I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an experienced instructor. That said, I’ve attended various types of training classes most of my life so I do have a bit of experience being a student. One of the major things I’ve learned is that I retain information best when given the opportunity to use it soon after I’ve learned it – and the most effective teaching method I’ve encountered is known as crawl, walk, run.
The crawl phases is familiar to many of us; it’s the familiar classroom lecture environment we experienced in school. The teacher/instructor/professor/cadre tells (and hopefully demonstrates to) us the new things they want us to learn and give us all the pertinent information. Powerpoint, dry erase boards and textbooks abound in this environment. This of course is an essential phase, but students will inevitably fail to grasp the complete picture of what is being taught if the instruction stops here.
The walk phase is structured by the cadre and allows the students to perform the skills they’ve just learned in a training environment. Instructors are close by for the inevitable question and to give gentle prodding when students are unsure of how to apply their new information or skill. Often in the educational world this phase is known as a “lab”. Students walk in with basic lecture information and apply it in a safe place to fail while the instructor walks around making sure they don’t get too far off track.
The run phase is equally important because here the instructor steps back to an observatory roll and allows the student to fail to an extent. Of course, (since this is still a safe place to fail) if the train comes completely off the rails the instructor can step in and give some pointers but the focus here is to allow the students to find their own weaknesses and address them. Again relating to academia, these are your tests. You are expected to have a handle on the material when you get to this phase, and it confirms which parts of the material you know what which ones you just thought you knew.
So what’s the problem then? Well, I’ve noticed that quite often, programs chose a crawl, run, run approach or simply crawl, run. In the acedemic world the first “run” phase would be like a quiz. Rather than attending lecture, lab and then having tests, you instead attend lecture, get a quiz (aka test) and then are given the actual test. While this may seem equally effective, the quiz does not provide the same level of integrated learning as the lab. The lab provides an instructor, easily flagged down for instruction or reminders WHILE the student is applying the knowledge whereas the quiz simply gives you feedback on what you did right and wrong (just like the test). The essential difference is this: lab helps you reinforce doing things right the first time but quizzes only show you your mistakes.
Now of course, once the student has passed their walk phase, they need that run/test to show them what they haven’t mastered yet but they still need that opportunity to get good, correctly done reps in or they won’t learn the skill in the first place. Remember:
Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.