Computers in the Training Room

By Highfield Publications | 5 January 2000

How will staff training be delivered in the new Millennium?

The arrival of inexpensive, powerful multimedia computers has been heralded as a dream come true for both trainers and trainees alike. With current technology it is possible to create highly engaging, media rich training aids that allow learners to fully interact with the subject matter, produce automatic training records, and which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

But how quickly is computer based training (CBT) likely to catch on, and will it prove as effective as 'traditional' classroom style training methods? In this article, we will look at current estimates of the growth of CBT in the UK and its relative strengths and weaknesses compared to other training delivery methods. By looking at the way the brain processes information, we also provide an analysis of the key design features to look for when assessing multimedia training products.

DfEE survey

A recent survey conducted by Epic Group plc on behalf of the Department for Education and Employment provides evidence of the intention of many UK organisations to take maximum advantage of new learning technologies.

Organisations were asked to provide responses for three time scenarios:

  • currently - what they are doing right now

  • planning - what they are actively planning to do over the next two years

  • predict - what they predict will be the case in five years' time.


  • The survey shows just how much the usage of new learning technologies will grow in relation to other training methods.



    The Growth of CBT

    Although it is early days, many companies are already reporting successful experiences of using multimedia and online learning. The primary reason given in the survey for adopting these new methods is to make training more accessible (84%). But how well does CBT succeed in actually changing staff behaviour in the workplace?

    How effective is CBT?

    Researchers have conducted hundreds of studies into the effectiveness of CBT compared with 'traditional' classroom style training only to conclude that it's not the medium, but the method that matters. Poor instructional methods are just as likely to be found in group-training scenarios as they are to be seen in a computer based training programme. Conversely, sound instructional techniques are bound to succeed whatever the medium.


    Traditional Classroom Training

    Computer Based Training

    Main Benefits

    • Group dynamics - learning from each other
    • Learners can ask questions
    • Trainer can see when learner is confused or struggling.
    • Very low on-going costs
    • Learners go at their own pace

    • Train at any time of day
    • Always available for new staff and for refresher training.

    Main Shortfalls

    • Information overload
    • Inconvenient and expensive
    • Back to square one when staff leave or need refresher training.
    • Hardware required
    • Set-up costs can be high
    • Requires support from Mngt, Training and IT Departments.


    Research has shown that students on training courses:

  • learn more when information is structured and presented in bite sized chunks

  • learn more when suitably motivated

  • learn more when they find the subject matter interesting or engaging

  • more easily memorise information that they have reorganised in their own mind

  • are more likely to recall information that is directly relevant to the workplace


  • Thus, tried and tested group training techniques, combined with patience and perception, can minimise the potential shortfalls of training many people at once, and maximise the benefits.
    To see how similar instructional techniques can be used to harness the power of multimedia, we need to have a basic understanding of the underlying principles of cognitive psychology - the science of how the brain processes information.

    How the brain learns

    In order to learn, the brain needs to undergo a fairly complex and interrelated series of processes involving attention, perception and memory.

    Information is constantly entering the brain through the senses, primarily through the eyes and ears. If the brain is paying attention to these senses, the new information will pass into an area of the brain usually referred to as working memory. This is the conscious area of the brain used for thought, but its storage capacity is limited.



    The first key goal of effective teaching is to move information into working memory

    In a widely accepted formula for the capacity of working memory, researcher George Miller wrote that it can hold "seven plus or minus two chunks" of information. If more than this amount is introduced into working memory, some chunks will be pushed out and thus forgotten. In order to be learned, information must be transferred into long term memory before this happens. In other words, the information must be memorised, by using or rehearsing it in some way. Learning by rote (e.g. through direct repetition) is very inefficient at transferring information into long term memory. It is far preferable to reorganise the information or use it in a different context to the one in which it was first presented. Forming visual or aural associations with new facts, or looking for meaningful patterns in new data are highly effective at ensuring information is not forgotten.

