Not all practice techniques are created equal. In fact, studies have shown that, when left to their own devices, learners typically don’t practice effectively or efficiently – if they practice at all.
So when it comes to practice, learners need guidance. Especially when the stakes are high. Imagine, for example, your learners need to remember and apply some very important new information. What practice technique can they use to help the material stick when it counts?
A recent study suggests a simple yet powerful solution: Have learners read the material aloud. While it may feel strange at first to tell learners to talk to themselves, the results speak for themselves.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada conducted a study to test the efficacy of several practice techniques. Specifically, they wanted to see which technique would best improve learners’ recall of new information.
The study divided subjects up into four groups. Everyone was given a written list of words to memorize and each group was assigned a specific practice technique: 1.) reading silently, 2.) listening to someone else read the material, 3.) listening to a recording of oneself read the material or 4.) reading the material aloud in real time.
In a follow-up session, subjects were given one final practice session and then tested on their recall. The results were clear: Those who actively read aloud performed significantly better than the other three groups. In fact, they scored approximately 12 percent higher than those who read silently and nearly 10 percent higher than those who listened to another person read the words.
The ‘production effect’
The read-aloud group also scored higher on the recall test than the group that passively listened to a self-recording of the words – they came in second. The researchers suggest this is because reading aloud acts on two levels: It gets learners actively involved and it’s self-referential, or personal, because the learner is hearing their own voice while memories are being encoded.
The combination of these two factors to boost memorization is what researchers call the “production effect.” As the head researcher stated, “When we add an active measure or a ‘production’ element to [learning] a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable.”
The “production effect” has been found in previous studies as well, suggesting that there is a certain learning power to combining active learning (like reading aloud) with a personal connection (like hearing your own voice).
Here are some suggestions for applying the research findings in your workplace learning program:
Present the research.
Ask learning professionals in your organization to present the findings of the study to your learners. They may be hesitant at first to adopt reading aloud as a practice technique, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
Suggest when to use it.
While it certainly couldn’t hurt to use this technique regularly during learners’ private practice sessions, reading aloud is likely best used for instances where important information needs to be committed to memory. Whether this is a sales pitch, a presentation or a safety procedure, when recall is critical, this technique can be a learner’s secret weapon.
Combine active learning and a personal context.
The research suggests that the “production effect” is powerful because it combines active learning and a personal connection to the learner. So consider exploring other ways of combining these two elements in your learning sessions. One example: After learners have tried applying a new skill on the job, have their manager ask them how it went and what they learned from it. This will get learners actively assessing their performance while deriving personal meaning from the experience.
Forrin, N. D. and MacLeod, C. M. (2017). This time it’s personal: The memory benefit of hearing oneself. Memory. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2017.1383434