How long does it take the average human brain to consolidate a memory?
a.) 6 months
b.) 1 year
c.) 2 years
d.) 10 years
According to Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist with a specialty in memory, it can take ten years before a memory finds its final resting place in the brain and is fully consolidated. Along the way, all types of things can interfere with the memory, changing it and even causing it to morph into something totally different than the original.
Now picture your next class of adult learners or audience members. They are seated at tables, surrounded by colleagues, with a dozen “to dos” going through their minds. They may be sincerely interested and highly motivated to hear what you have to say – or not. They may be tired, multi-tasking, or experiencing cognitive overload. Yet it is your goal to have them remember your message. What can you do to reduce the morph factor? How can you make sure the learning has long-term value?
Thankfully, Medina’s research also tells us that information that is repeated within 30 seconds moves from immediate memory into working memory. He recommends that the first repetition use the same form as the original, but that subsequent repetitions are best if they utilize a different sensory form. Examples might include asking your participants to take notes, illustrate, discuss or summarize. These types of interactive repetitions help to solidify the memory more quickly than passive listening. Meaningful repetitions can decrease the interference that may try to morph the memory at a later point.
For more ideas on how to increase learner participation and retention, check out my blog at www.caffeinatedlearning.com
Looking out at my audience one day last week I saw a sea of silver and black laptops. Fingers were quickly flying over the keyboards, as participants took notes at a furious pace. Taking notes on a laptop or tablet is increasingly common because of the many advantages. Many adults report that they can type faster than scribing by hand. Notes are then quickly stored or linked to other materials. Web sites are easily accessed for supporting information. And, to be honest, games or shopping are at your fingertips.
Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (2014) set out to determine if the keyboard was mightier than the pen. A meta-analysis of the research showed that learners who type notes are processing the information more shallowly than those who write them out longhand. Students who type tend to record the information verbatim, rather than rewording it so that it makes sense to them. When tested, students who typed performed more poorly on conceptual questions than those who wrote longhand.
So should you ban the use of laptops at your next conference presentation or training? No. Not when there are other ways to encourage longhand note taking.
Mueller, P. and Oppenheimer, D. (2014) The pen is mightier than the keyboard.
China has recently announced an interesting solution to a common problem they experience in large cities. It seems that most public restrooms do not provide toilet paper. This is because it is usually stolen by people who worry that the next restroom they go into will not have toilet paper – which means that the one the have just left no longer has toilet paper. An unending problem, unlike a roll of toilet paper!
Using technology as a solution, Chinese officials have decided to install machines that will scan a person’s face and then a two foot length of toilet paper. If the same person tries to get more t.p., the machine will recognize that they have already had their allotted share.
While this may be an innovative response to the toilet paper problem, it ignores the fact that individuals may need differing amounts of paper on different days (Number 1? Number 2? Diarrhea? You get the point.) A “just the right amount” perspective might be helpful.
Perhaps these officials could learn something from the best trainers and facilitators. We know that each learner has different needs. Some may learn the material quickly, while others process more slowly. Some may embrace social interactions, while others prefer to study solo. The best trainers provide for different learners by proactively building in variety and choices.
Look at the following two comments that a presenter might offer. Which would you prefer to hear as a learner?
Which of the following would be better for the learners?
And again in this scenario – which might be better?
When classes are designed and facilitated with the individual learner in mind, differentiation is inevitable. People have access to “just the right amount” to match their needs.
For more ideas on how to design for differentiation, check out “Caffeinated Learning: How to Design and Conduct Rich, Robust Professional Training.”
Netflix has just announced that they are abandoning their star-rating system to a “thumbs” rating system to make it easier for viewers to provide them feedback. Apparently, having to choose between 5 levels of satisfaction was too confusing or time consuming for some customers. According to Cameron Johnson, director or product innovation, testing over the past year showed that viewers were three times more likely to respond to the thumb-rating system than to stars.
Does this mean that it is time to abandon your Likert scale evaluation system for your training classes? Probably not. But perhaps it is time to reflect on the types of questions you are asking, your formatting, and the time you are providing for people to respond.
Thomas Guskey, in his book Evaluating Professional Development, makes a strong case for the limited value of post-training surveys. Although they procure immediate feedback and the results are simple to tally, the data usually are not helpful. Participants frequently circle the same number for each question, just to finish up quickly and hit the road. Survey data doesn’t usually to improved instruction. Neither will thumbs up or down.
In an article I wrote for TD Magazine, “How’s My Training?” (January, 2015), I suggest that if your goal is to ensure what I call “caffeinated learning”—the kind of learning experience where participants are alert and engaged, and real learning occurs—then the surveys must be tailored to elicit better feedback on your instructional design and delivery skills. You want participants to give actionable insights to your unique areas for improvement.
Instead, I find more value in open-ended questions. True, the answers to open-ended questions are harder to quantify, but are much more effective in improving program design and delivery. A thoughtful presenter will be able to mine these answers for nuggets of information and use them to improve their instructional practices. Just be sure that your end your session a few minutes early to provide the extra time it takes to complete this type of evaluation.
In addition, custom-designed questions for each session will provide more value than a generic form. Barbara Boone, responsible for training and development in a California firm, decided to add one custom-designed question to each survey, based on the professional growth goals of the trainer. Boone found “By custom-designing some of the evaluation questions, we are able to support our employees to grow as professional developers. They feel that the feedback is more meaningful and valuable to them as individuals.”
One last tip comes from a conversation I had with Ken Phillips, founder and CEO of Phillips Associates. If your evaluations are not meant to be anonymous, Ken recommends putting the name line at the bottom of the evaluation form, rather than at the top. Most people will assume that the evaluation is anonymous and answer more honestly. When they get to the bottom and see the request for a name, they are unlikely to go back and change their answers.
Have some tips for designing evaluation forms? We’d love to hear from you!
Looking for more ideas about training? Check out my book Caffeinated Learning.
March Madness has rolled into April, with the Final Four games upon us. Both the women and the men have given us some exciting, down to the wire games. I was heartbroken over the UConn Women’s team loss, but impressed by the Mississippi team; nail biting over the game between Oregon and UNC and torn between who to root for in the championship.
Our anticipation and excitement grows from the opening round, through the quarterfinals to the championship game. The Final Four is filled with emotion, intensity and hope. The best presenters also develop this anticipation and excitement as they advance to their closing remarks.
Here are my picks for the Final Four – what to do as you reach your closing remarks.
3 Points for a winning closing! For more "pointers" check out Caffeinated Learning: How to Design and Conduct Rich, Robust Professional Training.
For even more ideas...
Anne Beninghof is passionate about teaching and learning.
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