Theory to Practice: Increasing Learner Engagement in Corporate Training Programs
Friday, February 5, 2016
Posted by: Dwain Starks, M.Ed., Starks Interactive Media, LLC
CDLT Research to Practice Blog
I am Dwain Starks, a 2015 graduate of the Adult Education program at the University of Central Oklahoma. I serve as the Supervisor of Learning Services with OGE Energy Corp. in Oklahoma City, and I own and operate an e-learning design, development, and instructional systems design consulting company, Starks Interactive Media, LLC. In my supervisory role, I also serve as a Senior Instructional Systems Designer, developing highly interactive e-learning modules that focus on a wide range of topics from soft skills to safety compliance/regulatory training. Safety and technical training design and development is a big part of what I actively do for OGE Energy Corp. In many corporate training environments, employees are often provided regulatory training in a web-based training format via a learning management system (LMS). Often times, these vital training modules are presented in a linear PowerPoint-like format, where a narrator reads the onscreen text back to the learner (verbatim), with a previous and next button provided on the e-course player to serve as their only form of interaction. Consequently, rote delivery of content is common and can lead to learner disengagement and stifle transfer of information to necessary workplace environments. This is a major issue for me as it relates to safety related training, because safety is often a matter of life and death. As an instructional systems designer, I have always been committed to producing highly interactive e-learning modules that offer measurable objectives to help guide the learning experience and support learner knowledge retention.
During my final semester of graduate school, I conducted a quasi-experimental study on the Effects of Interactive E-Learning Modules on Knowledge Retention. The purpose of the study was to examine the effectiveness of low and highly interactive safety compliance e-learning programs on adult learners. The participants included 36 Industrial Safety majors from the University of Central Oklahoma and were divided into two groups of participants based on class enrollment. The study incorporated cognitive load theory, which is a framework of instructional design principles based on the characteristics and relations between the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture, particularly working memory and long-term memory. Cognitive load theory was used as a theoretical and conceptual framework in the study to investigate the extent to which instructional design can hinder or support knowledge retention. The findings of the study are very promising. An Independent Samples t-test was used to determine the difference between the pre- and post-test. The results showed there was a significant difference in the pre-test scores for the experimental group (M=59.4, SD=10.5) and the control group (M=57.2, SD=16.3) compared to the post-test scores for the experimental group (M=72.2, SD=11.7) and the control group (M=64.4, SD=15.9). The experimental group completed a highly interactive compliance-based e-learning module on Emergency Action Planning (EAP), while the control group completed a less interactive compliance-based e-learning module on EAP. The knowledge retention data was collected from each participant using a pre- and post-test. A t-test for means was used for data analysis to compare the outcome variables between the two groups. The study provided evidence that learning outcomes for participants who completed the highly interactive e-learning module were significantly different from those who completed the less interactive e-learning module. A clear difference was shown in the level of knowledge retention in learners following the completion of the highly interactive and the less interactive e-learning module. It can be concluded that the design and development of highly engaging and interactive e-learning experiences promotes knowledge retention.
For this experiment, this process began during the design of the highly interactive e-learning modules’ storyboard. Information in the highly interactive e-learning module was organized and presented in a clear and coherent manner. It was divided into chunks of information to support memory organization and knowledge processing, and various forms of multimedia were presented to support visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learning styles. In addition, content became beneficial to the learner when measurable objectives were conveyed, knowledge check and other test questions were based off of the objectives, the content was clearly outlined and organized in a coherent manner, multiple forms of media were used to engage the learner, and interactive methods were presented to challenge and motivate the learner.
Following graduation, I was invited to present my study at the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) Annual Conference in Oklahoma City. It was my honor to present to a wonderful group of participants who exhibited a high interest in the world of e-learning design and development. Throughout my presentation at the AAACE Conference, I facilitated in-depth discussion with the participants. They were particularly interested in my initial presentation on Cognitive Load theory. During that time, we discussed the following effects:
- Modality Effect: People learn better when text is spoken rather than reading onscreen text.
- Multimedia Effect: Learners grasp and retain information better when words and graphics are presented onscreen.
- Contiguity Effect: When print words are placed near corresponding graphics, learners grasp the information better.
- Redundancy Effect: Presentations of redundant content must be avoided. Presentations that present words as narrations, along with identical text with graphics, fail to support learning.
- Coherence Effect: Learning is interrupted when extraneous sound, pictures, and words are used in teaching (i.e., unrelated and annoying sound effects, various depictions of dated clipart, etc.).
Discussion also fostered additional examples of promising practices for supporting knowledge retention; however, the key concept of chunking information (the practice of dividing large amounts of information into smaller groups for easier processing) was highlighted as the most beneficial method of instructional design. This is especially true when content is designed and developed to support the learners’ working memory.
Simply stated, when instructional systems designers implement these sound practices, learners have a better opportunity of increasing their level of knowledge retention. In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed conducting my research and having the opportunity to share it with the wonderfully engaging participants at the AAACE Conference in Oklahoma City.