You know practice is critical for long-term learning, but you don’t want to be a dictator. You want learners to feel empowered after an eLearning experience, to assume some control over their professional development.

But if learners don’t practice effectively, your well-designed modules could be all for naught. Should you trust them to practice on their own?

A recent study demonstrates that, when left to their own devices, learners think they practice effectively—but they don’t.

Researchers have uncovered several problems with the way learners practice: They don’t practice often enough; they practice the wrong things; they think they’ve “got it” way too soon; and they give themselves credit for a right answer even when it’s wrong.

Bottom line: Don’t assume your users will know how to practice effectively. Design practice as carefully as you do the learning modules themselves. Here are some research-based practice tips that help lock in learning:

Don’t overlook the power of the quiz. Learners from kindergarten to the C-suite groan at the idea of taking a quiz. But assessments have gotten a bad rap. They aren’t merely an evaluative tool, or a punitive measure, but a valuable retrieval event. When learners work to recall information during a quiz, it strengthens their long-term memory. Build quizzes and other assessments into your modules to reinforce learning.

Provide feedback. Give learners timely and meaningful feedback after every assessment. If a learner gets an answer wrong, provide the correct answer and as well as an explanation for why that choice is correct. Constructive feedback is a motivator for adult learners. When learners see their weaknesses, they know where to focus their efforts when practicing on their own.

Self-explanation. Create a forum where learners can share their understanding of a module. Ask learners to verbalize the key points in their own words and record it using their computer’s internal microphone or camera. The act of explaining will make learners think critically about the content and distill it down to the core takeaways. Plus, down the road they can revisit the post to refresh their memory.

Learning blog. Consider connecting a blog or message board to each module. Ask learners to create a post describing how they plan to apply the newly learned skill or technique in their career. Thinking about a personal application causes learners to deeply consider and process the content. This activity enhances their understanding, strengthens memory, and develops new connections to existing knowledge. And if you make the blogs public, learners can comment on each other’s posts, creating a social element.

Provide a schedule for practice sessions. Learners need repeated retrieval practice to make learning stick. A spaced practice schedule will ensure that they get the most out of their practice experiences. Each time information is reinforced, forgetting takes longer. Plan short reinforcement intervals right after the initial training and then extend them over time. Use automated emails or push notifications to alert learners of the next practice event. Research suggests that you should schedule the first follow-up session within three or four days. Then schedule the next one five days out, then perhaps eight days out. Schedule about four or five intervals over two months.

Practice isn’t about judging learners or giving them busy work. It’s about providing them with the tools to learn effectively. Research suggests they can’t do it on their own. Help them help themselves.


Grimaldi, P. J., et al. “Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring.” Journal of Educational Psychology. 106(1). (2014).