Tip #84: Auditing Training: Looking at the Learner Activity Decisions
The second training decision category is what the learner will do to learn and to demonstrate learning has occurred
The findings from an audit of the first three weeks of Motor Vehicle Services Specialist 2 classroom training will help to elaborate on the types of strengths and deficiencies I have observed in this category.
Learner Activity Strengths:
With regard to what the students do in class, both instructors use three excellent training methods that are well suited to the technical content of the information and the needs of adult learners: (1) small group work problems; (2) computer simulation; and (3) dyads.
On the first audit day, the class broke into small work groups to answer problem questions that required them to interpret the statutes and regulations in their training manuals. This activity gave the trainees practical experience in identifying problems and issues, using the statutes and administrative policies, interpreting legal language, and making decisions. It made learning interactive, interesting and challenging, but minimized individual anxiety about accomplishment because of the group assistance. The small group process also ensured a greater probability of their success.
On the third audit day, the class worked at computer terminals to simulate the entry or revision of data from actual applications taken from the Madison office. This activity gave the trainees practical experience in the use of the computer and reinforced previous learning regarding how to handle various transactions. The use of actual forms simulated a real on-the-job experience in anticipation of the on- the-job training scheduled for the following weeks.
On this same date, the instructors paired weaker trainees with trainees who had stronger skills at using the computer to handle transactions. This provided more individual training instruction to those trainees who needed it. The results of the fourth exam proved the effectiveness of this approach. An individual had gotten the lowest score in the class on the third exam on registration/ title (she got a 76 when the class average was 90). After being paired on the computer with a person who had received a 95 on that same exam), she got a 90 on the fourth exam (four points higher than the class average of 86)!
Deficiencies and Recommendations
There is insufficient practice of the information to ensure that the trainees will be able to apply the information outside the classroom.
On the second audit day, the auditor reviewed the results of Exam #1, which concerned definitions, and Exam #2, which concerned sales/ use tax. The class average score was 95 on the first exam and 81 on the second, which included two failures.
The instructor attributed the poor performance on the second exam to the fact that they reviewed the material and gave the exam on the same day. The trainees did all right on the portion of the exam which involved cases similar to those covered in class. They did poorly on the “check mark” portion which had been covered that day. According to the instructor, they had gone through the entire law so the “check mark” portion “should have jumped out.”
Rote memorization based on one read-through does not contribute to the retention of information or learning. It is important to provide an organizing principle, present the information in short meaningful amounts, and provide sufficient repetition or practice to ensure retention.
Dr. Hunter suggests that instructors should answer four questions in order to design effective practice:
Question #1: “How much material should be practiced at one time?”
Answer: A short meaningful amount.
Question #2: “How long in time should a practice period be?”
Answer: A short time so the student exerts intense effort and has an intent to learn.
Question #3: “How often should students practice?”
Answer: New learning, massed practice. Older learning, distributed practice.
Question #4: “How will students know how well they have done?”
Answer: Give specific knowledge of results.
The auditor suggests that the instructors should build each training day along the following format: (1) outline the major areas to be covered that day; (2) provide the basic information in small meaningful amounts; (3) give the trainees an opportunity to apply that information in short hands-on exercises (work problems, case studies, computer simulations, role playing exercises); and (4) give a short quiz at the end of the day.
The purpose of this quiz should be clearly identified to the trainees as a means for them to reinforce the learning that has occurred and determine those areas which require additional study. The quiz grades would be noted by the instructors to alert them to areas which require additional work, but the grades would not be counted in with the trainees’ exam scores.
This approach would meet Dr. Hunter’s criteria. The quiz would provide useful additional practice and also give the trainees immediate feedback regarding how well they have done. It would also do three additional things that appear important for the trainees: (1) it would show they are held accountable for learning, so they should ask questions and seek clarification if they do not understand information; (2) it would alert them to the need to study, which apparently did not occur to many of them until after the uncomfortable second exam experience; and (3) it would build their confidence in what they have learned, so they would not be so stressed in their anticipation of the exams and they would not be so devastated or surprised by the results of the exams.
There is one major deficiency in the methods used to determine whether learning has occurred: an over reliance on the use of choral responses.
Specifically, the instructors generally present information, ask a question of the entire group, and wait for the group to reply in chorus. This is one technique for checking trainees’ understanding. The strength as well as the correctness of the response can give valuable clues as to whether the trainees know the answer.
However, it has two problems. First, some trainees do not answer. Second, some of the trainees who do respond may be “coat tailing” (making their mouths move even though they really do not know the answer).
The auditor recommends that the instructors increase their use of other techniques, some of which they already use with less frequency:
(1) Signaled Answers: Pose a question or statement and then have every trainee signal the answer (thumbs up or down; show the number of fingers which relates to the number of the correct answer; make a plus or minus sign with their fingers to show if they agree or disagree);
(2) Sample Individual Response: Ask a question of the whole class and then call on individual trainees for a response;
(3) Tests or Observations of Performance: Use daily quizzes. Continue to use work problems and case studies, and increase the use of the computer simulation.