Thursday, January 5, 2012

Instructional Design Training: What Helps Adults Learn Effectively?

When you are designing learning (regardless of the delivery medium) key to success is an understanding of how adults actually process new information and, therefore, acquire new knowledge and skills.

This article summarises some of the basics of this knowledge transfer process. Basics you would usually cover as part of any introductory instructional design training programme.

Different instructional design experts use slightly different ways to describe the basic knowledge transfer process, but in essence it boils down to three broad stages.

Typically, at the start of this process is the presentation stage. This is when the trainer is introducing new or partially familiar knowledge and/or skills to the learners. Ideally, this is done through a familiar and meaningful context, rather than in a dry, abstract way. Once the trainer has carried out some basic checks to ensure learners have grasped the new information, the transfer process quickly moves to stage two.

Here, learners are given the opportunity to practice what they have just learnt in a safe, structured environment. During this phase, the learners might take part in one or several activities - depending on the level of difficulty and how much need they have for extensive practice.

Once the structured practice is complete and the learners have grasped the basics, it is time to move to the final stage - more spontaneous practice. Here, learners are encouraged to use their newly embedded skills and knowledge in a more realistic way. Ideally, this will provide a context and challenge that is both relevant and motivating to the learners.

Overall, the three stages move from a very teacher or trainer centred starting point through to a highly learner-centred one - where the trainer can take a back seat, observe the learning in action and provide feedback at the very end of the process.

One of the advantages of this broad approach is its flexibility and adaptability. You can vary the amount of structured and spontaneous practice you use based on the needs of your learners.

You can increase or decrease the amount of feedback you provide based on the results you are seeing. This feedback can be adjusted during the structured and/or spontaneous practice stages. You could even add remedial structured or spontaneous practice at the end of the entire process, if you decide this is appropriate.

Additional flexibility is available to you with the sequence of stages. For example, you could use a structured practice activity as your starting point. This would enable you to diagnose existing knowledge and possible areas of difficulty before embarking on a customized presentation and follow-on practice activities.

Alternatively, with more experienced learners, you could turn the process on its head and start with a spontaneous practice activity to see how they cope. Following on from this, you can draw out learning points, leading you to structured practice (or additional spontaneous activities) for the purposes of revision or consolidation.

Understanding the significance of this flexible 'presentation, structured practice, spontaneous practice' model enables you to create effective learning events that help your learners to quickly acquire and embed new knowledge and skills.