Theories on training and learning


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Theories on training and learning

  1. 1. Theories of training SECTION THREE Theories of training
  2. 2. ! Training of Trainers
  3. 3. Theories of training ! SECTION THREE Theories of trainingT his section of the manual will provide a detailed explanation of the mental processes behind training and learning. Although explanations are presented as theories, they have profound practical implications in training.It is because of this “real world” importance that every trainer should understandand be able to apply concepts presented in the following pages. This is essentialso that trainers can be conscious of the factors at work in their learners’ mentalprocesses, and in order to realize the greatest transfer of knowledge and skill.Domains of learningIn the 19th century, instruction tended to be a simple transactional process.Instructors presented material in a manner they considered understandable, andlearners were expected to learn. At the time, trainers had nothing more complicatedthan this in mind. Those who did not learn well enough were considered somehowpersonally negligent, and methods were used to reinforce learning that would makefailure quite uncomfortable. In Europe and North America slow learners wereeven punished. At the very least, those who had trouble learning were stigmatizedor ostracized. You may be familiar with Charles Dickens’ novels containing themesabout the negative consequences of this simplistic and harsh method of instruction.Inherent in the perspective of that era was the assumption that learning is primarilythe responsibility of the learner, and the instructor’s role is merely as a conduit tomaterial. In the 20 th century, a new movement arose that offered an alternativeconception. This movement attempted to adapt scientific models and to applythem to the learning process. Adherents of this new philosophy espoused the beliefthat learning could be carried out with the same discipline and precision used inscience, and that this would result in more consistent results. Such an approach tolearning was mirrored in application of so-called scientific methods to a wide rangeof fields. For example, there was a scientific management school that argued forstrict application of the principles of physics and mathematics in organizations.These movements had many unfortunate outcomes, but they also led to somepositive results. For one thing, in the field of education they focused attention onthe nature of the relationship between the instructor and the learner. It soon becameclear that learning was a much more complex task than had originally been thought.Additionally, the role of the instructor was recognized as important to the successof a learning exercise. One could not blame the learner alone when learning failedto occur. Instructors had an obligation to become skillful in transferring instructionand to make the learning as easy as possible for the learner.
  4. 4. ! Training of Trainers As the decades passed, and with the further application of science, mostparticularly the study of physiology and psychology, knowledge about the processof learning grew more complete. What emerged as research into learning continued,was that there were actually multiple dimensions of learning, not just one. It alsowas realized that learning in each dimension was distinct, requiring different setsof skills and abilities. This meant that a person might be brilliant at learning in oneof those dimensions and not in others. It also meant that instructors could not relyon only one method of presenting material; they had to tailor their method ofinstruction to the nature of the particular intended dimension of learning. These dimensions are usually called domains, a term that refers to broadcategories defining distinct types of learning. Conventionally, three domain havebeen identified by researchers—cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills. Thereare also subdivisions within these domains recognized by researchers and otherexperts, but generally most instructional theorists accept the three as adequatedescriptions of learning categories. Indeed, it is worth emphasizing that most personswho study learning and learning behavior believe that there is not just one mentalaptitude, but many. Experts discovered long ago that an individual who has strongverbal abilities may or may not have good mathematics abilities. Likewise, theperson who is recognized as a good writer may not seem to be very skillful whenspeaking aloud. Their oral aptitude may not match their writing aptitude becausethe two capacities require different skills and mental abilities. The exact numberof different mental abilities is not known, though some experts believe there aremany, not just a few. This is an area of ongoing research, and there is still much tobe discovered on the subject of learning types.Cognitive learningThe first of the domains mentioned, and possibly the most familiar, is cognitivelearning. Cognitive learning requires individuals to “internalize” facts andinformation. Leaning this information might take the form of simple memorization—how to spell a name or the capital cities of Asian nations. It might also meangaining an understanding of concepts in which ideas are connected in some way,for example spatially or by some type of ordered relationship. Psychologists havestudied cognitive abilities for about a century, but many questions still remain.Technically speaking, cognition is considered to be any kind of ability in whichmental abstractions (words, propositions, images and the like) of information canbe processed and used. Intelligent learners are better able to process the abstractionand to do so quickly. Interestingly, it has become well accepted among researchersthat the way human brains carry out cognitive tasks varies greatly from one cultureto another. Even in similar cultures, for instance ones in Western Europe, testsmeant to measure cognitive learning abilities in one society are known to be unableto measure the trait accurately in others. People who show high levels of cognitivelearning may succeed in the academic setting but may not show higher levels ofability in daily work situations or in coping with common life challenges.
