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pixel.gif (807 bytes) Learning by phases
MOST LEARNING experiences involve a number of phases. Although there are many schools of thought about the sequencing and relative importance of these stages, few would deny that all of the following are necessary to some extent:
  • preparation for learning
  • presentation of learning content 
  • practice with the new learning
  • review of progress
  • application to the work environment

And these phases can be represented diagrammatically as follows:

Learning phases

You'll see that the inner three phases constitute a cycle, which can commence with any of the three elements. So what goes on in each of these phases?

Most learning interventions will include a preparatory phase of some sort. This may be designed to achieve one or more of the following:

  • attracting the learners' attention 
  • clarifying the benefits to be gained from the learning experience 
  • stating the learning objectives and/or determining the learners' own objectives 
  • providing an overview of the material to be covered and/or the process that you will be following 
  • reducing anxiety about the learning process
  • building relationships between learners and between learners and the tutor / facilitator

Which of the above you include will depend to an extent on your particular views on how people best learn.

Let's turn now to the presentation of learning material. From a traditional perspective, this would come before practice or review - the learner moves from a general statement to specific examples.

Advocates of discovery learning tend to favour the opposite approach, where the learner moves from specific examples (obtained through experience and active discovery) towards a generalised statement - the inductive approach. In fact they would advise the facilitator to hold back from presenting material, instead using questions to encourage learners to come to their own conclusions. If there is a presentation phase, then it is merely to apply formal labels and models to what learners have already formulated through discovery.

Simply put, you will either be working from examples to principles or from principles to examples.

Next let's consider the processes of drilling, practising, testing and experimenting. Traditionally, this phase will be held back until after a formal exposition of the material. However, others will use practical exercises as a sort of laboratory from which learning can be derived experientially.

The next ingredient in the mix is review, reflection, the provision of feedback and evaluation. This could come right up front, as a way of drawing on learners' past experience before exposing them to new material. More typically, this will follow practical exercises of some sort, for a number of possible reasons:

  • to correct any errors in performance 
  • to reinforce correct behaviour 
  • to provide an opportunity for learners to draw conclusions from their experience 
  • to provide an opportunity for learners to make sense of what they have learned in the context of what they already know

Looping the loop
As we have seen, beyond the preparatory stage, it's possible to start a learning experience with any of these three phases:

  • presentation > practice > review 
  • practice > review > presentation 
  • review > presentation > practice 

And, of course, the cycle can continue from there in a loop. In the context of selecting training methods, it does not matter at all which order you choose. What is important is that the design for learning incorporates all of these three elements.

The final stage is to bring about a transfer of learning to the work environment. Various methods can be used to support the learner through this process, including coaching and the provision of job aids, whether electronic or traditional.

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