When the need to maintain productivity limits time for instructor-led training, consider a spaced learning delivery model.

The task of delivering a learning solution on time and within budget is often complicated by the added challenge of limiting its impact on daily operations and productivity. While training can be accomplished by a single instructor-led or web-based learning event, when delays occur between the training event and the application of the new knowledge on the job, participants’ recall may be diminished and the information may not effectively transfer to their work.

In an effort to meet the needs of businesses today, a deviation from traditional classroom or virtual instruction is necessary. Spaced-interval learning is an option that meets the needs of an organization while providing the added benefit of minimizing the loss of knowledge that occurs with one-time learning.

Spaced learning delivers content in small portions over several days or even weeks. Content is then reintroduced at specified intervals to prevent learning decay. Integrated practice activities in the form of reading, video and scenario-based interaction can be incorporated to allow learners to immediately apply content. Learning content can be reinforced using games, role-play and practice activities during scheduled learning checkpoints to review content.

What Is Spaced-interval Learning?

Spaced-interval learning is a concept that has been used effectively in studying for standardized tests, information technology, and education. Spaced-interval learning involves presenting new information, then reintroducing the information after a period of days or weeks. Reintroducing the learning requires the brain to recall the information before the individual has time to forget. During each successive interval, new information can be introduced while reinforcing prior learning.

The biggest advantage of spaced-interval learning is that it minimizes the effect of the forgetting curve. During his 2015 keynote address on brain-based learning, Dr. Art Kohn challenged the audience to recall the effects of the forgetting curve. First introduced by Herman Ebbinghaus in 1880, the forgetting curve illustrates the natural decline in memory over time if knowledge is not immediately and frequently used after learning. According to Kohn, as much as half of information learned is lost in as little as one hour after the training event ends, and 70% of information learned is forgotten within 24 hours. Up to 90% of learning can be forgotten in one week. Kohn explains that forgetting is adaptive. It is the brain’s way of filtering out irrelevant information to make space for essential information that may be learned later. To further support the forgetting curve, Murre and Dros replicated the work of Ebbinghaus and found similar results in the decline in memory over time.

Spaced-interval learning overcomes the effects of the forgetting curve by providing learners with periodic review and reinforcement of previously learned content. The first reinforcement period can take place within 24 hours of the initial learning or later depending on the complexity of the information.

How Is Spaced-interval Learning Implemented?

When tasked with developing training to minimize the impact on productivity and the natural demise of memory, a spaced-learning approach may be the right solution. Here are a few considerations when implementing spaced-interval learning:

1. Meet with business leaders. Before starting the design work, speak with your business partners to determine if this approach meets their needs. The success of training events requires buy-in from stakeholders. A spaced-learning approach is a good option when taking learners out of their work will negatively affect productivity, as well as when there is a period of time between the training event and when participants will apply the training on the job.

2. Identify the learning timeframe. Next, work with business partners to identify the maximum number of hours each learner will be allotted to participate in training to best minimize business impact, and obtain a commitment to scheduling that time for learning. Learning periods can last as little as 30 minutes each day or a few hours each week depending on the amount of content covered and the time between training and implementing the learning.

3. Design training with the learner in mind. Identify the learning objectives and pertinent information required for the content, then begin the design work. If there is a relatively short time to design the program, leverage existing learning materials where possible; if there is a longer design time, build a new curriculum. Keep learning intervals short, covering no more than two or three objectives. Plan to deliver the content for each objective using different learning styles.

For example, consider providing content for auditory learners in an instructional, recipe-style format. Follow-up by delivering the same content with a video demonstration of the training to engage visual learners. Finally, allow learners to participate in a hands-on activity where the information is applied in a real-world setting using the instruction or video in a scenario or simulation. If the training involves training in a computer application, provide the learners hands-on practice scenarios that must be completed in the system’s training environment.

4. Schedule check-ins with learners. The culmination of the weekly training interval should include a facilitator-led, learner-centered check-in. During this check-in, the facilitator should ask for and answer learners’ questions, clarify any misconceptions in the content, confirm learning activities were completed and debrief the week’s learning.

5. Incorporate interactive activities. Consider using a gaming activity to validate and engage the learner in a fresh, different way. Utilize the design and training team to create gaming activities to use during each check-in session. Online quiz platforms can be used to create interactive, competition-based quizzes; “trust walks” allow learners to instruct each other during task completion. Return demonstrations allow participants to show what they had learned. Find and correct activities based on the “room of errors” activity used to educate nurses on patient safety. Encourage learners to recall information in a novel way.

For example, in a systems training, participants are placed in pairs or triads; in a virtual classroom, you can use breakout rooms. Each team is presented with a screen image with system errors. Working together, the learners identify the problems, and state the changes needed to correct the errors. Troubleshooting in a group setting allows participants to work in teams to problem solve the same way they would in their workplace. When the assigned time for teamwork ends, everyone returns to the main classroom. Each team then shares their screen image with the class, discusses the errors and issues found, and reports the steps taken to resolve them. Any items not found or overlooked by the team can be redirected to the class by the facilitator, or the facilitator can provide the information to the class. The role of the facilitator is to correct misinformation and provide the correct information to support learner performance.

6. Conduct a debrief session. At the conclusion, the facilitator leads a debrief session where learners share the value of the information presented during the spaced-interval learning period. A debrief allows participants to review the events, self-correct and improve future performance. It provides a safe place for participants to express feelings about the learning event in a constructive way. Learners can reflect on and discuss the pitfalls and successes experienced while maintaining a sharp focus on continuous improvement. The facilitator is there to guide the discussion, acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of the learners, address concerns, and highlight positive takeaways from the learning intervals.

Creating a Culture of Continuous Learning

In today’s work environment, training is often in competition with meeting the business’s demand for productivity. Organizations that do not devote time to develop its workforce through continuous learning run the risk of losing a valuable competitive advantage. At the same time, training delivered as a one-time event that occurs weeks or months before the information is needed means participants may forget critical information required to perform successfully on the job.

Delivering training over time using a spaced-learning approach can offer the best of both worlds —minimal time away from work with continuous reinforcement. Short bursts of information delivered across multiple modalities can offer enough continued interaction to overcome the forgetting curve and provide just-in-time training to improve performance on the job.