Learning styles differ from person to person. As a result, it is not uncommon for the learning techniques of instructors to clash with that of students. And when this happens, students can feel frustrated and discouraged—and the learning process breaks down.

    The key is to present information in a way that all students can learn effectively and apply their knowledge in the workplace.

    Enter Gagne’s Nine Levels of Learning.

    This process—developed by educational psychologist Robert Gagne—provides a step-by-step approach that helps instructors organize the learning process. Each of the nine stages complement the others and helps students understand and retain the skills being taught. After all, the goal is to achieve the best possible learning experience.

    Level 1: Gain Attention
    The learning experience should begin by gaining the attention of students. This signals the class that learning will begin and gets them involved in the learning process. Gagne suggests gaining attention by raising the volume of your voice or gesturing. In online classes, you have access to tools to help regain students attention, such as a timer. With a timer, you can display a countdown to the start of the next lecture, so students know how much time is left before their attention is expected.

    The most important thing to remember is to grab the attention of students. Try opening the course with something memorable and engaging, such as a video, infographic, story, demonstration, problem or icebreaker. For example, using ReadyTech’s “Round Robin” tool, students each get a set amount of time to introduce themselves to the class. This is not only an efficient way for students to know who is attending the class, but also creates a fixed amount of time for each student to speak.

    Level 2: Provide a Learning Objective
    It is very important to ensure that students not only understand what they need to learn, but that they grasp why they need to learn the course content. Be sure to explain what students will learn and exactly how the skills will benefit them—and the organization. In some instances, finishing a course may lead to a pay raise, help meet an internal company requirement, or make employees more efficient and productive. Reminding students of these benefits could increase student engagement throughout the course.

    When individuals understand why they are learning new skills, how the skills apply to their jobs and what will happen if they do not learn the skills, they are more receptive and interested in the training.

    Level 3: Stimulating recall of prior learning
    Chances are students have had some type of previous experience with the content you are teaching. Consequently, it is beneficial to get a sense of your students’ prior knowledge.

    Ask questions about previous experiences and about their understanding of previous concepts. Try giving a pre-test to gauge students’ understanding or present them with a challenging problem to solve. If you are delivering the class online, you also can conduct a poll to gauge the classroom’s experience level using your training software’s polling feature. Once you have an understanding of their knowledge base, you can connect the new information with skills they already grasp and make adjustments to your course to meet the students’ experience level.

    Level 4: Present information effectively
    Avoid cognitive overload by organizing your information in a logical and easy-to-understand way. Be sure to chunk content in a meaningful way and provide detailed explanations. Consider displaying a course schedule at the start of the course, so students can see how the course will progress. In addition, offer multiple examples of the same content via videos, group work, demonstrations and lectures. This will effectively target different learning preferences.

    Consider the “less is more” approach. Instead of cramming the kitchen sink into each course, provide less content and focus on reinforcing the content in multiple ways. For example, at the end of each curriculum section, give a “Key Takeaways” section that summarizes the section’s main points and actionable items.

    Level 5: Provide guidance
    To help students learn and retain information, provide alternative approaches that illustrate the skills you are trying to teach. Use examples, case studies, stories, analogies and graphics to help students learn more effectively.

    Additionally, coach students on how to actually learn and use the skills. Virtual training labs are very helpful because these labs provide students with hands-on experience, while also allowing students to make mistakes--without any risk to an organization’s infrastructure. Keep in mind that frustrated students do not learn as effectively as confident students, who understand the concepts and have hands-on experience applying those concepts.

    According to the Social Learning Theory, individuals learn from one another via observation, imitation and modeling. Embrace this theory by asking current employees or customers to help you teach the material.

    Level 6: Elicit Performance
    Students must be able to demonstrate the skills they have learned. Provide opportunities to practice these skills via role playing or exercises. Or in the case of online training delivery, by offering virtual training labs so students get hands-on experience. Keep in mind that hands-on practice is more effective than merely listening to lectures or watching videos.

    Because practice allows for mistakes, this can be a valuable learning tool. In fact, a Journal of Applied Psychology study found that people perform better when they are allowed to make mistakes during training. The study claims that people become comfortable with mistakes and see the learning potential behind them. This, in turn, creates level-headed students who later remain focused when performing tasks on the job.

    Level 7: Provide Feedback
    Once students have practiced and demonstrated their newly learned skills, provide lots of specific feedback and guidance. Reinforce any points they missed. Be sure to share what students are doing correctly and/or incorrectly.

    Level 8: Assess Performance
    Evaluate your students to ascertain what they have learned. By testing your students’ skills via assessments, you can see what information they understand and what needs to be reinforced.

    Try giving a test or other measurement tools to show that they grasp the material or skill. Tests, short questionnaires and essays can be an effective way to test knowledge. In addition, assigning lab exercises without step-by-step instructions allows students to practice and test their skills independently--without any teacher guidance.

    Level 9: Enhance retention and transfer
    In this last stage, students need to demonstrate that they have retained information by transferring their new knowledge or skill to various real-life situations. Ensure that students have opportunities to use their skills on a regular basis. Consider follow-up sessions to review new skills.

    It is important for students to understand the skills learned and apply it to their jobs after the training. What can you do to help students be successful in their jobs? What will they be asking after the training has concluded? What tools should you provide to improve their success?

    Gagne's Nine Levels of Learning model provides trainers with a framework that helps learners be engaged and retain new skills. Because each stage complements the others, the learning model helps trainers structure the learning process and ensure that students not only understand the information, but also can use it in the work environment.

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