Last week, I gave a webinar with the CEO of Upside Learning on microlearning. In the commentary, one of the attendees pointed to the research of Pooja Agarwal. Turns out she’s worked with Roediger (one of the authors of Make It Stick, a book on my list). In a paper I found there, I found justification there for an approach I’ve advocated. My point is that we should make meaningful practice. Which is something I think we don’t focus enough on, so let me elaborate.
So, I argue that even for rote knowledge, you should retrieve in context and apply it. That is, I believe strongly in how Van Merriënboer talks about the knowledge you need and the complex problems you apply it to. That is, the knowledge underpins the ability to determine an appropriate approach and execute. However, checking to see whether you have the knowledge can be either typical knowledge test or retrieval in some meaningful way. I think the former is boring, but it did seem to align with what learning science would imply.
Fortunately, in that paper (PDF), however, she tested and found that while lower level testing lead to better lower-level recall, it didn’t impact higher-level problem-solving. Even a combination of low- and high-level questions wasn’t noticeably better than just higher-level question practice. So, if you want the higher-level skills, you practice them and that’s what’s necessary. Such questions require you to know the lower-level material, but don’t seem to need fact-checks.
Which, for experience design, is great news. My book on engagement suggested more meaningful practice. (It’s really on learning experience design, as it’s a complement to my learning science book. The final chapter talks about a design process for integrating learning science with engagement. ) What I proposed was to make practice meaningful by retrieving information in the context of applying it. This is the case whether it’s mini-scenarios, branching scenarios, or full games.
FYI, if you’re seeking a face-to-face workshop talking about engagement, I’ll point you to my upcoming one at DevLearn in Las Vegas on October 24. The focus is on elegantly integrating engagement, including how to make meaningful practice, It received top ratings across the board when I ran it last year, so I am confident it’s worth it. I’m running a related workshop online right now, but at times most appropriate for the Asia-Pacific region, but if you’re interested, you might check it out.