ADDIE Living in a Scrum World, Part 1

Posted by Rich Mesch on Dec 6, 2011 2:12:00 AM

by Austin Kirkbride, M.A.

Austin Kirkbride, M.A., is a Project Manager, certified in Scrum and waterfall project management approaches, and an Organizational Change Management specialist with 20 years of domestic and international experience working in the people side of technology and change. This is the first in a series of posts on how Scrum can enhance learning organizations. written in collaboration with the colleagues on her team.
Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework for project management. Originating in the IT
Rugbymatchsmallsoftware development world, the scrum methodology has translated well to other industries as it emphasizes functional deliverables, the flexibility to change and adapt along with emerging business realities, and provides a high level of communication and collaboration across the team.
Some of my more purist Scrum Master colleagues have challenged me that the learning development methodology – ADDIE, or Assess, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate – cannot survive in a Scrum world and that it needs to be eliminated. They argue that ADDIE lives in the old world of waterfall project management, complete with silos and hand-offs that make the methodology an antiquated notion of how training should be developed.
I beg to differ.

One of the more elegant aspects of Scrum is that it is a framework, not a dogma. I’ll admit that ADDIE reeks of waterfall project management and implies that there are hand-offs and linear thinking required to apply the methodology. But with a little open-minded application, I see no reason why ADDIE can’t live in the Scrum world.  Here’s how:

Assess: Learning can’t happen unless we know what the scope of the training needs to be. The Assessment is critical to understanding things like audience, content needs, identifying subject matter experts, and looking at how the training fits into the larger needs of the organization. Assessments can be treated as a Sprint Zero, occurring over a couple of weeks or actually broken down into Sprints if the assessment requires a longer chunk of time. The Sprint Zero is the opportunity for the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and team to identify business requirements and value, needs, scope, etc., so why wouldn’t it be malleable enough to be a time of learning assessment?

Design: Once the scope and assessment of the learning needs is identified, the approach, or design, will begin to evolve. Depending upon the scope of the project, the design can be treated as Sprint Planning (for smaller projects with a minimum of complexity) or the design process can be sprinted, with client design reviews (Sprint Reviews) at the end of the sprints to gain sign-off and buy-in from the client (for larger, more complex projects).

Development: Much like software development, learning development can be planned for, sprinted, and reviewed, whether eLearning or Instructor-led. Developing training  – eLearning or ILT – would align most closely with its parentage in software development, allowing the instructional designers/developers to collect content and iteratively present it to the client until delivery.

Implementation: This is where applying Scrum needs to be an exercise in Scrum framework flexibility. If implementing training means putting the eLearning on the LMS, there is probably no need to sprint the activity – likely it would be a task within the final sprint. But if implementation requires the team to deliver the learning in a classroom, webcast or interactive environment, it would likely make sense to sprint these activities, complete with stories and tasks. As long as the team is producing a product, it continues to Sprint and deliver to the client.

Evaluation: Again, the process of evaluation may be part of a sprint, or might be sprinted separately, depending upon the scope of the evaluation. Most Level I or II evaluation might likely be tasks within a sprint if, for instance, it is a compiling of survey results at the end of a learning event. Larger evaluation approaches, such as following up with large-scale, long-term metrics, may require their own sprint, or possibly even their own project.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Scrum, ADDIE

Attitude is Essential to Learning, Part 2: It's All About My Manager

Posted by Reni Gorman on Sep 11, 2011 4:42:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Women manager and employeeIn the first part of this series, we talked about the role of the individual in learning. It’s hard to make someone learn if they’re not willing. But what if they are willing but are not encouraged or worse are discouraged by the person who judges their performance: their manager? What is the manager’ attitude toward the new knowledge and skills learned?

Challenge 3: My manager does not encourage me to apply what I have learned on the job. This is by far the worst, deadliest challenge. People must know that they will be enabled and empowered to put what they learned into action on the job. If they feel for any reason that they can’t… maybe because their managers don’t know what they learned and can’t or won’t help them apply it. Sound unbelievable? It happens all the time. For example, if the manager doesn’t believe in the new sales model and doesn’t encourage its use, it is not very likely his or her team will adapt it and give it a try. We, training professionals, take folks out of their jobs, put them in training, throw them back into their jobs and expect them to perform. We forget that people will usually listen to the person that manages them. If their manager isn’t committed to applying the new skills learned, it most likely will not happen.

