San-Diego.
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