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Does Your E-learning Training Pass the 3 Principles Test? (A look at Principle 2)

Would you knowingly get on a plane with a novice pilot? Or undergo surgery with a first year med student?

Most of us, given the choice, would opt for an expert pilot and a highly acclaimed surgeon. In fact, we have come to expect a high-level of expertise, particularly in fields such as aviation and medicine. Where does this expertise that we literally “trust with our lives” come from?

At its core, expertise is the result of intentional, well-designed training. When you look at your e-learning training program, ask yourself whether you have intentionally designed it to either develop or maintain expertise.

In my last post in the series, I introduced the 3 principles that all training—including e-learning– should be designed to do:

  1. Optimize the potential for learning
  2. Develop or maintain expertise
  3. Transfer training to the job

For this post, I’ll be focusing on expertise: what is an expert and how do we become experts? I’ll also introduce topics for upcoming posts that will have specific ideas for how you can design your e-learning training to either develop or maintain expertise.

What is an expert?

When I think of an expert, I imagine someone who is the person I would go to if I wanted the answer. The expert is the “go-to” person who makes connections, solves problems, performs a skill flawlessly, etc.

The reality is that experts are people who have stored domain-specific information into long-term memory often in the form of numerous schemas.

What are schemas? (another term for mental models or mental frameworks)

Psychologists typically define schemas as mental models or concepts that help organize and interpret information.  These schemas or mental models are stored in long term-memory and are easily retrieved.

For example, as young children most of us develop a schema for reading that begins with learning letters and their sounds and eventually matures into effortless reading of complex material. This “reading schema” is what allows us to focus on the meaning of what we’re reading rather than the process of reading. Can you imagine how tedious reading would be if you were still sounding out each word?

Using schemas and long term memory to develop expertise

One of the main goals of any training program, including e-learning, should be to help the learner integrate newly-learned information into long-term memory and build the intended expertise.

Information in long-term memory is often organized in schemas. Schemas allow the learner to quickly access large amounts of information stored in them. In other words, the schema, regardless of size or complexity, can often be accessed as one chunk of information. Think of the reading schema: You no longer have to sound out each of the letters—reading is an automatic skill, one chunk of information.

One difference between experts and novices in a particular field is the number of relevant schemas stored in long-term memory. Experts in a domain are able to quickly categorize a problem drawing from schemas that are stored in their long-term memory, whereas novices have to work to create or continue to build appropriate schemas for incoming information.

Helping learners build additional schemas will improve speed for solving problems or completing tasks and will facilitate the development and maintenance of expertise in that area.

Just how do you design a training program that will build schemas and develop expertise?

Here are four areas you should consider when you want to build or develop expertise (Each of these topics will be the focus of a future post in the series.):

  1. Manage the content by organizing it and grouping it into manageable chunks.
  2. Include practice and review to support your objectives.
  3. Provide support and feedback throughout the training.
  4. Use a personal approach to connect to your audience.

In this series, I’ll continue to provide you with tips to help you design an e-learning training program that will pass the 3 Principles Test: optimize learning, develop expertise, and transfer training to the job.

Look for my next post where I’ll introduce the third principle:  How to design a training program that will transfer training to the job.

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