Time for a short quiz. True or false:
- Learners are either “right brain” or “left brain.”
- People have different learning styles.
- We sometimes forget what we learn because we only use 10 percent of our brains.
The answers? All false. Our beliefs about learning are often based on myth, misconception and antiquated science. To help separate fact from fiction, here are six dispelled myths about workplace learning.
Myth 1: Everything you ever learned is buried somewhere in your brain.It’s not. Our brains aren’t cameras that record everything we experience. Faced with an endless barrage of stimuli, our brains constantly decide what information to keep and what to disregard. Some stuff never gets encoded into long-term memory.
Researchers are still determining the cues that signal the brain to pass information into long-term memory, but here are four instructional techniques that appear to get through: learning in a social context, learning through activities, connecting new information to existing knowledge and repetition.
Myth 2: When learners are frustrated, it means they’re failing. Struggle is a good sign. “Desirable difficulties” — challenges that make an initial learning event difficult — can enhance learners’ long-term knowledge retention. Learners may feel frustrated, but the effort they put in will greatly improve their recall.
To include desirable difficulties, create some unpredictability. Ask learners to practice a skill they learned weeks ago. Use a variety of activities to keep them on their toes. And don’t let trainers help out too much — allow learners to work through challenges on their own.
Myth 3: Instructors shouldn’t model bad behavior. Actually, they should. The mental effort used to identify what’s correct and what’s not increases engagement and retrieval. To err is human, to explain and correct is divine, according to a study published in 2012 that found using “erroneous examples” boosted learners’ scores by 12 percent on a follow-up test.
Erroneous examples can be particularly effective for struggling trainees. Consider tailoring “bad” examples to support learners’ individual needs. Just make sure not to use a learner’s actual wrong answer — it could embarrass the trainee and make him or her defensive. Create your own instead.
Myth 4: Mental rehearsal is better than nothing, but not as good as actual rehearsal. You’ve probably heard of world-class athletes using mental rehearsal: When you can’t physically practice, practice in your mind. This technique also works for cognitive skills. For example, in a study conducted at a medical school, researchers demonstrated multiple instances where mental rehearsal did just as well as actual practice.
People mentally prepare all the time, but few recognize how effective it is. Practicing mentally right before performing the actual task can lead to improved results. Suggest that learners make mental rehearsal a habit, and help them break behaviors down into steps to make it easier to practice.
Myth 5: Nobody cares what color the magic markers are. Research shows that giving learners choices can improve performance. In a 1999 study, “Rethinking the Value of Choice,” researchers used colored markers and anagram puzzles grouped by topic. One group of participants was allowed to choose their topic and their colored marker. A second group was given no choice. The learners given a choice completed twice as many anagrams. After the test was over, they continued to solve the anagrams on their own — long after the no-choice students stopped.
Give your learners control over details like where or when training happens. Consider allowing them to put their own spin on an activity, like using their own words during a role play. Choice matters, and when learners are given some autonomy, they engage in training.
Myth 6: The best use for an assessment tool is to assess. Assessments do more than keep score. Characteristics and consequences of adult learning methods, a meta-study published in 2009, concluded that trainers need to give adult learners a framework to evaluate their performance. If you give learners a way to see their deficits, they’ll be more motivated to work on them.
Reframe assessments to show learners their primary role. Use frequent, low-stakes assessments to keep learners motivated and on track.