  5. 5. Theories of training !! Training in the cognitive domain stresses improvements in the quality of thinkingactivities by moving learners toward achievement of goals. The trainer’s role isone of adjusting the learning situation to enhance the pace of learning and toarrange the sequence of learning points to suit the material being presented.Simplification and organization are keys to enhancement of learning in cognitivetraining. Many trainers also focus their attention on building strong motivationinto the learning exercise—typically through tactics such as gaming and competition,structured recognition and reward systems, and the like. Other trainers emphasizethe importance of making the learning engaging, especially through the use ofpuzzles and other intellectual challenges to the learner. In the end, the learnercontrols most of the factors that influence the success of training. Learners must beencouraged to set their own objectives and to strive for these goals. In a positivelearning environment, these goals are influenced by the successes of others in thetraining group and by the leadership of the trainer. One of the most common types of abstractions included within the domain ofcognition is the ability to learn or “memorize” meanings and associations of words.This can include what words mean, lists of words, and so on. It includes any otherkind of learning that involves acquiring facts and knowledge. Facts not only meannumbers and words, the kinds of things we normally think of memorizing, but theway that something looks—its color and appearance. It can include sounds, andother types of impressions that our senses give us. Cognition might involve suchthings as the steps in troubleshooting a piece of equipment, the proper way tolight a set, the procedures for filing budgets in our organization, and so on. Beyondmere memorization, cognitive learning also involves problem-solving, decision-making, and explanation. These are obviously complex processes, but we cangenerally define a series of steps required in each. Take, for example, problemsolving. First, must come an awakening of interest in the problem, then a reviewof the issues, an analysis of the problem, tentative formulation of explanations orsolutions, weighing of these options, and finally selection of the best option. Thisis then followed by some kind of evaluation as the option is exercised—in otherwords asking, does the solution work as expected?Learning and memoryAs a side aspect of cognitive learning, it must be recognized that the way humanbrains process information apparently has three modes: short-term memory (alsocalled working memory), long-term memory, and sensory memory. Short-termlearning is the memorization of information to be retained for relatively short periodsof time. The time may be just seconds, or at most minutes, before learning is lostif it is retained only in short-term memory. This may seem to be a problem fortrainers, but it actually can be an advantage. Suppose your memory was clutteredwith long-unused names, facts, and other trivia. It is really better to remembersome things only long enough to use them, then they should be discarded. For
  6. 6. ! Training of Trainersinstance, suppose you wanted to make a telephone call to schedule an appointment.You would look up the number and quickly memorize the number, then dial it.Ten minutes later, you would not be able recall the number. Dropping items frommemory that serve no further purpose avoids the mental jumble that might otherwiseaccumulate. Long-term memory is used to retain important and useful information for longperiods, perhaps for years, decades, or a lifetime. Even in long-term memory, ourbrains are constantly culling through the items stored to find ones that can bediscarded. For example, can you recall your family’s telephone number used whenyou were a child? When you were a youngster that telephone number wasimportant, and you made use of it often enough to retain it in long-term memory.But today you may not use the number any longer or it may have changed.Retaining in memory an obsolete telephone number has no purpose, so perhapsyou have moved it out of long-term memory. And even if so, you probably wouldhave no difficulty recalling the appearance of your childhood house (its color,size, the arrangement of rooms, etc) because these facts stored in long-term memoryare still relevant to your life due to their personal significance. We do need to keep some information indefinitely, of course. It appears thatinformation to be stored in long-term memory must first be processed throughshort-term memory. Our brains have the capacity to shift learning from short-termlearning into long-term storage when needed. Clearly, the task of trainers is toensure that learning is not just temporarily stored in short-term memory, but movedonward into long-term memory. Training is of little merit if all we can do is enhanceknowledge of information for short periods of time. Unlike long-term memory,short-term memory has a limited capacity. Try to memorize a list of random words.The difficulty of this learning task rises as the number of words is increased untilfinally the capacity of short-term memory is reached and you cannot memorizethe entire list. Research has shown that about seven (give or take two) bits ofinformation