Learning depends on the ability of learners to process information to remember and recall information. For learning to occur, information must move from temporary storage of information in short term memory in to permanent structures in long term memory. It is from long term memory that we can recall information to do whatever it is we are called to do in our jobs.

This article focuses one of the leading barriers to learning information overload. Mental overload occurs when more information is provided than the learner’s capacity in short term memory; as a result, only some of the information is retained for later use. Training often requires getting learners to remember way too much about updated systems, new working procedures, new technologies, and other large scale masses of content.

Understanding how learners process, store, and recall information provides clues for designing and facilitating instruction. To avoid overload, we need to recognize the limitation in how much short term memory can hold and use strategies that limit the amount of information the learner absorbs at any one time.

  • Provide the information in mental-manageable chunks.What can you chunk? Ideas, lists, visual elements, materials, and other instructional components.
    • Follow the Rule of 7. As a rule of thumb, the largest number of discrete pieces of information the brain can mange at one time is seven, plus or minus 2. A single 20-item list is more difficult to absorb than 3 or 4 lists, categorized and containing 6 items or so items.
    • Combine items that are related or similar. People tend to perceive as a single unit things that are either close together in space or that are similar to one another something good to remember for structuring elements in slideshows and other visuals.
  • Remove noise or anything that is non-essential.
    • Decorative elements look good but compete with content for a place in short term memory.
    • Use elements, such as add lines, colors, sounds, and effects only for instructional purposes to get attention, focus, build on, reinforce, or elicit an emotional response.
    • Apply a simple and familiar structure to course materials. For example, if the navigation for one course is similar to that in another course, then it doesn’t add mental load because it’s familiar.
  • Limit the information to what the learner needs not what is nice to know. When planning, consider following the 60/30/10 rule, which breaks the subject matter into:
    • Fundamental knowledge everyone needs to know for effective application of new skills or procedures. Most courses are built around this essential (60%) information.
    • Intricate knowledge only expert learners or trouble-shooters need to know to effectively handle difficult procedures or resolve problems. Even the most advanced courses cover only a portion of this critical (30%) information.
    • Obscure knowledge represents complicated (10%) information usually covered in specialized courses or through trouble-shooting consultation.
  • Use branching or modules to accommodate different learner levels from beginner to expert to target the level of detail and interactions needed. For instance, modules in a course for beginners might begin with new concepts and examples to reinforce learning, while modules for experts might apply the same concepts to solve problems.

Plug and Play

When training involves a variety of resources within your organization, it makes sense to keep things simple. That way, when the time comes to schedule a training event, only a minimal amount of preparation and coordination is required to ensure meeting expectations and successful workforce development. Using a plug and play strategy to develop instructional materials makes it possible to place content where it belongs, and in the format it belongs, so that your subject matter expert can easily prepare for success. You can devise a plug and play development strategy through the use of templates to create manufacturing training materials and techniques for use during classroom and hands on training for manufacturing. The following items are suggested for use in manufacturing training environments.

A variety of instructional templates in which content can be plugged in, used, and easily maintained, including:

  • On-the-Job Training Checklist, to assist trainers and trainees by itemizing topics to cover during hands-on training
  • Pre/Post-Assessment, identify knowledge prior to and following training
  • Troubleshooting Guide, to capture the most common problems, cause, and solutions
  • A generic job aid template, for task-based and procedural references
  •  One point lesson template, a single-page lesson, which supports either the trainer or student during OJT
  • A PowerPoint template for in-class support of facilitation and foundational knowledge for hands on training
  • Structured conversational format for transferring and confirming knowledge during hands on training for manufacturing
  • Quick reference format (and handy card) for following trainer MENTORING methods

Keeping it simple means plugging in instructional components (or parts) appropriately, based on their design and timing in the training sequence. Most critical in the design of each template is a clear structure for incorporating content, with instructor prompts and clear instructions for learner use, when appropriate. For the subject matter expert, it then becomes a simple matter of adding content. Developing your training materials with simplicity in mind results in a minimal amount of preparation and coordination and provides a standardized outcome that will meet expectations every time.