Solution 3: Make sure the manager is aware of and reinforces the learning. I point out raising awareness because I have seen many situations where managers did not even know what their employees learned when they went to training. In this case, it may not be that they don’t actively support it, but rather that they don’t know. One idea is to supply managers with a one pager summary of what their people learned that includes things like tips on how to help their employees pull through the learning into application on the job. It could include questions to ask employees to reflect on and talk about the learning and coaching opportunities. Once the managers are aware how do we get them to be supportive? Setting clear expectations through executive sponsors, following up with measurement that results in recognition, rewards and even consequences are all critical for success. First managers have to be told it is expected that they use the new sales model—if that is the case. This message has to be delivered to them through their own leadership so they take it seriously—it can’t and shouldn’t come from the training department. Once they know what they are supposed to do, like coach to the new sales model, we have to make sure they know how to do that—here is where more training may come in. Then we have to measure whether or not they are doing it with the understanding that their actions, both positive and negative, have consequences.

Last but not least it is important to remember that you can’t stop at the manager, you must look to see what the manager’s manager is doing—is he or she supporting new behavior on the manager’s behalf. In other words, if the consequences above aren’t really going to be enforced by the manager’s manager, if he or she doesn’t really believe in the new selling model either, they you need to go through the same process with them: make them aware that it is important, show senior support, and back it up with consequences both negative and unfortunately, if needed, negative.

At the end of the day we all have to be held accountable for our actions. When we are at work and sent to training, we are paid to learn and to action that learning. Let’s make it easy for people to do so by removing any barriers to learning and reinforcing the “right” behavior.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Coaching, Organizational Change

Attitude is Essential to Learning, Part 1: It’s All About Me

Posted by Reni Gorman on Aug 30, 2011 5:53:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

As learning professionals we spend so much time designing just the right kind of exciting learning intervention that we sometimes forget to think about other factors that may prevent learning. For example, no matter how great the learning experience is, if people are unmotivated to learn then the reality is that they
won’t. Let’s explore some of the reasons why people might be unmotivated and figure out what we can do to combat it.

businessphoto_flipchartsmChallenge 1: How does this relate to me? Can you recall a time when you were totally uninterested and unmotivated to learn? Maybe in grade school during history class? For me it was college math. I simply was not interested. Why? I did not ever think calculus was something I would use in “real life.”We know from adult learning principles that people learn best when they can see the relevance the content has to their day-to-day jobs, and to their lives. So, one would think the answer is simple: show people how the content is relevant to them, and they will be open to learning it. As important as this concept is, it’s something designers forget to do as they get all caught up in designing the learning.

Solution 1: Point out the WIIFM. It is really important in the beginning of every learning experience to point out why it is important and relevant for the learner to absorb this new information. The “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) should be present at the start of each learning piece.

What else may prevent you from learning?

Challenge 2: I already know this. For example: “I’ve learned several sales models in the past. This sounds like the same stuff.”  If people think they already know something, their minds are shut and they won’t allow in new ways of thinking—because of course they don’t need new ways of thinking about something they know inside and out.

Solution 2: Point out differences—things they may not know. If you know you are dealing with this learner mindset, the best thing to do is first acknowledge that you are teaching them YET ANOTHER sales model. Then, point out what is unique and different about this sales model. Doing that will help people start thinking about all the ways this is different from what they already know and that will open them up to learn more.

I remember creating a module on hedge funds for a major financial years ago and the first page said: “Think you know everything there is to know about hedge funds? Think again! Did you know that…” With just one fun fact on the first page of the module that we could bet was new information to them, we captured their curiosity and dispelled their immediate notion that they did not have to go through this because they already knew.

So far, we’ve focused on the individual, and how to overcome their barriers to learning. But what happens next? There’s an even bigger barrier to implementation out there—and we’ll talk about that in the next installment!

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Change Management, Organizational Change, Organizational Learning

Virtual Immersive Environments: From Theory to Practice, Part 6: It's a Poor Craftsman Who Blames His Tools

Posted by Rich Mesch on Dec 14, 2010 9:54:00 AM

 by Rich Mesch

I’ve been a musician for most of my life, and over the last several years I’ve focused my energy on the mandolin. The mandolin is a diabolically complex little instrument, and I became fascinated with the way they were constructed. So, perhaps ill-advisedly, I purchased a mandolin kit and set about building one myself. Initially, I thought it turned out rather well, looking like this:

And I kept feeling that way until I played it. The tone was not unlike a cat battling a raccoon in a submarine. I was crestfallen; I had used the same tools and the same materials as the pros, and it looked pretty good. Why wouldn’t it sing? 

