Levels of Learning: You Need to Know These

Levels of Learning - Dr. Jim Guilkey

One of the fundamental principles behind the development of M-Pact Learning was applying a detailed understanding of how people learn. That’s been missing in most corporate training and explains why most companies don’t gain a competitive advantage from their learning programs. The belief has long been that over time some of your employees have emerged as subject matter experts, so why can’t they take over your training? Shouldn’t they be able to teach? The answer is, probably not. They don’t know how people learn. They don’t have expertise in instructional design. We do.

We’ve carefully studied the laws of learning and apply them to how we customize a curriculum for a client’s training needs. Fundamental to those laws is understanding the levels of learning. Traditional training results in very low levels of learning such as rote memorization of facts. M-Pact Learning, on the other hand, achieves the highest levels of learning, such as application and correlation. Think of the learning levels outlined below as an ascending hierarchy; the more you teach in ways that support learning levels at the bottom of this list, the more you have developed employees that can think at high levels, are quicker to problems solve, and can better satisfy customer needs. 

  1. Rote: straight memorization; you are supplied facts or bullet points you are required to commit to memory—typically very short term. Your ability to memorize is normally measured by multiple-choice exams. This is the level where most corporate training programs start and stop.
  2. Understanding: you are able to explain some of the hows and whys of the information covered. Some traditional training approaches reach understanding but not with consistency. M-Pact Learning uses understanding as an initial foundation to achieving higher levels. For instance, with several global medical clients, we use self-paced online digital modules to provide a foundational understanding of concepts such as anatomy and disease state.
  3. Application: you build on the understanding level by applying key knowledge and skills in authentic situations. Traditional approaches to training rarely achieve application. M-Pact Learning guarantees the application of knowledge. Here’s an illustration of the application at work. As part of a training transformation for a national insurance company, we were asked to redesign the company’s call center training. We used self-paced digital modules coupled with interactive classrooms to provide foundational understanding and some “simulated” application. Then we created structured field experiences in which new hires took actual calls assisted by an experienced associate. The initial field experiences were short and followed by an interactive classroom session where facilitators debriefed the new hires on their field experiences and provided additional knowledge and support.
  4. Correlation: the ability to transfer the application of knowledge and skills for a specific situation to a new or different situation. Correlation can often be viewed as achieving expertise and can be accelerated through the use of structured field experiences coupled with performance support tools.

Where does your company fall in these levels of learning? I encourage you to stress test your employees. I’ll bet their learning stops at memorization, and you may find that even their rote learning is sub-par. Shouldn’t you demand more of your learning program? I provide more details in my book M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage.