Overlearning: practice makes perfect!

Overlearning: practice makes perfect!

What makes sports stars so good at what they do? How does a violinist play a complicated concerto without looking at the music?

The answer is repetition.

Or, to use a more precise technical term: overlearning.

If you’re not familiar with the term, former baseball star, Reggie Jackson can offer an example.

A baseball swing is a very finely tuned instrument. It is repetition, and more repetition, then a little more after that.”

Overlearning in whatever form you use it, ensures your training remains firmly ensconced because it’s used on a regular basis

The process of repeating the correct swing of the baseball bat, or playing that difficult violin concerto, leads to it remaining firmly established in the brain’s neural pathways, like it’s been cemented there!

Still not clear?

Let’s talk about the brain and how it helps us learn. When we are taught new information or develop a new skill, it remains in those neural pathways mentioned earlier – for a while. But it doesn’t stay there. Unless that skill or that information is used again soon after it’s been “implanted” the brain will clear it away. Like sweeping leaves in the autumn!

The brain is a tidy instrument. It doesn’t like clutter. So, when a pathway is strewn with unnecessary material, the brain comes along with a brush and sweeps it away. The path is then ready to be used for new material. This is the biggest problem teachers and trainers face.

How do you ensure that information/skill remains in the learner’s brain?

There are two factors that help to keep that learning in place.

  1. It needs to be learned in an active way, so the information/skill is retained. Interaction is crucial. If the process made the learner laugh, or they struggled and needed help, or the material was relevant to them – it is less likely to get swept away by the brain in the immediate/near future.
  2. When the information is revisited on a regular basis, the brain recognises its importance and identifies it isn’t clutter.

However, we have a problem in that second point. We can’t keep revisiting the same points in training sessions!

That’s where ‘overlearning’ is vital. The knowledge/skill needs to be revisited in different ways to avoid boredom and the process being perceived as irrelevant.

Let’s use another sporting analogy to illustrate this point. In tennis, the most important part of the game is the serve. A coach will tell you there are seven steps to getting a serve right. Each one needs to be perfect. Therefore, the coach will get the player to practice EACH of those seven stages – repeatedly. But they will use different ways to do it to prevent boredom or the player ‘turning off’. The learning objective remains the same, to master the stage until it is perfect. It’s the method that changes.

Overlearning in the training environment

Our recommendation, in any training course, is that key learning goals need to be established with the learner in THREE ways.

  1. Introduce it, explain it. Tell the learner what they need to know.
  2. Use an interaction so the learner needs to APPLY that information. Make this process memorable – make it fun, relevant, collaborative – so it improves retention.
  3. Revisit the same point towards the end of the course – again in an active way. Use alternative interactions, such as in a case study, so the application isn’t obvious. Again, using fun, collaboration, relevance.

Overlearning must not be obvious – that can adversely affect the outcome. Make the repetition subtle. Vary its wording, its uses.

Don’t allow skills development or knowledge transfer to get swept away…

Beyond the training environment, are there more ways learning outcomes can be restated so the message remains in the learners’ neural pathways? See if you can find them.

Training can be expensive. Furthermore, if the training is necessary, there is no point in it getting swept away when the brain decides it’s time for a spring clean!

Want to get your training environment right? Then have a read of this article: https://nimble-elearning.com/insights/5-tips-get-your-online-learning-environment-right/

Phil Parker, Learning Development Consultant, Nimble Elearning


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