How to Make an Active Learning Intervention Effective

Topic(s): training

Topic: Training
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article:  Active learning: Effects of core training design elements on self-regulatory processes, learning, and adaptability.
Blogger: Benjamin Granger

Current thinking about how employees should be trained has changed dramatically.  Instead of trainees being passive recipients of information, organizations are now employing active learning elements into their training programs. In a recent JAP article, Bell and Kozlowski (2008) took a closer look at how several key design characteristics common to active learning relate to learning and training effectiveness.

But before we jump into the major findings of the study, let’s quickly address the primary characteristics of active learning. Active learning: (1) Gives trainees control over their own learning and (2) Allows trainees to explore and experiment with learning material to figure out rules and principles on their own. (Hey, they never let us do that in high school!)

A primary purpose of Bell and Kozlowski’s study was to investigate the effects of 3 core training elements (i.e., exploratory learning, error framing, and emotion control strategies) that are common to active learning interventions. So what exactly did this study find that is immediately relevant to organizations?

1). Exploratory learning: Allowing trainees to explore training material on their own may be more effective than providing very rigid instructional procedures.  Moreover, exploratory learning is most effective when trainees are relatively high in cognitive ability.

2). Error Framing: It’s ok for trainees to make errors during training!  It’s even ok to encourage errors during training. Although this may seem counterintuitive to some, the goal of training is usually to improve employee performance (or attitudes) AFTER TRAINING. After all, who cares how well employees perform during training?  What matters is how well they perform on the job once the training program is finished!

3). Emotion Control Strategies: It’s helpful to use emotion control strategies during training, especially when training is likely to be a stressful experience for employees (i.e., material is highly complex, post-training performance may lead to promotion, etc.). Such strategies can be as simple as (1) including positively worded “CAN DO” instructions into the training materials, or (2) letting trainees know that there are always ways to correct errors once made and/or avoid them altogether.

All in all, if an organization is planning to use or is currently using active learning interventions, including these 3 core elements is likely to improve training results!

Bell, B. S., & Kozlowski, S. W. J. (2008). Active learning: Effects of  core  training design elements on self regulatory processes, learning, and adaptability. Journal of  Applied  Psychology, 93(2), 296-316.