are about all that can be held in short-term memory. In training, theneed to pass information through this limited memory storage poses a problem.Short-term memory acts as a bottleneck and forces us to rely on special tactics toensure transfer to long-term memory. One approach is to “chunk” information orto combine together bits of information so that they can be stored as one. Anexample of this is to use a mental cue such as “SMARTE” (see section six for anexplanation of this) to internalize a list of learning points. Another tactic is calledrehearsal. This is where the item in short-term memory is restated again and againto hold it there until it can be transferred to long-term memory. But rememberthat even if we succeed in moving cognitive learning from short-term to long-termmemory, there is no guarantee it will remain there. Because our minds are constantlylooking for ways of discarding information no longer needed, we may forget learningunless it is regularly used.
  7. 7. Theories of training !# The main goal of cognitive training is to provide our learners the knowledgenecessary to carry out their functions in the workplace. There are several problemswe have to overcome in order to be successful in this type of training. First is theproblem just mentioned—making certain that the learning is moved from short-term to long-term memory. There are several ways to combat that problem; eachinvolves making the knowledge more memorable. One way is to link the learningto knowledge that learners already have internalized. If your learning extendsknowledge already in long-term memory, it is more likely to be retained in long-term memory too. Another solution is to link the learning to something that isunusual or odd. The use of peculiar audio visual aids, or presentations that containsurprises or other unusual features seem to help people retain knowledge longer.In the end, there is no substitute for repetition of the learning. Repeating materialhelps freshen the learning in short-term memory, eventually leading to its transferto long-term memory. This works best if the trainer varies the way repetition occurs.If the training reviews material already presented offering slightly differentexplanations, different examples, different ways of understanding the topic, it notonly makes the material more interesting, it speeds the conversion to long-termmemory. Fortunately, our long-term memory appears to have an unlimited capacity,so we need not worry about overloading our learning processes. Also, thecommonly-held belief that learning capabilities decline with age has not beenverified by research. Many experts think that learning in healthy adults can continueto an indefinite age, though research is still underway on this. The third category of memory, sensory memory, is used when information isregistered by our senses: touch, hearing, smell, vision, and taste. This memory isvery short-term, often lasting less than one second. To see how this type of memoryworks, close your eyes. Wait for a few seconds, then blink your eyes open for justa moment. Note that the image from your eyes remained for a fraction of a secondafter your eyes closed again—sensory memory provided that brief glimpse of theimage after the visual stimuli disappeared. This kind of memory is important froma physiological point of view but does not seem to have a significant role in training.Psychomotor skills There are some tasks that require a different sort of “memorization.” Take, forinstance, the skill of riding a bicycle. One can easily know and understand what isrequired to keep a bicycle upright, yet be unable to ride a bicycle. Training learnersto pedal and steer the bicycle so that they remain upright is an experience sharedby practically every parent. Consider what is expected in this learning task. Thisskill demands more than cognitive knowledge, it also requires an ability to usemuscles in a very particular way, a way that is not necessarily “natural.” The learningthat is necessary to accomplish tasks such as bicycle riding, playing football, ordriving an automobile employ special physical abilities. These are calledpsychomotor skills, although sometimes they are also known as sensorimotor,
  8. 8. !$ Training of Trainersperceptual-motor, or simply motor skills. Abilities such as these are associatedwith the sensory and motor segments of the brain’s cortex. Other examples ofpsychomotor skills are keyboard touch typing, playing a musical instrument, andswimming. In the realm of broadcasting, tasks such as loading film cameras, newsreading, and operating an audio mixer, all require the development of psychomotorskills. It should come as no surprise that because development of psychomotor skillsis so different from cognitive learning, the training required must be different aswell. Learning a skill such as playing a piano cannot be accomplished in a lecturehall; it has to be achieved while seated at a keyboard, playing and playing, againand again. Knowing how to play a piano is only the start of becoming a pianist; itmust also involve honing one’s physical abilities so that pressing the keys (and thepedals) produces music of pleasing quality. Motor skills training aims to refine aperson’s ability to produce coordinated muscular movements that are governedby signals he or she picks