Neuroscience Part 1: What Was Old is New Again

FKA celebrated its 50th anniversary this past year. Paul Friesen started the company in 1966 and, along with Joe Harless and Bob Mager, was part of ushering in a formalized approach to training in the business world. In his book, “Designing instruction: A systematic or “systems” approach using programmed instruction as a model” published in 1971, Paul documented FKA’s Systematic Learning Process.

The fifty-year old model shown here provides a formula to ensure learning takes place. Basically any lesson should have three parts: Presentation, Application and Feedback or PAF. Presentation has three components: motivation, information transfer and testing for understanding. In other words, you must first grab the learner’s attention; then transfer the information; and, finally, test learner understanding before proceeding to Application. Application provides either brains-on or hands-on practice activities, and very closely aligned with this practice is the Feedback learners are given. FKA has always known the value of practicing; we recommend that 60-70% of the learning time be allocated to practice and feedback while only 30-40% of the time be spent on presenting the information. Practicing is the most important activity to ensure long-term retention.

What makes it new again?

There is a lot of buzz around neuroscience research and its impact on learning. One aspect of the buzz is related to another ‘old’ model, the “Forgetting Curve” developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885.

Ebbinghaus’s research also identified the “Learning Curve”, the time it takes the learner to achieve the anticipated end-of-program mastery.

Recent cognitive neuroscience research suggests the shape of both of the learning and forgetting curves can be changed by applying the principle of multiple practices to the design of the learning program.

Diane Halpern and Milton Hakel in their 2003 paper, “Applying the Science of Learning to the University and Beyond” in Change magazine made the point:
The single most important variable in promoting long-term retention and transfer is practice.

Clark Quinn in his book, Designing mLearning: Tapping into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance, published in 2011 took Ebbinghaus’s learning and forgetting curves and compared it to the these same curves if multiple spaced practices are introduced. While multiple practices increase retention, the spacing of these practices is very important.

In a subsequent blog, we will discuss the impact on the forgetting curve of spacing these practices.



Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development


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