Over the past 20 years, cognitive science has identified specific techniques that help learners’ brains efficiently and effectively encode, store and retrieve information from memory. While there are a handful of learning technologies that embrace cognitive science and demonstrating improvements in every measure of learning efficacy, the vast majority of e-learning solutions have yet to incorporate this science.
Learning management systems, MOOCs, microlearning companies and many other e-learning technologies have perfected the art of digitizing and distributing content, but they continue to use traditional learning and testing methods that don’t incorporate modern scientific understanding. As a result, they deliver mediocre outcomes.
Traditional learning tools rely largely on digital representations of outdated instructional methods — in-person lectures become videos, printed training manuals become PowerPoint presentations, and so on. Modern scientific study has proven these techniques are inadequate for effective retention of new information.
Consider, one week after a lecture, learners remember as little as 10 percent of the information. Or, think about the 80 percent of learners who believe that re-reading will help them remember the material, when research has shown that after one week they will only retain 39 percent of the re-reading.
Further, the testing methodologies deployed through many LMSs also create blind spots around the knowledge quality of a workforce for two reasons:
1. It is difficult to quantify knowledge acquisition and retention.Often, testing is performed immediately following training, so it does not adequately reflect the rate of forgetting. Advanced forgetting curves can be used to calculate the rate of memory decay — how much a learner will forget and how quickly they will forget it — and identify optimal windows for testing and review. But traditional testing methodologies don’t consider forgetting, and a one-time test is the only determinant for knowledge retention.
2. The majority of testing in digital delivery platforms is conducted through multiple-choice prompts with few safeguards against guesswork and misinformation.Research indicates that 20 percent of information scored “correct” on a test is actually guesswork. Further, even the most well-trained workforces operate from an average of 25 percent misinformation — information learners strongly believed they knew but were actually wrong about — which traditional testing methods have no way to root out and correct until after a mistake occurs.
Proactively identifying misinformation can result in millions in cost savings, and one way to do so is by analyzing metacognitive metrics. In fact, research from UCLA’s Bjork Forgetting Lab has proven the positive connection between confidence-based testing, or CBT, and knowledge retention, and CBT has been proven to help prevent guesswork and identify misinformation.
The research does not stop at identifying what doesn’t work. Cognitive science literature identifies at least 21 triggers proven to cause learning and lasting memory. Here are three examples:
- Retrieval practice, sometimes called “self-testing,” strengthens the retrieval pathway to information. Retrieved memories are remembered with greater strength than items that go un-retrieved.
- Spacing study sessions over days, weeks and even months improves long-term content retention. Reviewing information repeatedly — re-reading — in a condensed period of time — cramming — results in significantly lower retention rates. But seeing something again after the passage of time known as forgetting sets in tells the brain this information must be important — remember it.
- Uncertainty in one’s accuracy causes dopamine levels to rise, triggering a learner’s brain to become engaged and motivated to seek the correct answer. These levels skyrocket when uncertainty is at its highest possible level — 50:50.
There are already a handful of learning technologies using this science to great effect. These technologies are creating a paradigm leap in efficacy. Misinformation can be proactively identified, learning times can decrease by upward of 50 percent, and employee errors can be reduced by as much as 80 percent, saving organizations millions as a result.
Learning technology purchasers are often led to believe that by implementing an LMS with interactive content, they are integrating the latest in learning technology. But many of these platforms only offer the latest in distribution technology; there is no cutting-edge, science-based pedagogy built in. Because this is where all of the actual dramatic improvements in learning outcomes arise, these systems can’t deliver long-lasting results. So, if an organization has content that is important enough to measure, it may be time to reassess its LMS.
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