Exploratory Training For Everyone! Yes, Everyone!

Topic: Training
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology: An International Review (JAN 2010)
Article: Active/Exploratory training promotes transfer even in learners with low motivation and cognitive ability
Authors: N. Keith, T. Richter, and J. Naumann
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Exploratory training refers to an instructional strategy that allows trainees to explore their learning environment. For example, in exploratory training trainees are encouraged to use trial and error (or whatever strategies they prefer) to explore the training material. In other words, trainees are in the driver’s seat!

Although exploratory training is often thought to improve learning and transfer of training, it is unclear whether it works for all trainees. Past research has shown that some trainees (particularly those low in cognitive ability and motivation) may not benefit from learner-controlled training environments (e.g., exploratory training).

Recently, Keith et. al, (2010) compared the efficacy of guided versus exploratory training for trainees differing in cognitive ability and motivation. Moreover, they investigated two distinct training outcomes: analogical transfer (transferring learning to tasks on the job that are similar to those tasks learned in training) and adaptive transfer (transferring learning to job tasks that differ from those in training).

In general, Keith and colleagues found that while guided and exploratory training are equally effective for facilitating analogical transfer, exploratory training is more effective for facilitating adaptive transfer. In other words, exploratory training is an effective strategy for fostering transfer of training to novel tasks, which is often the ultimate goal of organizational training programs.

Importantly, Keith et al. found that exploratory training was equally beneficial for trainees high and low in cognitive ability. The authors also found that exploratory training was effective for trainees regardless of their perceptions of the usefulness of the tasks being trained (i.e., their motivation to learn the material). Keith and colleagues’ study highlights two important points that are often overlooked: (1) trainees differ on many attributes (e.g., cognitive ability) and (2) what works for some trainees may not work for others. Nevertheless, trainees that differ in their cognitive ability and motivation appear to benefit equally from exploratory training. These results further contribute to the body of research in support of the exploratory training strategy.

Keith, N., Richter, T., & Naumann, J. (2010). Active/Exploratory training promotes transfer even in learners low motivation and cognitive ability. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 59(1), 97-123.