How to Design Training for Memory Consolidation
In Macbeth, Shakespeare writes:
Methoughts I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep’, the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care…
According to literary scholars, the last line means that sleep secures or ‘knits up’ what has become confused or tangled in our lives. Sleep brings loose ends together. Shakespeare was, of course, centuries ahead of his time—his notion that a period of rest can sort out disorganized thoughts is echoed in the cognitive theory of complex memory consolidation. This theory figures prominently in modern eLearning methodologies like distributed and blended learning.
The Nuts and Bolts of Memory
Memory consolidation theory outlines the automatic processes that take a piece of information from its input through the senses to its eventual integration into long-term memory. These processes work by stabilizing memory traces (changes in the nervous system caused by memorizing something) and come in two flavors: synaptic consolidation and systems consolidation.
Synaptic consolidation is an immediate physical change in synapses, the junctions between brain cells which permit the cells to share information. This change starts a cascade of neurochemical events that enhance the efficiency of communication among the memory-containing cells, ultimately forming the building blocks of complex ideas and thought patterns.
Systems consolidation is a much slower process—it can take weeks, years, or decades; and involves a transfer of memory traces from one region of the brain (the hippocampus) to different functional areas within the brain. As Shakespeare might appreciate, many researchers have proposed a relationship between REM sleep and systems memory consolidation.
However, sleep and time aren’t the only ways to enhance memory consolidation. In both academic and corporate training programs, one key memory-supporting strategy is to use a distributed or blended approach when designing the curriculum.
In a distributed learning approach, a single training session that might have been presented in one day, and in one setting (such as a seminar), may be broken down into several sessions and presented through several different modalities (like a classroom session, an eLearning course, and on-the-job training). Studies have shown that this approach can enhance synaptic development and reduce memory loss.
The methodology associated with distributed learning is often called blended learning. This involves a combination of two or more training modalities, like:
- eLearning: This modality is extremely scalable, doesn’t require much overhead, and gives instant verification of learning through assessments. That means eLearning is great for onboarding at a large company. New hires can get up to speed more quickly, without taking as much time away from supervisors.
- Instructor-led training (ILT): ILT is what most corporate trainers and employees are familiar with–love it or hate it, everyone is used to sitting in a classroom. But that classroom can also be virtual. Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) uses videoconference platforms with enhanced features to incorporate features like breakout rooms, polling, virtual whiteboards, and many others. It’s important to maintain social features, even in a virtual environment.
- Video presentations: Video is a common element in blended learning programs, serving to not only break the monotony but also to present concepts in a much more engaging way. For example, adding video overviews of course sections helps the learner keep track of what they’ve learned, giving their brain a head start on memory consolidation.
- Job aids: Employees who handle lots of detailed information need that information at their fingertips. But, memorizing a million details isn’t an efficient use of anyone’s time. Activities that prompt learners to use their actual job aids in a simulated work scenario can give them a sense of immersion in the task. This helps build memory traces and neural pathways that will make their job duties seem like second nature.
In corporate settings, blended learning can enhance memory consolidation and retention. Combining different modalities into one experience cements the relationship between diverse business processes into the learner’s mind. But It’s also chosen because it is highly flexible and fits in perfectly with the complex and “blended” nature of workers’ job duties and the need for resources.