up from the environment. That is to say, the learneracquires the ability to sense needed movements and to match his or her muscularresponse so as to produce those movements. Pianists listen intently to their musicin order to determine how they should move their hands and fingers to producethe desired sounds. In building psychomotor skills, training focuses ondemonstration and repetition of the specific physical actions necessary to performtasks. This means that learners must acquire the ability to observe their own physicalmovements and to analyze and interpret them properly so as to correct and enhancetheir performance. There are several characteristics of psychomotor skills learning that distinguishthis type of training from others. First, the trainer ordinarily operates in a one-on-one mode with the learner. The trainer must work directly with only a singleindividual. It is not generally possible to work with an entire group at once. It maybe possible to have a group of trainees working on their skills individually withinthe same room, and the trainer may be able to move from person to person,working with each one in turn. But the basic need in psychomotor training is toprovide observation and feedback on an individual basis. Secondly, the kind offeedback given each learner is in the form of “coaching,” to direct the traineetoward improved physical mastery of skills. Conventionally, this follows the modelin which the performance is observed, the trainer looks for discrepancies, thenadvises on how to correct these deficiencies, and the trainees repeats theperformance. This leads to another round of observation and correction, and soon. Progress in learning is often uneven, with learners’ abilities frequently reachinga plateau or even declining before showing improvement. Direct sensory feedbackplays a big role in this type of learning too. This occurs when the learner canobserve his own behavior and then determine for himself what corrections areneeded to reach the expected level of performance. For example, good pianistslearn to improve their performance by listening to their own playing.
  9. 9. Theories of training !% An interesting aspect of psychomotor skills is that once internalized, they remaina “learned” skill thereafter regardless of the passage of time. Such skills can beretained for years without regular use. Imagine what might happen if you tried toride a bicycle after years of not using one. Your attempts would be awkward atfirst and you would seem a bit unsteady, but you should be able to keep thebicycle upright without too much difficulty. And if you rode the bicycle each dayfor a week or two, your skills would have returned to nearly the same level aswhen your abilities were at their peak. Hence you did not “forget” the skill entirelyand with just a little practice you would be able to restore most of your abilities ina short time. Recapturing that level of performance required only a small fractionof the effort that was needed to achieve it the first time. In some ways, the demands of learning psychomotor skills impose fewerburdens on the trainer than other types of training. The performance is usuallyeasy to observe and therefore judgments about it are easy to make. There needbe little guessing about what the trainee is thinking, or about procedures—if theperformance matches the standard required, that is usually sufficient. The mainfactors that seem to influence psychomotor skills learning are motivation and thepresence of accurate feedback about performance. Of course, as in all types oflearning a significant determinant of learning capacity is purely genetic. Not all ofus can become great pianists; some people are simply born with more talent for aspecific skill than others. But an individual lacking abilities in one physicalperformance does not mean all other psychomotor skills are deficient as well. Aperson who plays the piano poorly might have great skills as a swimmer.AttitudesThe training of attitudes is the third and final domain of learning. We define attitudesas the tendency to think and behave in persistent patterns according to one’spredisposition toward events, objects, persons, organizations, and so on. Attitudesare closely related to the concepts of opinion, sentiment, and beliefs. Most expertsargue that the concept of attitudes is broader than mere opinion or beliefs. Attitudesrefer to a consistent way of thinking about a general group of things, whereasopinion and beliefs are limited to a specific situation or thing. The concept ofsentiment is even more expansive and less well defined than attitudes. Anotherword often used to describe this category of learning is affect, though this is usuallytaken to mean something somewhat different. Affect refers to any mood, feeling,or emotion that influences behavior. It is a technical term borrowed from the fieldof psychology. In practice, the term refers to the states of mind that cause a personto behave in certain predictable ways. Moods, feelings, or emotions might notseem to be the kinds of things that a trainer ought to be concerned with, but thesecan be extremely important aspects of the way people carry out their work and inthe way people react to events in the workplace. For this reason, it is a facet ofhuman behavior that deserves attention in training programs.
