Making Learning Go the Extra Mile: A Spaced Learning Case Study

Posted on : February 12th, 2016
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The importance of training and learning is growing as organizations all over the world and in different industries are trying to gain an edge in the competition environment. To attain excellence in work and achieve business goals, it is imperative to have a learning culture within the organization. So, while learning initiatives are aplenty, are they able to deliver the desired results? Many organizations feel that despite regular and mandatory training sessions, many employees fail to apply the knowledge acquired to actual work. It is not that they do not pay attention, because post-training assessments reveal that they understand the topics well. The underlying reason for failure to retain knowledge is that our brain is simply designed to forget information it perceives as insignificant. To retain the information, we need multiple opportunities to review the information periodically. This is the foundation of the spaced learning theory.
Spaced Learning
Spaced Learning that was published in 2005 by R. Douglas Fields in Scientific American is based on a discovery about the brain. The team’s research uncovered the process by which long-term memories are formed, the process by which they can be created. Normally, when we learn something new, it gets stored in our short-term memory through neural pathways. Repeated stimulation of the same neural pathway demonstrates its importance to the brain and makes it easier to locate when you need to access the information stored within it. Spaced learning presents information in short bursts over an extended period of time, so that the information can be easily remembered, retrieved, and applied.

We designed and implemented a Spaced Learning solution for a leading automotive company to enhance knowledge retention among its employees. The employees were required to undergo a mandatory training for three days in a year. The organization conducted Instructor-Led Trainings (ILTs) and provided e-learning courses for the learning and development of its employees. Though refresher classroom sessions were also conducted within six months to keep the learning alive, the level of retention of information later was still not very high. The reasons for this were manifold.

• For beginners, the sessions covered not one but a range of vast topics, and though the employees understood them well during the sessions, it was difficult to retain such a bulk of information over a long period.

• Most of the information shared was crucial for improving the overall performance of the employees. With diminished retention, the impact of the training was not reflected in work.

• Though efforts to improve retention were being made, it was obviously not enough to ensure that employees stay aware for a long period.

We took stock of the situation and proposed a solution that would take the learning initiative to the next level. A spaced learning delivery timeline that covered multiple sub-topics over a period of 360 days was created.

In addition, various types of learning tools were created to eradicate monotony and deliver effective learning. The learning program began with a one-day ILT session on the first topic followed by multiple refreshers over a period of twelve months. At the end of the refreshers, an assessment session was also conducted to measure the learning. At the end of the six-month period, another ILT session was conducted, with similar refreshers, followed by assessments.

• The refreshers had to be created such that the learners’ attention could be quickly attracted and held for the entire duration of the course. Keeping this in mind, we created a variety of contents to ensure that the learner’s interest is retained throughout the year-long program. This included email refreshers, short games, and a series of short videos and animations pleasing to the eye and deliver learning effectively.

• The content was reflective of the learners’ feedback at the end of the ILT sessions. The learners were encouraged to share the practical problems they often faced at the workplace. We identified the need areas of the learners and created the content for the refreshers accordingly.

• Email refreshers provide textual information on topics that help learners enhance their work standards. The information is presented in pointers that help learners skim the document and yet retain the knowledge for long.

• The highlight of the spaced learning program was periodical refreshers presented to the learners. These refreshers gave multiple opportunities of learning to the learner.

• We also created a dedicated marketing communication campaign that announced the availability of the videos and encouraged the learners to view them. Live links were shared along with the mailers to ensure the learners can watch the videos in the e-mail inbox window with a single click.

• Games are always a good way of getting the attention of the most reluctant of learners and an efficient way of assessment. We also created a quiz-based game asking multiple-choice questions to the learners and helping them assess themselves. The attractive background and pertinent questions make it an enjoyable exercise and the experiential nature of the exercise helps learners recall information.

The spaced learning program was immensely successful among the employees because it aligns completely to the requirements of their work.

• The learning content was completely aligned to the needs of the learners. In addition, the exciting delivery mechanism makes it more palatable and interesting. Thus, learning is not just a mandatory chore; it is an enjoyable exercise. Learners from remote localities logged on to view and benefit from them.

• The learners viewed the refreshers on multiple occasions for a period of one complete year. The spaced learning strategy, thus, provided multiple opportunities of learning and this made the entire learning initiative effective.

• The topics identified for the refreshers were the ones that learners themselves felt they needed to learn. This dispelled all barriers usually all learner groups face consciously or unconsciously. Most employees feel training is a forced activity and don’t feel encouraged to participate wholeheartedly. The refreshers, however, were kept short and crisp so that they not require much time or efforts from the learners. This too helped uproot all barriers to effective learning.

• Different approaches to content creation also provided a variety to the learners who often blame the ‘sameness’ of learning content discouraging them to take training courses. The e-mails provide information in a direct manner, while the mini-games offer experiential learning. While creating refresher videos for spaced learning, we also created two different types of videos that would keep the learners engaged. Being shared within a short gap, these videos look quite different from each other and ensure the learners do not get bored.

Effective learning is not achieved through one-time learning initiatives but with sustained efforts over time. With spaced learning, the organization was able to achieve its learning goals and, with time, its business goals as well.

Arunima Majumdar

Arunima is an e-learning blogger and likes discussing innovations in training & learning for the new-age corporate sector.

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