Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Performance Improvement Tip of the Day: Spaced Repetition

Annie Murphy Paul reports on a very cool learning methodology in Time Ideas! Credited to Dr. B. Price Kerfoot at Harvard Medical School, its called "spaced repetition" and its worth noting for those of us who have to remember things for a living - which is essentially all of us!

The concept of it is fairly simple - keep repeating what you want to learn at regularly spaced intervals. The challenge lies in figuring out how to apply the principle. We all try to learn just before an important test or presentation. If we can devise systems that mete out the learning in consistent aliquots, we're more likely to retain the lessons. 

This is a concept that can be readily applied to performance improvement as well, both for those of us trying to enhance our own learning of PI principles, and also for those who we are trying to teach/ impact.

On the professional performance improvement specialist side, I find that we have all generally been exposed to the concepts, principles, history of performance improvement (back to the Deming and Juran days). However, the missing element is the repetition. And perhaps here, the important distinction to make is the repeated application of the learning in a "live project" environment, within which the learning becomes truly enhanced and vibrant.

On the target audience side, the lessons that we can take from "spaced repetition" are: 
  • Don't be frustrated that others have not so readily grasped the materials that have been disseminated; just keep repeating the key messages at key intervals. We're great at what we consider "teaching", but not great at reinforcing.
  • Build in repetitive messaging into our performance improvement projects, using multiple vehicles if possible.
  • Boil the gist of a performance improvement activity down to a few "critical processes" and ensure that those are consistently reviewed and reinforced. 

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