So what does this have to do with VIEs? Simply this: producing great results means having more than the right tools—it means having the right skills. I have seen too many organizations go through an arduous process in selecting their VIE platform, only to have the whole effort fall flat when the platform fails to magically change everybody’s lives. I wouldn’t expect to go to Home Depot and buy some wood and tools and come home and magically be a great cabinet-maker. I would expect to spend some time honing my skills—or, failing that, hiring someone who already had great skills to do the building for me.

The rules of instructional design don’t change because we’re working in a virtual environment—they may expand, but they don’t change. Poor tools may sabotage great design, but poor design can’t be overcome by great tools. If you need some ideas on great design, I’ll make my 50th recommendation of Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll’s wonderful book, Learning in 3D. Or feel free to read the other entries in this series.

I’m using VIEs to make this point, but really, the point is pretty universal. Great technology doesn’t create great design; great designers create great design. But great technology makes great design really sing. If you have both, you have magic.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds, Series, Performance Improvement, Learning in 3D

Virtual Immersive Environments: From Theory to Practice, Part 5: Encouraging Adoption

Posted by Rich Mesch on Nov 17, 2010 7:24:00 AM

shrugby Rich Mesch

This is the second entry based on my conversations with Dr. Keysha Gamor, a fellow aficionado of 3D learning. In the last entry, I wrote about Keysha’s experience implementing Virtual Reality solutions in secondary education. In this entry, I wanted to share some of the conversations we had on the effectiveness of Virtual World platforms and the acceptance (or lack thereof) that we’ve seen in organizations. As Keysha works mostly with government and military, she brings a unique perspective (I work almost exclusively with corporations). Generally speaking, government and military have had a higher adoption rate for 3D learning than the business world. What are they finding effective about the virtual environment, and what does the corporate world have yet to learn?

I asked Keysha if she was seeing higher levels of adoption of Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) in the public sector, and she agreed that was the case. However, many of these initiatives are in a pilot or exploratory phase. And the biggest concern in the public sector is similar to the private sector: how do we ensure data security?

So how do we mainstream this capability? We brainstormed many possibilities, but it really comes down to three categories:
  • What are the barriers to adoption now? Much has been written about the technological barriers, but not enough about the cultural barriers. For example:
    1. Treating VIEs as if they are a unique technology. Most people see learning and performance improvement as a system; they want to understand how each part of the system contributes to the whole. VIEs are too often introduced as the hot new technology; that builds temporary interest, but actually works against adoption. We need to answer the question: how will VIEs contribute to overall performance improvement and not just be a flavor-of-the-month.
    2. Cognitive Load. The good news is that VIEs (like many simulated environments) can create a profound emotional reaction from learners. That’s a good thing, because we want a learning environment to mirror the real world and evoke the same response the real world does. But we also need to be prepared to address and process those reactions. It’s okay when training makes people upset (or elated), as long as that response is used for growth.
    3. If you build it, they will come. Yes, they will. Once. So many VIEs are just like billboards, just a shingle hung on the wall where there really isn’t anything to do. There needs to be a reason to come back again and again and again. There needs to be a compelling reason to return, a reason to engage, not just watch.
  • What are the clear success stories? One of the most successful implementation of VIEs today is military simulations. Military trainers have identified real problems troops face in the field and created scenarios to address those problems. Obviously, many military situations involve life-or-death decisions, so accuracy is critical. Military simulations use real geospatial data to map the terrain to closely match what the real life experience. And the military is not satisfied with 3D learning, but is also looking to bring smells into the virtual space; not only is the ability to analyze what you smell critical in combat situations, olfactory is often identified as the most evocative sense as pertains to memory.
  • What’s changing in our culture that will support adoption? Some of us are old enough to remember when e-mail was a new and scary technology. But not only was it adopted, it became integral to the way we live our lives. As we move to adopt VIEs, we need to consider the social climate. We need to realize that we aren’t in the mainstream. One of the factors that is helping us to move forward is Social Media. Social Media has become highly integrated into our lives. Now that people have had their eyes opened to the possibilities of online social environments, they’re starting to dream a little bit. That’s the momentum we need to make this capability mainstream.

    One of Keysha’s parting thoughts was how much the movie Avatar helped her talk about VIEs. While the movie itself doesn’t have anything to do with VIEs, many people were unfamiliar with the word “avatar” before they saw the film. Avatar helped build the common language that allows us to have these conversations with others—and a common language is the first step to successful change.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds, Series, Performance Improvement, Simulation

Using Storytelling in Learning, Part 5: The Goal-Based Scenario

Posted by Rich Mesch on Oct 11, 2010 9:30:00 AM

by Rich Mesch

So what’s the goal of this story?