  10. 10. ! Training of Trainers Attitudes influence behavior in many important ways. If we have negativeattitudes toward our work organization, we will surely perform less effectively thanif our attitudes are positive. Creating a positive atmosphere in the workplace is animportant aspect of attitude training. More specifically, attitudes play a role inaspects of work such as punctuality, safety consciousness, performance accuracy,and motivation. All of these can be influenced by training aimed at attitudedevelopment or attitude modification. Consider the issue of safety consciousness.This is undeniably important in every job setting; we all want our staff membersto be able to work without worry of safety threats and to work in a way that ensuressafe conditions. Few people would disagree with the proposition that safety is highlydesirable in the workplace, yet some persons knowingly behave in ways thatcompromise safety. Attitude training about safety can raise consciousness of theimportance of safety issues and promote positive attitudes that lead to safer behaviorson the job. Among the three modes of learning, training of attitudes is usually thought topresent the greatest challenge. The chief problem faced in attitude training is thata person’s attitudes are internal states. A trainer cannot directly observe the attitudesof learners. At best, they can be seen indirectly through behaviors that suggestindividuals’ internal states of mind. Although this is also the way cognitive learningis assessed, the means for making attitudes observable are not so easy to constructas ones for cognition. Usually, evidence about attitudes is built throughquestionnaires, though it is possible to infer attitudes from other kinds of behavioror from physiological measures such as heart rate or Galvanic Skin Response(commonly known as lie detectors). Broadly speaking, human beings tend to beshy about exposing their attitudes to others. This is especially true if a person’sattitudes are considered unpopular or likely to arouse suspicion. In such situations,individuals tend to hide their attitudes or to send misleading signals about theirtrue feelings. All this may be done unconsciously. Attitudes are elusive and noteasily understood, either by the person holding them or others who observe them.Most people are not fully aware of their own attitudes, and they seldom reflect ontheir states of mind. Even if we do weigh our attitudes on a particular topic, wemay not accurately judge them. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of training in this domain is that firmlyestablished attitudes are not easily changed. Training over a period of a few weekscannot possibly alter attitudes that have been formed over a lifetime. As a matterof fact, the definition of an attitude is an enduring pattern of thinking about asubject. So, if an attitude truly is enduring, it must be resistant to rapid or casualchanges. For this reason, there is a big difference in the strategies employed forattitude formation and for attitude revision. Establishing a new attitude on a subjectwhere no previous attitude was held may only involve building a clear andcompelling justification for the new attitude. Bringing about a change in already
  11. 11. Theories of training !held attitudes requirestrainers to first offerconvincing argumentsagainst attitudes held andthen arguments in favor ofthe new attitude. Thissounds simple, but it isactually quite difficult. Theentire exercise is basedupon an appeal to logic, butas we well know, people donot always behaverationally. If people weretruly rational, they would not drive automobiles recklessly, smoke cigarettes, orengage in other types of risky behavior. Psychologists also have noted a factor called “instrumentality” in shaping ourwillingness to modify attitudes. Instrumentality refers to extent to which a thing orsubject is valued by individuals. Changing your opinion on a topic of littleimportance to you will be easier than changing your opinion on a matter that youconsider of great significance. It would probably be easier to convince you tochange the brand of your toothpaste than it would be to convince you to changeyour attitudes toward members of your family or to change your views on politicalmatters. The latter subjects are ones that are at the very core of our identity ashumans and therefore matter a great deal to us. We are unlikely to modify ourbeliefs on those matters, but our brand of toothpaste is something that counts forlittle either from a psychological point of view or from a practical perspective.
  12. 12. Training of Trainers