A resource for creating your maintenance training plan, from the leaders in simulation training

Hello Troubleshooters! Welcome back to Troubleshooting Thursdays. In case you didn’t get a chance to see it, check out our post from last week, “How to use data-driven decision-making (DDD) in manufacturing,” where we talked about how companies that leverage data simply perform better than those that don’t, and how you can begin to implement DDD in your organization.

This week on TST, we’re starting a series on how to build your next maintenance training plan. Today we’re looking at the learning pyramid, which shows the best strategies for effective learning and knowledge retention.

Training without knowledge retention is pointless

It’s fairly obvious that there’s no point in sending staff to training programs if they’re just going to forget it all two months later. Do you remember cramming for exams in school, passing the tests, but then having no memory of ever having learned the material? That’s a pretty common experience for people who’ve learned by listening to lectures in a classroom, and that’s exactly what happens to trainees who sit through a poorly designed training course. They pass the test and get the certificate, but may very well forget most of what they learned within a few months.

So how do educators overcome the knowledge retention problem? Well, they first need to know how effective learning takes place.

Learning pyramid and Cone of Experience

The “learning pyramid” is a well known graphic depiction of how well people retain knowledge based on how the material is delivered to them (instructional design). There are many different versions of this pyramid, all based on the Cone of Experience first developed by Edgar Dale in 1946. At its broad base, the pyramid or cone shows the kinds of learning techniques or experiences that result in the best type of learning for the largest number of people. At its narrow tip, it shows the more abstract methods of delivery that work for the smallest number of people.

Although the numbers in the learning pyramid tend to vary from graphic to graphic (Dale himself did not use them in his Cone of Experience; they were inserted by someone else at a later date), research confirms that using the more concrete types of experiences at the bottom of the pyramid results in better learning than the more abstract ones toward the top of the pyramid.

Left: The Cone of Experience, in E. Dale. (1969). Audio-visual methods in teaching (3rd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Right: Simutech Multimedia’s iteration of the Learning Pyramid.

What these two diagrams have in common is that at the top, the learning methods are more abstract. At the bottom, they are more concrete and experiential. Listening to someone talk, or reading about a real-life experience is not as valuable as richer multimedia methods, hands-on practice, role-play or simulation training, and direct experience.

At the very base of the learning pyramid is teaching others—in other words, we learn best of all when we have to teach the material to others. Although this was not in Dale’s cone, it is borne out by plenty of recent research.

Improving learning by teaching others

The idea that teaching actually helps the teacher to learn is not new. “While we teach, we learn,” said Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher and statesman.

Recent research is proving him right. For instance, a 2013 study looked at the performance of students studying a lesson on the Doppler Effect, of which they had no previous knowledge. One group of the students was told they would have to re-teach the material to others, and did teach it immediately after learning it. A second group of students was told they would have to re-teach it, but then did not have to. The third group was a control group that did not re-teach the material and had no expectation of doing so.

The study found that all of the students who were told they would have to re-teach the material outperformed the control group when it came to mastering the material. What is perhaps more interesting is that one week later, the group who actually went on to teach the material still outperformed the control group, but the group that only expected to re-teach it scored the same as the control group.

The study concluded that the act of teaching (and not just expecting to have to teach) the material to someone else really does help a student “develop a deeper and more persistent understanding of the material.” (This phenomenon has now come to be called “the protégé effect.”)

One reason for this could be because it involves retrieving the taught materials, and retrieval practice has also been shown to deepen learning.

The upshot of it all

The takeaways from all of this are that (1) more concrete, lifelike and direct experiences provide better learning and longer knowledge retention for most people than abstract methods of learning about something, such as listening to lectures or reading texts; and (2) teaching the material to another person also deepens learning.

That’s it for today, Troubleshooters! Join us next week on TST as we look at how to use this information to build a winning maintenance training plan.

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