NOT ACTUALLY LEARNING

Today I spent 7 hours on a mandatory course required to gain Teacher Registration in South Australia. For once, I was a student, and so unbelievably bored during the presentation I can’t describe it. I wanted to learn, but maintaining attention, an essential component of learning, was incredibly difficult. Why? Because the design of the learning was poor. But that’s not even the worst thing. The worst thing is this: there is no follow up to the session, meaning that most of it, if not all of it, will be forgotten, rendering the entire experience redundant.  

Delivering content 

 Simply presenting slide after slide on ppt whilst talking at the same time is highly ineffective pedagogy. The auditory channel has 2 stimuli both competing equally for the same spot in the working memory. One must be compromised, and is. I found myself alternating between what was being said by the presenter and then deciding to focus only on the slides.  

It is essential that a multimodal approach to delivering content is taken. Slide after slide with sentences of words needed to be broken by image, and preferably dual coded. Yes, every now and again an image was used, but again it was word heavy as annotations and labels peppered the screen.

The presenter attempted to engage the audience, but when a question was asked, they took the first person’s answer as proof everyone knew what was happening. There was opportunity to discuss answers to posed questions with other attendees at the tables, as an obvious attempt to break up the slides, but again the interactions were almost meaningless, with some dominating the conversations, others disengaged, and others not understanding the level of depth required in answers. Feedback asked for by the presenter again only took the first answer presented. Some answers moved off topic and presented opportunities for some venting that unfortunately had little to do with the course. 

All in all, the enormous amount of content could actually have been summed up in about 5 slides, and delivered in ¼ of the time. 

Retrieval? 

Without testing the attendees the instructor has no way of knowing who has learnt anything on the course. Certificates were handed out, and I now have completed the mandatory training, but no one knows if I actually know anything about it. But even if there was some testing there and then, the performance would have been quite good, but illusory in terms of actual learning. This is because when we are tested straight after being taught something, recalling the content is easy because there hasn’t been any other information to displace it from our working memory. The retrieval strength is extremely low. It is only after some time after many things have displaced the desired content, but we can still recall it, that we can infer that we have learnt the content.

If trainers and facilitators and the departments who engage them to deliver their mandatory content want to ensure learning has taken place, it is essential that follow up retrieval takes place. I can’t even say that this is one area that the training industry could do better, because without this element added to the offering, the industry is irrelevant.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger

Author: paulgmoss

I live and breathe education. I try to teach what I know about learning. This blog represents ideas I have about education at the time of writing. I expect my ideas to change.

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