    Creating Knowledge and Changing Behaviour

    The Three Key Goals of Effective Teaching

    1. Stimulate interest and attention to ensure information passes into working memory

    2. Move knowledge and skills through working memory into permanent storage in long-term memory.

    3. Ensure the efficient retrieval of knowledge from long term memory when it is needed.

    The limited capacity of working memory leads to the next key goal of effective teaching, which is to move knowledge and skills through working memory into permanent storage in long-term memory. Unlike working memory, long-term memory has a large capacity and long duration. Once information is stored there, it will probably always be there - it becomes knowledge.

    The final key goal is to ensure the efficient retrieval of knowledge from long term memory when it is needed. This is prerequisite to effecting a permanent change in behaviour of learners at the crucial time - whilst in the workplace. Efficient retrieval is facilitated by providing 'cues' during training that link directly to a specific work scenario, task or activity. Re-establishing these cues in the mind of the learner is the main purpose behind refresher training.

    Harnessing the Power of Multimedia

    To be truly effective, multimedia training must be designed to promote the smooth operation of all phases of human information processing. Programs should have an easy-to-follow, modular structure to enable the learner to move forwards and backwards through the content easily and intuitively. Users can then learn at their own pace, and repeat any topic as often as they wish. Support should always be available in the form of help pages, a glossary and some form of 'hint' button. All these functions can be achieved with simple point-and-click mouse operations, so as not to deter those with little or no previous computer experience.

    The design should be characterised by short lessons that include definitions, examples and practice exercises. Frequent questions, with feedback, will help build patterns of correct associations. Rich multimedia including sound, video, animation, photographs and interactions will bring the subject matter to life, with key learning points appearing as bullet points and definitions. A professional narration, which elaborates on the key facts, will provide additional sensory input.

    Frequent practice exercises serve to convert new skills into knowledge. Interactions and simulations encourage the learner to apply this knowledge in an appropriate and familiar context. This method is not only highly effective at moving information into long-term memory, it also promotes efficient recall by encouraging the learner to associate the new knowledge with actual work activities and scenarios. If a mistake is made, corrective feedback should be given - followed by an opportunity to try again.

    It is also helpful to allow the manager or supervisor to adjust the pace of learning for each individual to either standard or refresher training. Standard pace would requires the learner to complete each module before attempting an end of module assessment, whilst the refresher pace enables those who already have a good basic knowledge to skip topics they already know.

    Through the use of sound instructional methods, good multimedia training can support and promote the smooth operation of all phases of human information processing. Multimedia computers are unique among media because of the broad range of methods and information modes they can deliver, including animation, audio, video, photographs, illustrations, simulations, interactivity, exercises, and quizzes.

    They can also effortlessly monitor the progress and performance of a vast number of learners and give appropriate advice and feedback. They can deliver assessments and keep detailed training records, which can be made available instantly to management throughout a widespread organisation. They can deliver just-in-time-training to new staff or those in need of refresher training.

    Conclusion

    Through the use of sound instructional methods, good multimedia training can be a highly cost-effective way to deliver quality training and assessment across an entire organisation.

    Multimedia computers are unique among media because of the broad range of methods and information modes they can deliver, including animation, audio, video, photographs, illustrations, simulations, interactivity, exercises, and quizzes.

    They can also effortlessly monitor the progress and performance of a vast number of learners and give appropriate advice and feedback. They can deliver assessments and keep detailed training records, which can be made available instantly to management throughout an organisation. They can deliver just-in-time-training to new staff or those in need of refresher training.

    Current estimates are that multimedia and online training will replace classroom style training as the most popular delivery method within five years. But if the pace of new technology developments continue, it might be even sooner than that.

    Article supplied by Richard Taylor of Creative Marketing Media.

    Creative Marketing Media co-produce Food Safety 2000 - a complete multimedia CBT food hygiene training programme. To receive a free demonstration cd-rom and details of a special discount click here.

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