Directing the Learner's Attention

Attention is the psychological mechanism learners use to select from the environment the elements they'll put into working memory. People aren't very good at paying attention to more than one thing at a time. Imagine listening to two different speeches playing at equal volume in your right and left ears. Your chances of following, much less remembering, both messages would be slim indeed. At best, you might be able to focus your attention on one of the messages, simply ignoring the other.

To avoid dividing the learner's attention, use various media elements such as text, graphics, and sound to present reinforcing rather than disparate messages.

You can actually help focus the learner's attention through a technique called instructional cueing—directing attention to the information that's most important or immediately relevant. Remember, simplicity and focus is of primary importance. Don't let the power of multimedia tempt you into creating overly elaborate presentations or they may steal focus from the very thing they're meant to highlight.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Because the limited capacity of working memory is rapidly overwhelmed when lots of new information is presented, it's crucial to provide frequent opportunities to use or practice the information in working memory.

Clear working memory by encouraging frequent rehearsal, which moves information into long-term memory.

It's important not only that learners have a lot of practice, but that the practice be provided frequently. A research study compared the effects of the same amount of practice on two groups. One group did all their practice in a single session; the other group practiced in several shorter sessions, spread out over time. The second group showed much better long-term retention of the information they had learned.

As a rule of thumb, it's important to provide practice opportunities after the presentation of each new idea or chunk of information. Because any given idea or chunk of information may require differing simulation or experimentation, it wouldn't make sense to say that you should provide an exercise after "x" number of ideas. Instead, consider the size of each new idea or chunk of information being presented. And take your audience into account. Like the chess masters in Herbert Simon's experiment, more experienced lean learners can handle more information between practice sessions because they can store larger chunks of information in working memory.

Effective Encoding Techniques

Practice has two complementary goals: to clear working memory and to move information into long-term memory. In cognitive psychology, the latter process is called encoding the information, and techniques that promote effective encoding are important to Lean Principles instructional design.

If you were to briefly study this list of words—spirit, rabbit, integrity, chair, focus, style, wing—which ones do you think you'd be more likely to remember several days later? Research shows that the words with concrete meanings, such as rabbit, are more memorable than abstract words like spirit. Why? One theory suggests that when you encounter a word that's concrete in meaning, your mind processes it in two different ways: phonetically (the sound of the word) and visually (the picture that forms in your mind's eye). Through this process of dual encoding, a concrete word like rabbit is lodged in your memory as two distinct, reinforcing pieces of information.

Dual encoding is at the heart of effectively teaching Lean Principles

Encourage dual encoding through the use of concrete words and different modes—for example, text, graphics, and sound—to reinforce a message.

With its rich mix of elements, simulation training is admirably suited to reinforcing information through two (or more) expressions or representations, from text to pictures to sounds. It's up to you to make the ideas and information presented as concrete as possible, and to make the various expressions of an idea congruent with each other. Remember: you always want to focus, rather than splinter, the learner's attention.

How learners get to work with information is extremely important, too. In general, information in working memory can be rehearsed or practiced in two ways. Simple repetition can be used to keep information alive in working memory. For example, you may repeat a phone number over and over to yourself while walking to the telephone. But after you dial the number, it usually slips from your memory within moments. That's because such simple rehearsal, known as rote repetition, isn't very effective at moving information from working memory to long-term memory. Questions that encourage this kind of rehearsal aren't effective instructional methods.

The second type of practice, called elaborative rehearsal, is much more effective at encoding information in long-term memory.

Elaborative rehearsal enables the learner to really interact with the information in working memory—and thereby to master the information.

To promote elaborative rehearsal, you must design simulation exercises that encourage the learner to apply knowledge in an appropriate context. In job training, for example, you might design interactions that are directly related to a job task at hand.

Avoid rote repetition in your interactions. Instead, design interactions that match job activities and skills. Such interactions serve as especially effective rehearsal opportunities because they mimic the contexts in which the learner will be called upon to use knowledge on the job.

Indeed, in job training, the more faithfully the practice opportunity mimics real-life applications of knowledge or skills, the more effective it tends to be.

The phenomenon promoted by such rehearsal, called encoding specificity, is the basis for designing effective Lean Principles instruction.

For procedural skills, The LeanMan Lean Factory Simulation exercises encourage encoding specificity through the use of high-fidelity simulation practice. Simulations attempt to replicate the actual job environment as closely as possible.

Encoding Into Long-Term Memory

Since the learner is solving job-realistic problems, the guided discovery provides an excellent encoding environment. The LeanMan Lean Factory exploratory environment will support encoding to the extent that good elaborative practices are included and that learners take advantage of them. Merely performing the simulation assembly operations without enforcing the lean theory will not produce good results. The goal is not to see how fast the cars can be produced, but instead to practice each of the elements of lean flow and to develop a sense of the tools of lean that can be taken back to the shop and put into practice in the real world.

For optimal learning results, the facilitator should fully explain, and practice, each of the tools of lean such as The 10-Second Test, the 15- Minute Observation, the Kaizen Event Profile and the Target Progress Report (provided as part of The LeanMan Deluxe PLUS VSM kit).

In summary, the best encoding opportunities are provided in the hands-on factory simulation exercises when coupled with the real shop data gathering and analysis tools, and practiced live in each simulation exercise (and live in the real shop if possible) so each learner has the opportunity to question the validity of the tool; to use the tool to gather and analyze real events as they occur in the exercise; and to relate how the tool might work back in the shop.

Encouraging Effective Retrieval From Long-Term Memory

The final and most important step in learning—and the key measure of success of teaching or training—is the retrieval of what has been learned from long-term memory when it's needed. Whatever medium is used, training too often produces learners who can't retrieve the knowledge they've been taught—the knowledge they need—when they need it. This is called transfer failure.

What causes transfer failure? The way people learn things governs the way they remember them. Imagine reciting the days of the week. Easy, right? Now imagine reciting them in alphabetical order. That's a much more difficult task, because we ordinarily learn the days in chronological, not alphabetical, order: so that's how they're stored in our long-term memory.

According to a researcher named E. Tulving, information can be recalled only if ways of remembering the information—called retrieval cues—are provided along with the information at the time of learning.

Because you learned the days of the week chronologically, you lack the appropriate retrieval cues to recall them alphabetically. You have the knowledge but lack the ability to use it. The cognitive associative cues used in memory that are attached to each bit of new long term information are also the cues used to retrieve the information. 

When creating Lean Principles instructional materials, then, you have to design in the retrieval cues that will facilitate recall, or retrieval, of the content of what you want to teach. It's also extremely important to build retrieval cues into rehearsal exercises. In training courses, the secret to helping the learner remember later on is to build retrieval cues from the job environment into the training. For some skills, such as frequently used procedures, it's important to create rehearsal contexts and interactions that are as close as possible to what learners will actually see on the job—like in The LeanMan Lean Factory Simulation Training exercises as discussed above.