Remembering Beyond the End

2 suggestions to extend time for retrieval practice after course completion.

I think a lot about retrieval practice. And how to build it into eLearning.

I also think that we, as Learning professionals, miss an opportunity to broaden retrieval practice use. As a refresher, retrieval practice strengthens learning by asking learners to recall or reflect upon material. It has been shown to deepen knowledge retention.

Yes, we design such interactivity into courses (e.g.,  knowledge checks, branching scenarios involving applied logic, post-tests, etc.), but our control of the learning ends with the course completion.

Consider a typical development scenario:

A request for training comes from on high. Instructional designers leap into action. We assess and verify the need is valid. We line up subject matter experts and gather new content. We design the curriculum, adding learning theory, retrieval practice (ideally), interactivity, assessments, and evaluation. We build the course, pilot, revise, and launch it, making sure to have methods of evaluation to ensure that learning did, in fact, happen. We take a bow and vow to revisit the content for subsequent revision. Cheers!

This has been the norm in my experience. It has occurred to me that typical developmental timelines are similar to the length of a semester, approximately 16 weeks. And therein lies the opportunity to deepen learning.

Retrieval practice studies I’ve read gauge the effectiveness of the technique over the course of a semester, with the final determinant being students’ grades. We gauge the effectiveness of our training at the end of the course. One study showed that for college students, ungraded quizzes, a form of retrieval practice over the course of a semester, improved learning. Using a classroom app like Kahoot for frequent quizzes can improve learning while reminding students that this is the important information they need to retain. Said another way: This will be on the test.

Extending Time for Retrieval Practice

So how much retrieval practice can one pack into a course with so limited time with learners’? Little. How can we extend time for retrieval practice after course completion?

I have two suggestions.

  1. Most learning management systems (LMSs) have a feature for follow-up. Unfortunately, in my experience, this has been underwhelming, with a low percentage of learners responding. I suggest focusing on content by asking the questions that will trigger retrieval practice. Typically, we ask follow-up questions to identify behavior change. Perhaps, during that follow-up, we should include questions that reinforce key points from training. In essence, use the LMS follow-up feature for pop quizzes.
  2. Integrate learning into work routines. Segue from training time to long-term learning. I think we are not taking advantage of how work routines can extend learning.

I suggest establishing a program in which employees are quizzed on training they’ve taken—not necessarily on a daily basis but frequently enough that a connection to the training is established and maintained. For instance, semi-weekly, when an employee logs in for the day, a quick quiz (two or three questions) pops up about a recent or relevant training. For courses that provide Continuing Education credit, the questions could be culled from the end-of-course test and repurposed, establishing and maintaining a connection to training and routines.

Apply the belief that repetition improves retention by asking specific questions. We ask learners to recall key points during the training in the form of knowledge checks, quizzes, scenarios—why not ask them to recall those points weeks or months later? Why not integrate learning into regular routines? Employees sign in every day. Why not ask them to recall information we thought important enough to include in training on a regular basis?

Finally, a potential benefit of training follow-up is the ability to present revisions or upgrades to content before an official course revision. For instance, for organizations that strive to have “green” courses, revised no sooner than within two years, content (e.g., regulations, guidelines, best practices) may change before a course revision. Periodic follow-ups allow changes to the original training to be introduced by including new information in relevant feedback to quizzes. For instance, on feedback to a question, something like: Although you learned that the time period for XYZ was ABC, it has since been shortened to DEF. Such feedback can pave an avenue to drive important information to learners prior to course updates or annual requirements.

Make Training Part of the Work Routine

Due to increasing responsibilities and diminishing attention spans, we need to check in regularly with learners. By creating a culture that training is part of the work routine, staff will be more aware that training and learning is an ongoing conversation.