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How to Increase Learner Comprehension

Posted by Jeff Welch on 3/3/14 3:00 AM
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Whether virtually or face-to-face, those of us who deliver training usually find ourselves teaching, explaining, and/or demonstrating complex tasks. These tasks often have multiple steps that only increase the level of complexity.


I’ve found that using the Whole-Part-Whole Learning Model (“model”) is one of the most effective ways in which to teach a complex task.


The model is an instructional technique in which content is sequenced. The entire task is shown to the learners first, then each specific part of the task is examined, and finally, the entire task is revisited.


This model dates back to the 1970’s and is addressed in the book, The Adult Learner by Dr. Malcolm S. Knowles, Elwood F. Holton III, and Richard A. Swanson. This book is described as the definitive classic in adult education and human resource development.


When incorporating the model, learners are first given a high level overview of the entire task from start to finish. This overview not only focuses on the task itself, but often includes the objective and benefits of learning the task. The majority of the instruction is spent on the second part of the model, focusing on the specific parts of the task. In a very pragmatic and methodical way, each part of the task is presented and explored. The learners have an opportunity to observe, as well as practice each part of the task in small, digestible chunks. Finally, the entire task is addressed once again. By now, the learners have typically acquired enough skill to complete the task from beginning to end. Revisiting the whole task allows the learners to “connect the dots.”


The whole-part-whole methodology is often used by athletic coaches when coaching and teaching sports. As a matter of fact, I routinely used this instructional technique when I was employed as a health and fitness instructor.


In my cardio kickboxing class, for example, I’d first model the entire combination for my participants. The group would simply jog in place while watching me demonstrate multiple kicks, punches, jabs, and knee strikes. After modeling the moves, I would then begin to teach each part of the combination. This was usually done at a slower pace, giving the participants an opportunity to practice their technique and form. Often the moves were repeated several times until I felt comfortable they understood and properly executed each kick and punch. From there, I’d move to the next part of the combination until we reached the end. Once I determined the participants’ readiness, I instructed them to “take it from the top.” At that point, they performed every move of the combination from beginning to end.


The model can be effective when delivering all types of content, including conceptual, interpersonal, and technical. Any content that follows a step-by-step process provides a good canvas for using this instructional technique.


When complex tasks are part of your training curriculum, consider using The Whole-Part-Whole Learning Model. It provides a systematic framework for instruction, and allows your learners to practice the complex tasks in smaller segments. This segmented approach often leads to increased comprehension and mastery of the tasks, improving performance which ultimately achieves the goal of training.


Dealing with Difficult Participants

Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!

Tags: instructional techniques, instructor-led training, tips-for-trainers

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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