(In a post last month, I discussed the creation of JPA–Job Performance Aids–that answer the question, What about…?)

JPA that answer the question, What about…? are potentially very helpful to your learners when they are being presented with two much information to memorize.  They are especially helpful to new employees, who are often inundated with information.  Shouldn’t we, though, require learners to memorize at least some of the information they receive in training?

The answer is certainly Yes.  The more important question, though, is which information we should lead the learners to memorize.

Years ago, I stole a metaphor from an author; I can’t remember who, unfortunately. Here’s how I used it to make an important point during a presentation:  I brought to a talk on learning design a large jar filled with coins of all denominations plus a smaller, empty jar.

I explained to the audience that the smaller jar represented a learner’s capacity to memorize information presented in a class.  The coins in the larger jar represented all of the things a person could know about a topic, with the larger coins representing the most important things, and the smallest coins–the dimes– the least important things.  I then upended the larger jar over the smaller, filling the latter but scattering most of the coins in all directions.

Several in my audience got my message right away; when we throw a lot of information at learners, what they remember is pretty random.  They remember some of the really important things, some of the less important, and some of the least important.  The don’t remember, however, more of the important things than they do remember; that “space” in their memory is occupied by less important things.

The importance of this message for learning designers can’t be over emphasized:

  • Design to embed the most important things in your learners’ memories.
  • Include in training only the less important things that a learner must hear in order for the most important things to make sense.
  • Address other things only by including them in JPA–Job Performance Aids.

Let me share an example from the world of Banking, where I’ve spent most of my working life…

New bankers need to know some things about their Bank’s credit card account options has a number of characteristics.  Here are just a few that they might hear–notice I didn’t say learn–about the program in a class:

  • there are several different card account types
  • some types are available only to consumers
  • other types are available only to entities
  • a credit line amount
  • an annual fee (or no fee)
  • a rate at which finance charges are calculated
  • a per transaction fee for cash advances
  • a per transaction fee for transactions processed outside the United States
  • an interval or “grace period” of a number of days from the date of a statement until a payment is considered late.
  • a late payment fee

These characteristics of each card account type–plus others not mentioned above–are often presented in training as though they were of equal importance; they are not.  Learners retain some of these “factoids” but not all, and what they do retain is a more-or-less random assortment of “coins” of various sizes.  More of the largest coins are more likely to be forgotten than memorized.

What is the alternative?

Imagine a class on bankcards where only the must-be-remembered factoids are presented by the instructor:

  • We offer several types of card accounts to consumers.
  • We offer several different types to entities such as businesses.
  • Account types differ from one other mainly according to:
  • The size of a credit line; the amount that the account holder may “borrow” from us.
  • An annual fee or, in some cases, no fee.

Notice that I said above, “are presented by the instructor.”  No harm is likely to be done if the other factoids are included in JPA and JPSS.  (It may be helpful to learners if you highlight the most important facts, however.)

In my next post, I’ll talk about the implications of the above for the design of online, self-paced learning modules.