Isn't it curious how the human brain works? We've all been there—grasping for a name or face we just learned last week while vividly recalling a movie character from our childhood. Think about it: those history dates from school vanish like smoke, but the details of a high school chemistry experiment? Crystal clear.
It's a quirky thing, memory. Some stories fade into the mist of our minds, while others stay with us, as sharp as the day we first read them.
Now, if you're an instructional designer, you're probably nodding along, because you're on a mission to crack this code. Why do we hold onto some pieces of information as if they're treasures, yet let others slip away? That's the million-dollar question.
You see, you don't just want to fill heads with facts. You're aiming for the kind of learning that sticks, that lasts way beyond the final quiz—knowledge that's there when it's needed in the real world. That's the dream, right?
But let's be real: making that dream a reality is no walk in the park. However, that's the challenge we're up for because when it comes to training, it's all about that moment of truth—when the learning leaps off the page and into action. That's the mark of a truly successful program, and that's what we're here to achieve. Let's dive in and figure this out together.
1) Align Content with Learner Needs
To truly engage your learners, you've got to hit the bullseye with content that resonates with their daily challenges and aspirations. Begin by weaving the content closely with what they genuinely need to know—because when the learning matters, they'll lean in.
Here's how you make that connection stick:
Here are some tips on how to achieve this alignment:
Conduct a Skill Gap Analysis: Roll up your sleeves and dive deep. You want to pinpoint exactly where your learners' skills are versus where they need to be. Use a structured 5-step process to uncover these gaps, and you'll have a roadmap for your content.
Undertake a Comprehensive Training Needs Assessment: This is your detective work—gathering the hard data on what skills are in demand. It's not just about filling gaps; it's about anticipating the skills of tomorrow. DON'T Skip the Training Needs Analysis! Here's Why
Get to Know Your Audience Inside Out: Don't be a stranger to your learners. Understand who they are, the nitty-gritty of their job roles, their current skill set, and what they're itching to learn. Use this free template as your crystal ball to get insights into their world.Here’s a free template to start using.
Every piece of content should be a stepping stone that helps learners cross from 'I don't know how' to 'I can do this at work tomorrow.' Make it practical. Make it so relevant that they can't wait to put it into practice. That's how you create learning that not only sticks but also makes a real-world impact.
2) Scatter Examples Throughout the Course
Sprinkling examples throughout your course can transform even the driest material into a fertile learning landscape. Think of examples as the secret sauce that helps learners digest tough concepts, jargon, and procedures. They act as bridges, connecting the unfamiliar with the familiar, and guiding learners to categorize, compare, and understand new information.
Let's get down to specifics on how to masterfully integrate examples:
Mirror the Real World: Tailor your examples to reflect the daily grind your learners face. For instance, if you're training sales personnel, craft case studies that mimic challenging customer interactions, or if it's for healthcare professionals, simulate patient cases that they're likely to encounter.
Bring in the Case Studies: They are storytelling with a purpose. A case study about a company overcoming a marketing obstacle can illustrate strategic thinking in action.
Role-Play Scenarios: Let's say you're teaching conflict resolution—stage a mock disagreement and have your learners navigate to a peaceful resolution. It’s learning by living it.
Interactive Simulations: For tech training, create a simulated environment where learners can experiment with new software without the fear of real-world screw-ups.
Visual Aids: Use infographics to break down complex data—visual learning can be powerful.
Active Learning Opportunities: Encourage learners to step away from passive listening and engage with the content. Interactive activities like problem-solving tasks or collaborative projects can be very effective.
By ensuring your examples are as practical and engaging as possible, you're not just teaching—you're empowering learners to apply their new knowledge where it counts: in the real world.
3) Avoid Information Overload
Ah, the digital age dilemma: information overload. It's real, and it's a knowledge killer in online learning. So let's keep it simple—when you're designing your course, think of yourself as a curator in an art gallery. You wouldn't clutter a beautiful space with every painting you've got, right? Same goes for your course.
Here are some friendly, actionable tips to avoid overwhelming your learners:
The 'Goldilocks' Content Rule: Not too much, not too little—just right. Keep content essential and directly linked to your learning outcomes. If it's not serving a clear purpose, it's just noise.
The 'Chunky' Strategy: Break it down. Serve content in chunks that are easy to chew. Think of it as tapas instead of a whole turkey—small, flavorful bites that satisfy without stuffing you full.
Whitespace is Your Friend: Don’t be scared to leave some space. It's the pause between paragraphs, the breath between thoughts. It makes the content less intimidating.
Diversify to Clarify: Mix it up with videos, podcasts, and infographics. It's like adding a splash of color to a monochrome palette—it can turn dull into delightful.
The Recap Ritual: Keep circling back to your main points. A little repetition can be a good thing—it's like hearing a catchy song chorus that sticks in your head.
The 'Essentials Only' Test: For every piece of content, ask yourself, "Is this absolutely necessary?" If you hesitate, it's probably not.
Remember, the brain can only take so much before it taps out. Your job is to keep your learners in the game by being a master of content curation. Keep it essential, keep it engaging, and you'll keep your learners learning.
4) Space Out the Learning Sessions
Those all-nighters before the exam, cramming entire textbooks, and memorizing formulas only to forget them later—it's a common story, right? Well, that's a classic case of what not to do when creating an eLearning course.
Bombarding learners with too much information at once is a recipe for forgetfulness, not to mention stress and frustration.
