Friday, August 17, 2007

On Forgetting What We Learned

Quick blog item in response to a posting by Jay Cross. Jay was in Seattle last week for the 7th annual Gnomedex, a conference of "the world's leading bloggers, podcasters, and tech-savvy enthusiasts. On commenting about staying over for the unconference, Jay had this to say:

Internet Time Blog :: Forgetful in Seattle
tomorrow, raines cohen and kaliya hamlin are convening an unconference to process the official event. i just rearranged my flights so i can attend. instant replay may become de rigueur if people understand the mechanics of the forgetting curve. if you don’t reinforce what you learn, more than half of it will be gone a day or two later.

(Image from Jay Cross's Internet Time Blog)
This leaves me to wonder about learning retention rates in elearning courses. Let's face it, most entities that are investing in elearning are doing it on the cheap. By going the elearning route it saves them from having to a) send learners away to a classroom; b) feed them at the class; c) pay for trainers to appear; d) take SMEs away from their main productive job to deliver training, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, when they do go the elearning route, they often want to do that on the cheap, creating simple page-turners, possibly with narration and images, and a set of 10 or 20 multiple-choice questions at the end to validate that learning occurred.

Don't get me wrong I'm alright with that, it helps pay my bills, but it got me wondering how it would be possible to re-enforce learning from elearning courses. I figure there is a couple ways.
  1. The first way might be to require the learner to retake the full course the next day to re-enforce what has been learned. This would be the simplest course, although it kind of smacks of brainwashing rather than facilitating learning.
  2. Require the learner to retake the post-test to see how much of the previous day's learning stuck and then send the learner back to review the content that has been lost overnight, and only that content. This is technologically feasible, but I'm not sure all LMS's are up to the task.
  3. The unconference approach seems to be the best bet, although I'm not convinced that higher-ups would buy into this.
The concept of elearning has been sold as an anytime, anywhere learning experience, which means every learner is entering and exiting the "classroom" at different times never even knowing if anyone else is in the classroom at the same time. But suppose you add a concept of an annual unconference on the topic is scheduled (either virtually or real-time) for everyone who has attended a specific elearning session. Let them discuss existing gaps and misunderstandings in their knowledge base amongst one another and generally support one another in filling those gaps and resolving those misunderstandings. Rather than sitting and listening to a facilitator they are building their own knowledge bases with the assistance of SMEs who only sit and listen, speaking up only to redirect conversations that appear to be going astray.

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