Traditional training can occur in many ways – classroom delivery, virtually or eLearning (asynchronously). What these forms of training have in common is that they are almost always only offered once. Rarely do employees relaunch an eLearning course that they’ve already completed.
Think back on your own training experiences. Typically, you attend a training course and then take a Level 2 exam, if provided. These exams largely test to see how much content you can regurgitate from short-term memory. Then if you complete all the slides or class, and/or pass the exam, you get that magical “green checkmark” in your Learning Management System (LMS), and you’ll receive an automated follow-up Level 1 survey on how well you liked the course.
But if you want to transfer that knowledge from short-term to long-term memory, you need to overcome three challenges:
- Cognitive Overload
- Outside Information
- The Forgetting Curve
Here’s a look at each.
When I think of cognitive overload, my mind goes back to an old episode of “I Love Lucy”. In this episode, Lucy and her friend Ethel are at a candy wrapping job. At first, they seem to do it easily, but then the belt begins to get quicker. They both soon realize they are unable to keep up and many pieces of chocolate pass them by. They try to compensate by shoving chocolates in their mouths or stuffing them under their hats or inside their clothing. Ultimately, they fail at the task because they were not ready for the speed at which the training or knowledge was coming at them.
Have you ever felt like this when attending a new job? Have you ever come home with a splitting headache wondering what in the world you just got yourself into? I know I have and know you’re not alone if you have, too. According to Chris Pappas’ 7 Facts About Cognitive Overload article, “If too many materials are thrown at us, the brain must cast the net so wide that it snaps.”
Sometimes our brains can feel like colanders. They capture some information, but there’s a lot that leaks out, especially once the training is over. That’s because we get bombarded with a lot of extraneous information almost immediately, quickly ejecting that recent training out of our memories. For example, you get an email from your manager asking you to work on a project that had nothing to do with the training you just took, or a coworker asks for help on a different. Or maybe you have to help your kids with their homework that night after training.
According to Pappas, three factors have a direct impact on cognitive overload:
- The abundance of decision-making opportunities
- Distractions or interruptions during training
- A constant need to manage every moment of our day in order to maximize efficiency.
“All of this culminates in stress that prevents our minds from assimilating information effectively,” Pappas writes.
The Forgetting Curve
Quickly after completing formal training, the forgetting curve kicks in. In an article called What is the Forgetting Curve, Harry Cloke writes, “The forgetting curve shows that learners will forget an average of 90% of what they have learned within the first month.” If we are learning only 10% from formal training, and we lose 90% after only a month, then it’s like we’ve never been to training at all. It’s like the old adage, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
In our agency, we have mandatory training we must take each year. However, when I ask other employees what was on slide 3 of any one of those sessions, the answer is, “I can’t remember.” Most of us don’t have photographic memories. So, remembering specific details or steps or procedures from an hours-long training is nearly impossible.
The Solution: Microlearning
To combat these issues at the IRS, I started the Self-Help Online Tutorials (SHOTs), developing microlearning videos for just-in-time training.
Instead of cramming our heads full of content as if trying to drink from a firehose, SHOTs provide short (typically 3-minutes or less) bursts of information. This information is broken down into small “bites” of content that can be viewed at any time, meaning employees can get the answers they need it. Then if they only do that step or process occasionally, they can relaunch the video and get refreshed instantly.
Many of our employees open the SHOT video in one screen and then perform the actions in the “live” application. They can pause, rewind or restart the video with full control of their learning. This perfectly represents the “Learning by Doing” training principle. Except with SHOTs they’re doing it in real-time.
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Kelly Barrett has worked for the IRS for over 22 years, starting as a Data Entry Transcriber and worked his way up to a Human Resources Education and Knowledge Management Specialist. Kelly has over 12 years of training project management experience with expertise in eLearning course development and is a certified Instructional Designer (ISD) and Online Training Professional (COTP).
Seven years ago, Kelly began researching MicroLearning Videos and how they can increase retention of training, and using his Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting, he started a program called Self-Help Online Tutorials (SHOTs). He has since grown the program to an enterprise-wide initiative with over 500 SHOTs videos for all 80,000+ IRS employees to view, anytime they need to.