When we look at many different learning theories, they are all enhancing retention. The point of learning is to change the way that the learner sees the world, thinks, and then acts. As the field matures, practitioners must learn more about memory retrieval and the way that brains and emotions work -- but that discussion is for another day. Today, learning is all about giving the learner a reason to change (motivation), giving them the knowledge and skills necessary to act in new ways, giving them practice with feedback. For example, Generative Learning Theory promotes the roles of recall, integration, organization, elaboration -- all ways to promote retention.
Feedback is key here as it provides information to the learner about their progress. Therefore, effective retention techniques include the tools that assess learner’s current state at several points during the learning (pre, peri, post).
- Memory aids (e.g., visuals, infographics, handouts, job aids, acronyms, etc.)
- The structure and organization of the learning
o Sequencing orders the learning events in a logical pattern – A-Z, 1-10, easiest to hardest, process steps, etc.
o Scaling builds learning components one on top of another increasing complexity and difficulty with each round.
o Scaffolding removes supports and guidance over time givinglearners more support and direction early in the learning and moving toward greater autonomy and self-discovery as the learner becomes more skillful.
- Checklists and templates to guide decisions and work products
All of these techniques are focused on building retention. Many of them included elements of feedback that allow learners to track progress.
Feedback is an important aspect of retention; it provides the milestones that allow learners to experience improvement and change. The most important feedback may be the one that creates the teachable moment – that moment when a potential learner internalizes the need to learn.
Now, comes the challenge – transfer. No matter how good the learning is in the learning environment, the ‘rubber meets the road’ when the learner must transfer their learning to their real world – often their work world.
Many of the memory and retention techniques also work as transfer techniques. However, every instructional designer/developer soon discovers that no matter what is taught in class, the real world trumps the world created in any learning environment. If the workplace does not support the use of new skills, the skills are soon mothballed and then forgotten. Therefore, learning designs that consider and even replicate aspects of the work environment assist the transfer of new skills from the learning environment to the workplace.
Case Study #1: When 100% = Zero
In a not so distant universe, an instructional design consultant was required to take in-house multiple courses in order to consult in at a company in a highly regulated industry. The requirement was that every learner (the ID, included) would receive 100% on all courses. However, there was no pre-test to determine whether a learner had some of the skills and knowledges, no intermediate feedback, no memory aids other than some pretty graphics, and lots of reading. The final test allowed our learner-cum-consultant to retake the test as many times as needed in order to achieve the required 100% score. After the second attempt, the testing process was all about tracking down the right answer through trial and error (and documentation of answers given that did or did not work). Yes, mistakes and failure are important feedback and learning motivators. However, under this set of conditions, what value did the 100% score have? How much retention or transfer existed. (Hint: none) These were beautifully designed learning events with very low retention or transfer... but they did satisfy a regulator requirement.
Case Study #2: Acts like 1 Yr in 6 Mos
In another universe and several decades ago, an instructional designer was asked to build an on-boarding program for non-traditional software programmers. The company hired groups of individuals who had never taken computer courses but showed aptitude for logic and interpretation of codes (esp. music, art design, accounting). The designers job was to provide scaled and scaffolded learning in code development, business communications, customer service and use of in-house tools to manage code and client communications. Then, she would top it all off with a 10-day goal-based scenario, which is a kind of war game with the setting and details specific to the goals of the workplace. In this case, the goals were around solving problems with code. Multiple groups went through this process, then off to work in their new work units. Several months later, participants and their managers were asked back for a debrief. The learners said that they did not have enough skills and needed more. Their managers said that, at 6 months, their new employees were working the way that more traditional hires would have worked at the end of their first year… but, of course, we need more skills sooner.
Case Study #3: Overheard conversation
While attending a workshop, our instructional designer overheard another participant talking with the workshop presenter. The participant said: “My colleagues said that I just had to take this course. We go back to your course materials, book, and templates all the time. But, they said, that it was really worth my time to come to the class as well. And… well, they want me to come back and tell them what’s new in the field, too.”
These three cases bring very different paradigms to the design of the learning and generate very different results. Retention and transfer aspects of these course designs were handled differently and valued differently. Their outcomes showed the difference in the design efforts to enhance retention and transfer.
Definition of a Standard – Enhances Retention and Transfer
Consider the definition and performances listed for The Institute for Performance Improvement (TIfPI’s) standard Enhances Retention and Transfer.
Definition: Ensures that the learning environment creates and measures recall, recognition, and replication of desired outcomes.
Performances that demonstrate this standard for certification:
- Chooses elements of the “real” work environment, tools, and technology to include in the practice learning environment.
- Measures readiness for learning.
- Triggers relevant previous experience.
- Provides interim self-assessment or skill measurement opportunities.
- Incorporates tools for on-the-job performance.
- Provides opportunities for learner to integrate changed skills based on feedback.
- Provides feedback techniques that give learners information relevant to enhancing performance, retention, and transfer.
Individuals applying for learning solution certifications with marks and badges will be asked to describe ways in which he or she accomplished at least three of the seven performances.
Can you see yourself doing these performances? Can you see yourself doing at least three of these performances with every learning solution? Can you see other IDs doing these performances, perhaps differently, but still doing them? If so, you need to consider applying for a learning solutions development credential. Get the IDCertification Handbook at www.tifpi.org.
Want a list of all nine IDstandards?
Would you like to know about the study -- a practice analysis -- that TIfPI Practice Leaders did to generate and validate nine standards, including Enhances Retention and Transfer? Would you like a copy of the infographic with standards and learning solution certification types?
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