Is Training Dead?

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Traditionally, training has always been a one-directional process. A coach or instructor relays information to students and then tests them on how well they retain the material. With the recent innovations in online learning such as MOOCs (massive open online courses) and Quantified Self learning tools such as Lumosity, many experts are asking if the one-directional system is a broken one. They argue that without real-time feedback, instructors may not realize their students do not understand the material until late in the process (i.e. during exams) and are therefore not able to adapt to fit the needs of the students. In addition, without some sort of feedback, students cannot know how they are progressing in a course. For this post, we did an exhaustive review of the research on traditional training and feedback to further understand the trends and we wanted to share our findings.

First, we looked at research on the benefits and detriments to traditional training. According to Edge Interactive, the benefits to traditional training include speed and cost of development, learner and management acceptance (due to increased collaboration), and the fact that it’s a safe and proven approach. However, traditional training is more costly to implement, is limited in how many people can participate, does not provide just-in-time feedback, and does not always provide a consistent message.

Second, we analyzed research on the strengths and weaknesses of feedback. According to The Power of Feedback, an article published by the American Educational Research Association, “feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative.” A meta-analysis of over 250 studies related to feedback revealed that “feedback produced significant benefits in learning and achievement across all content areas, knowledge, and skill types and levels of education.” One study from State University of New York at Buffalo found that regular quantitative feedback significantly improved student performance on the National Board of Medical Examiners test, and resulted in a significant decrease in the number of students failing the course.

The weaknesses of feedback depend on how and when it is presented. For example, if a student receives feedback that they did poorly on an assignment after they’ve taken the exam it corresponds with, that feedback no longer benefits the student. However, if the feedback occurs close to real-time, the student may make the necessary adjustments in studying for the exam. Especially as MOOCS become more popular, professors must adapt their feedback processes. In an online class with thousands of students, it is not possible for a professor to give quality, timely feedback on every assignment. Students must look elsewhere for continual feedback.

The Lytics Lab at Stanford University analyzes massive amounts of data in order to enhance online learning environments. In one study in which student behavior was analyzed in three different MOOC courses from Stanford, they found a high correlation between students completing the course and participation on forum pages, suggesting a positive feedback loop. This led the researchers to suggest that course designers should consider building other community-oriented features, including regularly scheduled videos and discussions, to promote social behavior.

In summary, new research demonstrates that the one-direction training style is becoming less relevant and less effective as it is replaced by innovative feedback and benchmarking models. What this means is that instructors who effectively incorporate feedback and benchmarks into their methods can now push their pupils (and themselves), to the next level of learning. What this means for learners is feedback gives pupils the power to reach their learning goals on their own, at their pace and their desired level of mastery, without the need for traditional, in-person training.