Developing a Learning Culture

How to Avoid Letting the “Turkey Effect” Affect Learner Retention

You’ve probably heard the story about the turkeys that go to the flying convention, where they learn to soar like eagles. Of course, after the convention, all the turkeys turn around and walk home.

It’s a poignant metaphor for instructional design. What good are beautifully designed eLearning modules if learners forget what they’ve experienced the moment class is over? It’s through the design of programs and modules that learners internalize information deeply enough to actually change their behavior. Understanding how design is linked to learner retention can help you avoid the “turkey effect” during (and after) training.

Learner Connection

In instructional design, it’s called the “WIIFM” principle: Learner’s want to know “What’s in it for me?” from the very start. It’s the first step in setting the stage for learning that is impactful and long-lasting. Without telling learners why they need to know the included information (and how that knowledge will benefit them personally) their brains may not make the necessary connections to move the training from short-term to long-term memory.

Included Media

It can be difficult to dig up images, video, and other media to correspond with eLearning topics, particularly if those topics are sensitive in nature (think disaster or sexual harassment training). Still, you should never use media “just because.” Instead, it should have a clear connection to the topic so that learners utilize that media as a way to better remember the information. Sometimes, it’s better to skip media altogether rather than use something unrelated to the topic, since an unrelated image can signify to the learner that the information is unimportant or irrelevant.

If you don’t have appropriate media, examples and scenarios are a better bet. They can clarify questions on sensitive topics and help learners retain the information discussed on a real-world platform.

Learner Engagement

It’s pretty hard to teach a turkey to fly when he’s stuck sitting on the ground. Experience is what takes basic information and brings it to the next level of experience and retention. From an instructional design standpoint, it means creating methods for users to practice their newfound knowledge, whether it’s through regular knowledge checks and quizzes throughout the module, or a series of simulations where learners can try out some of their new techniques in a safe space.

Watching and reading is one thing, but it’s not until learners are completely engaged in practicing and doing that retention levels spike and learners internalize the information so it becomes part of their personal knowledge bank and regular behavior.

Don’t create instructional design that treats your learners like turkeys. If you want to see real behavioral change, you’ll need to focus on more than just a PowerPoint presentation or a text-based manual. By engineering a connection between user and material, your learners will be ready to shed their turkey status and fly home.