Okay, so there’s a question you don’t often get when discussing novels or plays. What’s the goal? Well, the goal is to get to the last page of the book, or the curtain call at the end of the play. But when you’re writing stories for learning, the question takes on a different meaning. Not only are you telling a great story, you’re supposed to be helping your learner improve his or her performance.

Great learning stories include Goal-Based Scenarios. In simplest terms, the story includes a goal or a set of goals that need to be achieved; the point of going through the story is to achieve the goal. That sounds simple enough, but here’s the key: the nature of the goal impacts the way you perceive the story. Confused? Let’s break it down.
    • First and foremost, the goal of learning is not just to make you smarter; the goal is to help you build the ability to do something. A Goal-Based Scenario begins to answer to eternal question of performance improvement: what am I going to be able to do as a result of this effort? Why is it important that I’m able to do this?


    • In the business world, almost everything we do has a goal. Why should our business learning be any different? What kinds of problems can I solve with this knowledge?


    • Ultimately, storytelling for learning works best when it presents real life conflicts. It can be pretty easy to regurgitate the “right” way to handle a problem, but can you really do it under pressure? You need to recreate that pressure for the learning to have emotional impact—and Goal-Based Scenarios do that. Rather than applying learning in a vacuum, you’re attempting to solve a real business problem—and actually having to apply what you’ve learned.

So how do you create a Goal-Based Scenario? In order to create good story-based learning, you need to be consultative. You need to understand the subtleties of the job and challenges your learners face in achieving success. For example, if I’m learning selling skills, my ultimate goal is probably to close a sale. But what are the subtleties of effectively closing? Is my customer more likely to buy if I take one path over another? Will I sell more if I’m able to meet my customer’s boss, who has more buying authority? Will I sell more long-term if I’m able to build a good relationship? Am I afraid to talk too much for fear my customer will realize I don’t know as much as I claim to know?

If you’d like to know more about Goal-Based Scenarios, here are a few references:

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Storytelling, Simulation

Virtual Immersive Environments: From Theory to Practice, Part 4: From Virtual Reality to Virtual Worlds

Posted by Rich Mesch on Oct 5, 2010 8:10:00 AM

woman with virtual reality head gear
by Rich Mesch

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the SALT conference in Arlington, VA. While there, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Keysha Gamor, a fellow-presenter who also has a passion for Virtual Immersive Environments and 3D Learning. Keysha was good enough to allow me to interview her for this article.

Given its location, it probably won't surprise you that the SALT conference attracts many participants from Government and Military, some of the earliest advocates of 3D Learning. Keysha works extensively with both areas, so I was anxious to learn about her experiences. But what most intrigued me is that Keysha's perspective was firmly rooted not in Virtual Worlds, but in Virtual Reality. What connections can we make, I wondered, between the effectiveness of Virtual Reality (VR) and the effectiveness of Virtual Worlds?

As part of her graduate work, Keysha worked with the University of Georgia and NASA to determine how fully immersive VR could be used to teach complex abstract concepts. The goal of the study was not to look at VR as a unique or special interaction, but from the perspective of everyday usage in a teaching environment. The study, called “The Science Space Program,” focused on teaching science concepts to middle school and high school students, and utilized some pretty serious VR equipment that was shuttled from school to school.

Activities in the study included exploring concepts like velocity (what happens to an object going at high rates of speed?), static electricity, and other types of physics issues. Except that rather than focusing on abstract concepts, students were actually able to get inside a particle; they could actually become the particle to understand what happens to it. Students participated in groups of 3; one student would wear a head-mounted display, another would direct his/her activities, and a third would observe. Each student got to play each role.

For the final exam, each student designed their own rollercoaster, using physics concepts they had learned. Keysha says she was amazed at how well they were able to do—the accuracy of the mathematics and physics used by the students in creating their rollercoasters was remarkable. It’s worth noting that these were “average” students, not gifted; students who were incapable of comprehending these concepts before succeeding with the VR exercise.

It’s a great story, and a great example of how contextualized learning drives comprehension and application. In fact, the first question I asked Keysha was around context; didn’t the success of the study indicate the value of contextualization, and not necessarily VR? Aren’t their other ways of contextualizing learning to have a similar outcome? Her response was, yes, it was definitely about context, but the VR technology provided a contextualized experience that couldn’t be provided any other way.

