Good training helps companies develop happy and productive workers.
If organizations are going to spend thousands of dollars on
conducting training for their employees and thousands more in lost
productivity from taking employees away from their jobs for
training, then they need to maximize their return on that
considerable investment. Organizations need to make sure they are
doing everything they can to ensure that training is useful, that
they are using the most modern teaching methods, and that their
employees are getting the most out of their class and time away
from work. Incorporating useful exercises into the course can
Why activity is important
We all remember the 100 percent lecture coursethat mind-numbing
classroom experience in which a professor droned on for hours and
the only break in the monotony was the clicking of a PowerPoint
slide or the ticking of the slowly moving wall clock. Sadly, many
technical training courses mirror this experience. There is a myth
that telling equals training. However, there is a difference
between a learner listening to information and a learner
actually acquiring knowledge. The act of sitting in a
classroom and listening or observing a class is called passive
Active learning is the oppositeit involves participation in
activities and the engaging of learners in the subject matter
itself. Examples of active learning include completing a worksheet,
participating in class discussion, working through a simulation,
and so on. The consensus of the training industry is that effective
training courses incorporate active learning principles.
Lecture can be useful and does have its place in training, but as
lecture tends to be grossly overrepresented, its usage must be
minimized. You can include a passive learning element such as
lecture or direct instruction in your course, but it needs to be
The primacy-recency effect
In 1962, a psychologist named Bennet Murdock conducted an
experiment in which he gave participants a list of items to
memorize. When Murdock later asked these participants to recall the
items on the list, he discovered an interesting phenomenon. Across
the board, participants tended to remember the same items from the
list. Specifically, they tended to remember items at the beginning
and the end of the list, with their recall of items in the middle
tapering off. This effect, known as the serial position effect, or
primacy-recency effect, is of particular interest to those who
develop technical training.
Incorporating the primacy-recency effect
To best benefit from the primacy-recency effect in your course
design, you must abstain from including long, drawn-out lectures in
the class. As noted, the primacy-recency effect explains that the
learners retention is greatest for information at the beginning and
end of a section. Thus, there is a lack of retention for material
in the gulf between those two points. The longer the lecture, the
greater the gulf between beginning and end. If you want to give
learners the best chance to remember something in a class, you need
to limit lecture to short segments and provide activities (breaks)
in between. These breaks in the lecture function as starting and
stopping points, or beginnings and endings, thus giving the
learners more of a chance to remember items covered within the
lecture portions of the class.
Consider this example. With a three-hour lecture that includes no
activities, learners are given only one beginning (primacy effect)
and one end (recency effect) through which to remember information.
Thus, we are giving learners only two chances to maximize their
retention. If, however, that three-hour lecture is roughly broken
into half-hour segments interspersed with activities, the learners
are given six beginnings and six ends, or a total of 12
opportunities to maximize retention. From this example, it is clear
that by segmenting lecture with activities, you are giving learners
more beginning and end points at which to remember information.
It is not difficult to look at the research (and your own
experiences) and determine that lectureby itselfdoes not make for
an effective course. Activity is crucial for any classroom,
especially one with subject matter as difficult and complex as that
found in technical training courses. Remember, with activity we are
not talking about Lets all get up and stretch or 15 minutes for
coffee and bathroom breaks. Were talking about active learning
sessionsexercises, group problem solving, or critical thinking
sessions that use different learning techniques and engage the
learners brains in ways beyond passive listening.
But what kinds of activities are necessary in a training course?
The simple answer is any and all that help to meet the course
objectives. Research shows it is not so much the specific type of
interactivity that is significant, but more that interactivity in
general is incorporated into the learning. This interactivity can
include worksheets, review questions, group work, presentations,
brainstorming, hands-on practicals, or case studies.
Basically, if you have incorporated a variety of learning methods
within your class, you have created an effective environment.
Note: This article is excerpted from Technical Training Basics by
Hannum, W. (2009). Training Myths: False Beliefs that Limit the
Efficiency and Effectiveness of Training Solutions, Part 1.
Performance Improvement 48(2):26-30.
Lalley, J. and R. Miller (2007). The learning pyramid: Does it
point teachers in the right direction? Education and
Information Technologies 128(1): 64-79.