Spacing out learning sessions is like planting seeds at the right intervals in a garden; you give each one the space and time it needs to grow strong roots and thrive. When we learn something new, our brain needs time to process the information and encode it into long-term memory—a process known as consolidation.
Here's how to space out learning effectively:
Stagger the Content: Introduce new concepts gradually. Think of it like episodes of a TV show—each one builds on the last, leaving room for anticipation and reflection.
Incorporate Practice Sessions: After introducing a new concept, give learners a chance to apply it. This could be through quizzes, interactive exercises, or real-life scenarios.
Schedule Breathers: Plan short breaks between modules. These aren't just for coffee; they're crucial for letting the brain process and absorb information.
Use the Power of Repetition: Not the ‘repeat-until-you-can’t-forget’ kind, but strategic repetition. Revisit key concepts at spaced intervals to reinforce learning without overdoing it.
Apply the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve: This principle suggests that we forget most of what we learn in a short time unless the learning is reinforced. So, schedule refreshers a day, a week, and a month after the initial learning.
Link New Knowledge to Existing Knowledge: Help learners connect new ideas to concepts they're already familiar with. It’s like adding a new friend to your social circle through an existing buddy.
In essence, spaced learning is the art of teaching in harmony with the brain's natural learning and memory processes.
Remember, the goal is for employees to not just learn but to retain and apply their knowledge. Spaced learning is a proven strategy to achieve this, with neuroscience backing it up. By activating the hippocampus—the brain's hub for encoding and retrieving information—you're setting learners up for long-term success. So, let's ditch the cram and embrace the calm, methodical approach of spaced learning.
5) Make Learners Explore and “Discover” the Content Themselves
To truly engrain knowledge in adult learners, it's all about turning them into explorers in a landscape of learning. They should not just passively receive information but actively engage with it, wrestling with real-world problems and celebrating those 'aha!' moments of discovery.
Here’s how to set the stage for those moments:
Craft Real-World Challenges: Don’t just tell them how it’s done; throw them into the thick of things. For instance, if it's a course on project management, have them plan a project from scratch. Real stakes, real outcomes.
Simulations Are Key: Create simulations that mirror workplace scenarios. If they’re learning sales techniques, simulate a sales pitch with a tough customer. The closer to their job reality, the better.
Case Studies as Puzzles: Present case studies not just as stories to learn from but as puzzles to solve. Encourage them to dissect, debate, and deduce solutions.
Questioning Over Lecturing: Pose thought-provoking questions that prompt them to dig deep. It's not about getting the 'right' answer but stretching their cognitive muscles.
Create 'Hotspot' Moments: Design interactive elements where learners can click around to 'discover' information hidden in images, diagrams, or virtual environments. It’s learning by finding, and it's fun.
Group Brainstorming Sessions: Nothing beats the collaborative energy of a group tackling a tough question. It's not just about the solution; it's about building the critical reasoning skills that lead there.
Encourage Reflective Thinking: After each discovery, have a moment of reflection. What did they learn? How does it apply to their job? This cements the knowledge further.
The goal here is to transform passive content consumption into an active journey of discovery. When learners have to apply themselves to uncover the learning, they're not just understanding the content, they're owning it. And that's when real learning sticks.
6) Encourage Learners to Reflect on the Material and Create Action Points
Reflecting on material acts like a mental workout, reinforcing the neural pathways associated with the new information. When learners pause to reflect, they're essentially going over the material again in their minds, which deepens their understanding and helps to anchor it in long-term memory.
Take the workplace example of sales professionals who've just learned new persuasion techniques. By reflecting on their daily interactions with customers, they might realize that framing a product's benefits to match a customer's specific needs leads to more successful outcomes. They could then create an action point to consciously employ this technique in their next sales pitch.
This kind of reflection transforms a concept from an abstract idea into a practical tool they can wield in their daily tasks. It turns the theoretical into the actionable, making the lessons they've learned not just something they've heard but something they do.
Encourage your learners to actively reflect on the material by crafting concrete action points—real tasks they can tackle to put their new skills to the test in the real world.
Here're some more specific ways on how you can cultivate this habit of reflection and action:
End with a 'So What?' Moment: After each lesson, ask learners to jot down how the new knowledge can change their approach at work. What will they do differently tomorrow?
Prompt Real-World Connections: For sales personnel studying persuasion techniques, ask them to analyze today's ads and pinpoint the tactics used. It's like turning everyday experiences into a learning lab.
Create a 'Reflection Diary': Encourage learners to keep a diary where they can reflect on what they've learned each day and brainstorm how to apply it. This diary becomes a personal action plan.
Develop 'Apply-It' Assignments: Assign tasks that require learners to apply the concepts directly to their job roles. It could be as simple as implementing a new communication strategy in their next team meeting.
By moving beyond the virtual classroom and into the realm of reflective practice, learners don't just remember what they've learned—they embody it. Each action point becomes a stepping stone from theoretical knowledge to practical wisdom.
By weaving these knowledge retention strategies into the fabric of your courses, you're not just teaching; you're creating an immersive learning experience that echoes with relevance and pulses with life. These methods pull learners into an active, engaging journey, transforming passive absorption into dynamic participation. The payoff? A richer engagement and a deeper, more enduring grasp of the knowledge will serve them well into the future. It's about crafting a learning adventure that sticks long after the lesson ends.
Additional read: 7 Brainy Ways to Boost Knowledge Retention in eLearning
Learning that Lasts a Lifetime – By Jose Thomson – October 2016
Learning that lasts through AGES