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Pre-Teaching Interventions to Maximize Learning

2010 August 24

ResearchBlogging.orgA recent meta-analysis[1] by Mesmer-Magnus and Viswesvaran examines the value of various pre-instructional interventions for improving learning during training. Several are investigated:

  1. Attentional advice interventions direct learners to think about the application of training material to their jobs (i.e. “transfer of training”) rather than on basic memorization.
  2. Meta-cognitive strategies interventions provide learners with specific strategies for internalizing information – for example, identifying where they are having trouble learning a concept and encouraging them to modify their approach to learning it.
  3. Advance organizers interventions are any text or graphic organizing systems to provide students with a structure for the instruction they are about to receive.  This includes outlines and diagrams.
  4. Goal orientation interventions direct learners toward increasing competence/mastery rather than toward scoring well or passing a test.
  5. Preparatory information interventions give learners information about the training they are about to receive ahead of time, i.e. priming learners with a cognitive structure into which to integrate future information.

They also split their analyses by the type of outcome that was of interest:

  1. Cognitive learning includes increases in knowledge of facts, procedures, and other concrete information.
  2. Skill-based learning includes increases in practicable skills (the integration of knowledge into practicable behaviors).
  3. Affective learning includes increases in beliefs about knowledge, e.g. the answer to the question “how much did you learn?”

This produced several interesting sets of guidelines for training and educational design.

If your goal is to increase how much students learn about facts, you should use attentional advice, meta-cognitive strategies, and goal orientation interventions.

If your goal is to increase skills, you should use goal orientation, graphic advance organizers, and attentional advice interventions.

If your goal is to make your students feel like they learned something, use goal orientation and attentional advice.

Overall then, goal orientation interventions are consistently effective.  Encouraging students to learn for the sake of learning, and not to pass tests, has a positive effect in every way examined.  Convincing students not to worry about testing is easier said than done, though.

Perhaps most importantly, none of these interventions hurt.  These lists describe the practices that we have the most evidence will give a consistent and large benefit, but all of them have seem to have either a positive or neutral effect on learning.  So if you have the time, integration of all five types of interventions will certainly be an effective approach.

Footnotes:
  1. Mesmer-Magnus, J., & Viswesvaran, C. (2010). The role of pre-training interventions in learning: A meta-analysis and integrative review Human Resource Management Review, 20 (4), 261-282 DOI: 10.1016/j.hrmr.2010.05.001 []
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