Monday, 12 August 2013

Fixing training, an exam at a time


Why is your business training not working?

Training is broken. Employees are failing to remember what they learnt on the courses and for many the only solution is to re-learn the syllabus from the coursework.

Most businesses enter training with some sort of apprehension. No matter how well the course has been sold to you there’s always the nagging doubt that it’s going to be a waste of money and that the employees will come back from the course with a smile on their face, but an empty brain.

Ask anyone back from a training course what they learnt on the course, and no doubt they’ll happily reel off a list of acronyms and highlights. But the truth is the majority will already have forgotten most of their course, and when they’re asked to remember some technique they learnt, in a week’s time or a months’ time, they will need to go back to the coursework and learn it all again, that’s if they can find the solution in the coursework?

Most training just doesn’t work

Over the years there has been a wealth of academic testing and experimentation on training and training methods, and a lot of it makes quite depressing reading- especially if you’re spending tens or hundreds of thousands a year on skilling-up your workforce. The hard fact is that most training just doesn’t work.

Let’s take a look at the solutions out there; 

E-learning and class teaching

The great new hope for training has been online e-learning and massive open online courses (MOOC). For the employer they tick all the boxes. It’s something your employees can do when they have “free time” and doesn’t require time out of the office. It allows students to learn at their own pace and it’s cheap. But what research* has found is that online training can be ineffective for those struggling with a subject, it won’t help users to remember the coursework any better than classroom training, and it only usually teaches what’s in the curriculum, which for certain IT courses forms only part of what is tested in the exam.  

Classroom training is - let’s face it - just like being back at school.  The atmosphere and techniques can make students nervous, the training can be very dry and a day of training can feel like “death by PowerPoint,”  plus students are away from their desks so spend any free periods and evenings catching up on emails and as with e-learning the research shows classroom learning has the same problems with understanding, and information recall.   

So what’s the solution?

Research carried out over the last 100 years shows that the most effective way to improve a student’s chances of learning, and being able to apply what they’ve learnt in a week or a months’ time is to adopt a policy of continuous testing throughout their training. In an academic study Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice** the researchers found that all the evidence from repeated testing pointed to it being one of the most successful strategies for learning.

In one test students were told a story illustrated with pictures. After the story, one group of subjects was told that they could leave and return a week later for a test. A second group was given a single test that lasted 7 minutes, and the third group was given three successive 7-minute tests after the learning phase.  Immediately after the test the group that were tested on the pictures once recalled an average of 32 pictures and the group that recalled them three times recalled 32, 35, and 36 pictures (their performance increased across tests, a phenomenon called hypermnesia, another benefit of repeated testing).  

Repeated testing produced an 80% improvement in recall

When the same groups were tested a week later the first group who had been allowed to leave and had not been tested, recalled just 17.4 pictures, those who had been tested once recalled 23.3 pictures, and those who had previously been tested three times recalled 31.8 pictures. That’s an 80% improvement in recall compared to those who had no tests, and shows virtually no loss in recall across the week. Whereas those who hadn’t been tested were only able to recall 17.4 pictures a week later, demonstrating a memory loss of almost a half (45%) over the week.

Accelerated Learning

At Firebrand we have applied this learning and used it in our Accelerated Learning methodology which uses a combination of Lecture, Lab and Review, providing a more effective way to retain and learn information an importantly includes frequent testing .

With Accelerated Learning; trainees learn in a closed environment where there are no distractions or time restrictions. They are taught using a course based on a combination of real-world experience from the trainer and the other trainees and the course’s official curriculum. This is then followed immediately by practical testing in our state-of-the-art labs - the labs are available 24 hours a day – which gives the trainees a chance to fully immerse themselves in the subject and use the training they have just been given. Additionally the instructor is on hand in the labs should they need to quiz them on subjects they don’t understand. Finally trainees are tested while they’re still at the training centre, and given immediate access to their results and as well as help and feedback by their instructor.

To learn more about Accelerated Learning and how it can help your employees understand and retain information better then get in touch with one of our Managed Account Consultants.

Editor's notes

* Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques:  Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology - John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham - Psychological Science in the Public Interest – 2013

** Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice - Henry L. Roediger III, Adam L. Putnam and Megan A. Smith- Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Volume 55 - 2011

About the Author:       
Frank is managing director and partner at Firebrand Training. He has over 20 years of experience in business development, account management and IT training.