Most of us don’t have Virtual Reality equipment cluttering up our offices. So are their ways to have a similar impact using more readily-available Virtual Immersive Environment (VIE) technologies? Well, Keysha and I discussed that as well… and I’ll report out on our conversation in the next entry in this series!

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds, Series, Performance Improvement

How Games Improve Performance, Part 2: Why Are Games Effective?

Posted by Rich Mesch on Aug 23, 2010 3:44:00 AM

by Rich Mesch

Drich uncle penny bagso you want your learners to collaborate? To demonstrate leadership skills? To drive towards a goal? To evaluate and analyze situations before committing to a decision? To value the perspectives of others? To improve performance?

Then you definitely want them playing games.

Most of us have probably played Monopoly. You know, the strategic decision-making, asset-leveraging, and negotiation skills tool?

What’s that you say? Monopoly is a kid’s game where the biggest decision you make is whether you want to be the thimble or the dog? And it’s just a game, because you roll dice, and the dice determine what happens?

Well, let’s think about that. Yes, Monopoly has an element of luck (so does real life!). But what drives a winning strategy in Monopoly?
    • Strategic decisions on what assets to purchase
    • How to leverage those assets by improving them and driving larger ROI
    • Building alliances that enhance your ability to compete
    • Negotiating with others until you’ve maximized your revenue stream
In fact, the winner of a Monopoly game is usually the player who has the greatest strategic vision (which properties to acquire and improve) and the best negotiating skills (at some point, you’re going to need to sweet-talk other players into selling or trading you their properties).

Does your audience need any of those skills?

But let’s not stick with old school board games. Today’s Role-Play Games (RPGs) and Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are not the single-user joystick games of years past. They require collaboration, team building, smart use of resources, strategy, and follow-through. And the most successful RPG players also tend to be great leaders and team-builders.

So am I recommending that we commit large swaths of business time to playing Monopoly and World of Warcraft? Not really (although that would be fun!), but I am recommending that we identify and utilize the elements that make these games so effective:
    • Competition: Every business is a competition. Many internal function are a competition, too; competition for attention, scarce resources, funding, etc. Games are inherently competitive. Learning how to be a better competitor will also make you a better businessperson.
    • Engagement: I can’t learn anything if I’m not paying attention. Why teach me an abstract skill when you can get me to engage in the actual behavior? Games get me involved, give me a goal, and help me understand what I have to do to hit that goal. All fairly painlessly—in fact, I might not even realize that I’m supposed to be learning.
    • Social learning: Whether we’re playing our game in a real-life room or playing online in a virtual space, we’re still working in a social environment. That means that we can create our own experience (within the rules of the game, of course), and the experience changes based on the people present. We can share our knowledge, experiences, assumptions, and learn from (and teach) each other. We may be playing a game, but what we’re learning from each other is very real. And that leads us to…
    • Informal Learning: Game environments create wonderful opportunities for informal learning. As a team of people driving towards a goal, we inevitably share all kinds of knowledge. All the notebooks in the world won’t drive knowledge like an experienced colleague sharing a great story.
    • Collaboration (or lack thereof): Great games use goal-based scenarios (more on that in the next post), where teams of people need to collaborate to achieve success. This is a great opportunity for participants to understand what each role brings to the table, how collaboration drives a better outcome. Learning this kind of behavior in a game is “sticky;” it will stay with you long after the game is over.
Next time: we’ll examine 5 Aspects of Effective Learning Games. Not every kind of game leads to learning, but great games can lead to great insight.

Topics: Series, Learning Theory, Gamification

How Games Improve Performance, Part 1: An Introduction

Posted by Rich Mesch on Aug 3, 2010 9:25:00 AM

 by Rich Mesch

I first started talking to busiGames for Learningnesses about using games to improve performance way back in 1985. Back then, I was working mostly with mid-level and senior mangers, so talking about games required hushed tones and euphemisms. After all, busy important managers couldn’t spend time playing games. They had big, big decisions to make. And so what if the game was designed to help them be even more effective in making those big, big decisions? This was serious business. They weren’t games; they were “experiences,” or “competitions,” or “challenges.” Or maybe you just didn’t talk about it at all.

What a difference a couple of decades make. We no longer have to apologize for using games for performance, and there are a few organizations that actually champion them. But we’re not out of the woods yet. With many organizations, the business case for games as a performance improvement method remains to be made. And even in organizations that support games, there is still the question of how to design and implement effectively.

