An important part of ensuring retention – that is, helping your learner remember what they’ve learned so they can actually go back and use it on the job – is practice. Practice makes perfect.
Sometimes the best way to practice is to recite things out loud.
Are you one of those people who talk to themselves while working through a problem at the computer? Do you mutter things out loud when you think no one is looking? Does it help you work through the issue? Does this help you (gasp!) learn?
We think so. And we think there’s a place for out loud in self-paced e-learning.
You want me to talk to my computer?
In classroom sessions, role play can help learners taken on and internalise a new script. Let’s say it’s a sales course and you’re teaching some good openers. You pair the students up and have them practise. The first time they try it, they read right from the script. The second time they add a few of their own touches. The third or fourth time, hopefully, they’re starting to add their own flair and make the script something they would actually say in a real-life situation.
The classroom has the benefit of a live coach (in the form of the facilitator or a fellow participant) who can offer feedback, suggestions and encouragement.
If you can’t recreate that environment in self-paced e-learning, some might say 'Why bother?' But we say, do bother. Any opportunity to speak out loud helps the learner to better encode the information and the script, and to put the key points into practice.
This sounds easy enough to do in a classroom course, but in e-learning? You’re going to make me talk to my computer? Yeah, we know it might feel a bit odd in an e-learning course, but go on… try it.
In his must-read book What Every Manager Should Know About Training (1999), Dr. Robert Mager writes:
“If you’re teaching knowledge, have the trainees verbalize the information – have them rehearse it out loud. If you’re teaching them anything else that happens mainly inside the head (that is, thinking skills, problem solving, discriminating, and so on), make them verbalize as they practice. Get them to talk it through, out loud.” (p114)
So how do you do that in self-paced e-learning? Just ask them. Ask them to take a look around, be sure no one’s watching and if they are, oh well – Say 'OK. Now that we’ve covered it, try it yourself. Practise how you might introduce the interview. You can read the script aloud from the screen or improvise your own version'. Add a 'Rehearse It!' icon to the screen. (In this day of headsets, everyone looks like they’re talking to themselves anyway, so I think your learners will get over it pretty quickly.)
Here are some examples from self-paced e-learning courses we’ve recently worked on.
The elevator pitch
In a selling course for a financial institution, the objective was to teach the learner how to make a three-minute elevator speech. You know the one – you’ve got three minutes to tell someone what you do, what your value is, and why they should keep listening.
After we taught the basics, we opened the elevator doors, started the timer and let the learner at it. Their task: to say their elevator speech out loud while the clock ticked. We used some simple but clever graphics to simulate the elevator, and the clock added a bit of urgency.
A service company introduced a new competency-based interviewing model to managers. The self-paced e-learning modules prepared the learners for a live classroom session where they would be doing some hard-core role plays: 40-minute interviews, from start to finish.
The e-learning contained overviews of the process and drilled down into some of the question styles and approaches, which included lots of interrupting during the actual interview. Since most people aren’t comfortable interrupting someone in a formal situation like an interview, we asked them to practise what they would say out loud. 'This might feel like a different interview than what you're used to. I might stop you at key points while you’re talking to drill down a bit deeper. Don’t take that as rudeness – I’m just trying to get a sense of your competencies.'
The call centre
One of our designers (in a previous life) worked on a series of modules for a call centre. Built into the learning was a practice task. The learner was asked to choose the response they would make to an audio statement or question from the customer. So far, so typical e-learning. But the next step was different. They were asked to record themselves (using the microphone they had as part of their job) saying their response to the customer query. So while the text response on the screen contained the key points of the response, it was up to them to word it in their own way.
The e-learning recorded their response. At the end of the module, learners were able to download an mp3 file which had their responses, followed by audio from the customer – so effectively a simulated conversation. This was then sent to managers, who followed up on tone of voice and wording used by the customer service agenda.
So what can you do?
Can you find ways of prompting your learners to speak up during the e-learning? Better yet, can you build in ways for them to record it themselves so they have a record of it? Let us know if you’ve ever incorporated a say-it out-loud exercise in your e-learning. What were the results? Share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more tips? Explore all of our Top Tips.
Mager, Dr. Robert F., What Every Manager Should Know About Training: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Money’s Worth From Training, Second Edition; Atlanta, Georgia, CEP Press, 1999.