Friday, October 29, 2010

6 Techniques that Stimulate Recall in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

If you’re familiar with Gagne’s nine events of instruction, you know that one of the early steps in the instructional design model involves stimulating recall of learners’ prior knowledge. Typically, this step is listed after gaining attention and stating the training’s objectives.

Why stimulate prior knowledge toward the beginning of an eLearning lesson?
  • It helps learners retain newly learned information by building on existing knowledge.
  • It can serve as a brief review of recently learned information that the subsequent content is intended to build upon.

So what can we do to stimulate recall of prior knowledge in an eLearning lesson?

--1-- Ask learners to describe a related personal experience.
For example, when starting training related to customer service skills, you might ask learners to recall their own experiences of receiving good and/or bad service and identify the characteristics of those experiences.

--2-- Prompt learners to brainstorm ideas related to the content.
For example, training related to coaching employees might start by presenting an employee issue and asking learners to list possible ways to respond to it.

--3-- Quiz learners on related knowledge they already have.
Pose a series of knowledge check questions that quiz learners on related knowledge that the lesson builds on.

--4-- Prompt learners to start solving a problem, applying existing knowledge.
For instance, you might present a basic scenario that a learner can partially resolve with existing knowledge. Then, elaborate on the scenario in a way that the learner can fully resolve with the help of the newly presented content.

--5-- Ask learners to anticipate elements of the upcoming content.
For example, product training might ask learners to list examples of questions customers might ask about the products or list features of similar products they’re familiar with.

--6-- Ask learners to identify what they already know and what they don’t know about a particular topic.
Admittedly, this technique may be challenging within an eLearning lesson, but it could be facilitated in the instructor-led portion of a blended training approach. This technique can also function to gain learners’ attention at the start of training and prompt them to set learning goals.

While these are all potentially effective methods for stimulating recall or prior knowledge (depending on your audience, the content, etc.), here are two cautions to keep in mind when designing this portion of the training:
  • Avoid spending too much time on a rote review of existing knowledge. While it may be worthwhile to spend time on an activity that inspires learners to view existing knowledge in a different light, learners will likely grow impatient with a review that feels basic and lacks new insight.
  • If the training content contradicts learners existing knowledge, then you may need to use this “recall” step to make a case for the need to change and gain buy-in. A solid change management strategy can help with this.

What additional advice would you offer on this topic? What other techniques have you used to stimulate recall of prior knowledge?


  1. Great list of techniques to 'prime' their recall. Thank you


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