In this series, we’ll look at several aspects of gaming for performance, including:
    • The reasons that games are an effective performance improvement methodology for almost all audiences—even senior executives. Especially senior executives.
    • Some common myths about gaming; your audience may be more receptive to games than you think; and getting a great game experience doesn’t have to be hard.
    • Aspects of effective learning games; there’s a good reason why some people are still talking about the experience months and even years afterwards.
    • Types of games; computer-based games are great, but technology isn’t the solution to every challenge. Think you’re too grown up for tokens, cards, and dice? Think again.

Up first: in the next post in the series, we’ll look at 5 reasons games are an effective performance improvement method. See you then!

Topics: Series, Gamification

The Science Behind Learning: Cognitive Tips and How Tos for Corporate Training (Part 6)

Posted by Reni Gorman on Jul 22, 2010 9:56:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Tip #6: Provide many examples and practice exercises in which the same underlying concept is at work.

Cognitive Psychology: Provide examples to facilitate transfer and meaningful deliberate practice to promote understanding and increase memory performance.

Why (Justification):

Bransford et al. (2000) recommend that teachers provide “many examples in which the same concept is at work”. (p. 20) In a study by Gick and Holyoak (1980), they presented subjects with a story of a general who breaks up his army into several smaller groups to take different roads to avoid setting off mines. They still all arrived at the same time and were able to take over the capital. Then subjects were ask to solve a problem where the doctor had to radiate a tumor with enough force to destroy it but without harming the tissue around it. Subjects were told to use the story as the model to solve the problem and most subjects realized that the strategy is to break up the radiation source into smaller rays and focuses them only on the tumor so that the strongest radiation is only there.

“Hands-on experiments can be a powerful way to ground emergent knowledge...” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 22) However there are different ways to practice. Consider doing math homework with the use of formulas and theorems. If you just followed the rules of the formula, you may have completed your homework in less time than if you truly went through the formula to fully and deeply understand all the ins and outs of the formula. Students who understand the reasons behind a formula can usually remember it much better and apply it much better in the long run. They may even be able to more easily learn or transfer to related mathematical (or other) information that shares the same abstract underlying core concepts, or knowledge elements. (Anderson, 2000) “In mathematics, experts are more likely than novices to first try to understand the problems, rather than simply attempt to plug numbers into formulas.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 41) Paige and Simon (1966) conducted a study where they presented subjects with an algebra problem. The expert group quickly realized that the problem was logically impossible.

In addition, practice will help your learners remember and recall faster. According to the power law of learning, your memory performance improves as a power function of practice. (Anderson, 2000) In a study by Pirolli and Anderson (1985) subjects practiced sentences and their speed to recall the sentence improved the more they practiced, before leveling off.

“Students’ abilities to acquire organized sets of facts and skills are actually enhanced when they are connected to meaningful problem-solving activities, and when students are helped to understand why, when and how those facts and skills are relevant.” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 23)

Therefore, just as we draw a line between memorizing facts and learning with understanding, we must differentiate practice from deliberate practice. Practicing the mathematical formula by applying it to problem after problem is not the same as “deliberate practice” where you may apply the formula, and as you do, continuously check and recheck your own understanding. This means you use metacognitive strategies to insure a deep level of understanding. (Bransford et al., 2000) This is also consistent with the depth of processing theory that states that information processed at a deeper level of analysis improves memory for that information.

How (Application):

    1. Try to weave in an example to every section, definitely for the main points that communicate the core concepts, and, if possible, for the sub-concepts as well.
    2. Also follow-up at the end of each section with a practice exercise to let learners practice and apply what they have learned themselves. Design practice exercises where the same underlying concepts are at work. They shouldn’t be too simple, as that will not engage the learner, but they shouldn’t be too difficult as that would discourage the learner. For example, if you are teaching addition and show examples of adding two numbers, give students a practice exercise of adding three numbers. It is more challenging than the examples you used to teach but still manageable for the student to solve.


 Anderson, J. R. (2000). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications: Fifth Edition. New York, N.Y.: Worth Publishers.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000).
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Gick, M. L., & Holyoak, K. J. (1980).
Analogical problem solving. Cognitive Psychology, 12, 306-355.

Paige, J. M., & Simon, H. A. (1966).
Discipline-specific Science Education and Educational Research: The Case of Physics. Paper prepared for the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning for the Sciences of Science Learning: An Interdisciplinary Discussion.

Pirolli, P. L., & Anderson, J. R. (1985).
The role of practice in fact retrieval. Journal of Experimental Psychology; Learning, Memory and Cognition, 11, 136-153.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Cognition, Metacognition