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New From ATD Research: A Science of Learning Framework


Thu Dec 07 2017

New From ATD Research: A Science of Learning Framework

Educators and researchers have long been curious about how people learn. Although extensive research has been done on the topic, much is still unknown. However, what is clear is that popular teaching methods and learning strategies are often ill-advised. For example, research has consistently shown that massed practice (or cramming), rereading text, and highlighting do not lead to long-term retention. Why, then, are teachers, trainers, and facilitators not using better strategies? And what does contribute to learning and long-term retention?

One reason for not using better strategies is that talent development professionals don’t understand how people learn, as there’s such a vast amount of information on the topic. ATD’s latest research report, The Science of Learning: Key Strategies for Designing and Delivering Training, focuses on five learning concepts—motivation, cognitive load, creating appropriate difficulty, connecting to prior knowledge, and memory—and three teaching strategies—retrieval practice, interleaving, and spacing—that are key for instructional designers and facilitators to understand. These eight concepts and strategies comprise ATD’s science of learning framework. They were identified as important in improving how we learn based on a literature review and expert sources.



ATD Research recently conducted a survey of 814 talent development professionals about their use of the eight framework concepts and strategies in training. Thirty-seven percent of participants reported that there had been a conversation about the science of learning at their organization. The following findings apply to those whose organizations have had such conversations.

Participants were asked about the extent to which they gave each of the framework concepts and strategies consideration. Results showed that of the learning concepts, connecting to prior knowledge (63 percent) and motivation (53 percent) were most likely to be given consideration to a high or very high extent. For the teaching strategies, spacing (38 percent) and retrieval practice (36 percent) were the most likely to be given consideration to a high or very high extent when designing or delivering training.

In looking toward the future, respondents also anticipated the importance of interleaving and creating appropriate difficulty to significantly increase in the next five years.



The report outlines several recommendations to enhance learning and increase retention. To learn more about what the subject matter experts had to say, read the full report. Here are some of the highlighted recommendations.

Tailor content to learners. To connect to learners’ prior knowledge, Ben Locwin, former global head of R&D learning at Biogen and president of Healthcare Science Advisors, recommends tailoring learning content. “By knowing the demographics and background of your audience, you can tailor (to some degree) the material to help them connect the dots to other reinforcing material they already know,” he explains.

Utilize multisensory learning. A multisensory approach may be the way to go when the goal is to increase learning and retention of information. In fact, when an experience engages multiple senses, it’s more likely to be recalled later, according to Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist and former classroom teacher. She explains, “This means that the more senses through which information is experienced, the more places its memory is stored, and the more likely it will be remembered (retrieved from storage).”

Tap into curiosity to encourage motivation. Ultimately, motivation is the responsibility of learners, but facilitators can use various techniques to encourage it. For example, Becky Pike Pluth, president and CEO of Bob Pike Group, says, “Curiosity drives motivation. If you put some charts on the floor, people wonder, ‘Why did she put those down there?’ I do this in my sessions: They’re my rules and they’re on the ground; they’re my ground rules. But they become curious and engaged in what we’re doing because it’s different and I don’t tell them what it means right away.”

Learn More


The full report is available for purchase for a member price of $199 ($499 for nonmembers) at www.td.org/SOL. There is also a whitepaper, which is complimentary for ATD members and $19.99 for nonmembers.

Visit the ATD Research page to learn more.

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