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November 10, 2012


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ian brownlee

As a psychologist, teacher trainer, etc., I believe there is a difference between meaningFUL & meaningLESS repetion. MeaningLESS repetition is just trying to learn by rote memorization; like the old-fashioned language classes - "Listen & repeat", over and over and over again. I have studied nine languages, in situ, and have discovered that my best learning occurs when meaningFULL repetition occurs. This occurs when it is contextualized and applied in a situation that is relevant for the learner. Too much e-learning seems to focus on Pavlovian conditioning: The stimulus occurs, the response is automatic - the bell rings and the dog salivates - AKA meaningLESS repetition. This appears to be a serious problem with this type of training.


Interesting article--I think repetition can be powerful and useful in education, but when done incorrectly is quickly boring or even destructive.

Ian, we see this problem of meaningless repetition frequently in the realm of language learning, particularly with flash card systems that insist learning word pairs out of context is useful study. Instreamia is a free online system that offers a different approach by incorporating interactive exercises into online video content. This improves student engagement, applies repetition as necessary by adapting to the user's personal deficiencies, and as you pointed out, allows meaningful study in the context of real text.

Demetria Miles

AJ, great post! You stated that the motivation behind wanting to succeed was to top the leader board. Could this motivation have driven you to want to learn the information being provided much more than if a "reward" was not given? As a student of Instructional Design, I wonder if the surface is just being scratched on this topic. It is hard to really make a cause and effect relationship between repetition and "learning" the rules of football. Are there other factors that come into play? Could you have sub consciously wanted to learn the rules so you could impress your boyfriend? If so, that is a huge factor in learning. Creating a meaningful connection between the material learned and the learner helps the storage of information in our Long Term Memory, and it also helps with retrieval. The three levels of processing theory indicates that information can be stored, or remembered, by physical (surface), acoustic (phonological), or semantic (meaning) features (Craik, 1979; Craik & Lockhart, 1972; Craik & Toulving, 1975; Lockhart, Craik, & Jacoby). For instance, if apples are the topic of learning, we could talk about how it looks (physical), how it sounds when we bite into it (acoustic), or we could talk about the nutrients in the apple and how it betters our bodies (semantic). Of course, semantic processing leads to better retrieval and usage than physical or acoustic. Where do you think your level of learning falls in this theory in regards to football?

Steve Boller

Great post. I work at Bottom-Line Performance, the company that developed Knowledge Guru... AND I happened to be the writer of those football questions! Glad they helped :).

The other piece of the learning equation here is spaced learning: "chunking" content and having learners revisit it after a planned period of time. In Knowledge Guru, this is accomplished by the Guru Grab Bag mode, which is only unlocked after you complete the regular game. The Grab Bag mode provides an extra layer of repetition, but all of the questions from the entire game are scrambled together. This portion of the game is what really cements the memories because it is spaced out from the rest of the content. Dr. Will Talheimer has lots of great research on spaced learning: http://www.work-learning.com/

Lastly, a note on price for Knowledge Guru: It's important for L&D departments to not only think in terms of what they are spending on a learning solution, but on how using the solution will save them money in other areas. We have a case study on how ExactTarget, a recent client, doubled contract value and increased first-call support resolution by 45% just by having the sales and support teams play a Knowledge Guru game. That's quite a bit of money saved, so the price was worth it for them.



Hi Demetria,

Really my motivation was being able to show my boyfriend that I showed up on a leader board. (Which I never did, actually.) I wanted a solid 10 seconds of being able to say "Hey, look what I did," in relation to something HE cared about. In real life, however, I still have no interest in football, so I can't say I retained any of the information now that it's been a couple weeks. In going through the questions, however, I did find it remarkable how much I was able to quickly pick up just by carefully re-reading the re-worded questions and learning from my prior mistakes and successes. Continued exposure to this learning style, I think, could lead to an ingrained, long-term learning, but since I only played around with the tool for an afternoon I really can't say for sure.

Demetria Miles

Ryan, the idea of incorporating repetition in other techniques is a great method of learning. Steve, is the individual really learning or is he memorizing? If new situations were to arise could the individual apply the previously learned concepts to the new situations? Or is this strictly a cause and effect, stimulus and response, technique?



Yes, the game really works once you go for job transfer. Check out the results one of our clients obtained from a game we designed for them using Knowledge Guru game engine:


These games use a combination of repetition of basic facts/knowledge combined with the ability to apply knowledge of the facts to business situations (or in the case of football, game situations).

We've fully tested the game over a period of two years before doing a public launch. We also vetted the game with two learning gurus: Karl Kapp and Will Thalheimer and they agree the methodology is sound.


Demetria - It depends on the type of questions being asked. When rote memorization of facts is all that is required (and sometimes, it is), the questions are not very contextual and it is more of a stimulus and response effect. However, we also build scenario based questions into the engine and shift the variables a bit for each iteration, which leads to deeper learning. Also, have learners interact with images and videos to answer the changing iterations helps take them beyond simply embedding facts. -Steve

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