Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Continuous Reinforced Learning

I have noticed in recent years a renewed focus on learning models that are based on continuous reinforced learning. Learning models including apprenticeships, blended learning, learning architectures and 70:20:10 informal learning are all to varying degrees based on the principle of continuous reinforced learning.

The Apprenticeship Learning Model as an Example

Most apprenticeship learning models are based on theories of situated cognition. This maintains that the context in which learning takes place is critical and that learning is less effective when skills and concepts are taught independent of their real-world context and situation.

In an apprenticeship a core component is reinforcement. As the apprentice develops, their skills and experience are observed and they are provided with feedback and coaching. It has been argued that this coaching provides the most critical support to apprenticeships as it helps develop those skills just beyond what the learner/apprentice could accomplish by themselves.  Theorists have argued that development in this area leads to the most rapid development of skills.

The coaching process provides further information and exemplars as well as corrective feedback, and reminders, all designed to bring the apprentice’s performance closer to the required standard through continuous reinforcement. As the apprentice develops through practice and feedback the level of coaching and intervention declines until the apprentice is, ideally, performing at the required level.

Continuous reinforcement in learning design

It is good to see in these days of short, sharp interventions a renewed focus on continuous learning reinforcement. The principles of work based learning, of reinforcement and of spaced learning are increasingly being adopted by learning designers as they seek to move beyond training events to more sophisticated learning designs.  It doesn't have a trendy name but the principles of continuous reinforced learning through informal learning, coaching and ongoing assessment is something all learning designers should seek to incorporate in their designs.