The self-explanation effect is a phenomenon long known to the education community. [VanLehn 1992] [Chi 1994] Researchers have found that learners achieve a better grasp of new material faster when they explain it to themselves as they're learning it. The effect is also observed when the learners explain to themselves what they've learned after they're exposed to the material. Even more striking, self-explanation is more effective than attending lectures, taking notes, writing summaries, or reading or re-reading.
Given the clear evidence for the validity of the self-explanation effect, what is perhaps most surprising is how infrequently it's used in organizations. Below are three-and-a-half suggestions for exploiting the self-explanation effect in organizational settings.
- Workplace education
- Training and professional education in the workplace provide perhaps the most direct analogs to what the education community has discovered. In organizations, however, the accelerating trend toward "online training" has led to a divergence from classroom-based education. For the most part, online training consists of computer-driven presentation of material followed by a computer-based multiple-choice quiz intended to measure the learner's mastery of the material. So-called eLearning is therefore largely solitary and quiz-oriented.
- By removing When learners explain what they're
learning to themselves in their own
words they reach higher levels
of mastery faster than they
can with other methodsthe social components of education and by relying on multiple-choice quizzes to measure mastery, eLearning in the workplace has reduced the need for learners to express in their own words what they've learned. Therefore, in most cases, what self-explanation does occur is a result of the learner's initiative alone.
- Restructuring workplace eLearning to induce more self-explanation could lead to increased levels of mastery and greater retention of the knowledge acquired in workplace education. Experiential training, activity-based learning, and significant face-to-face classroom components are reliable methods for inducing self-explanation behavior.
- Size of meetings
- Meeting size affects the incidence of self-explanation behavior because of the time available for articulating explanations. For example, in a one-hour meeting attended by 15 people, the average time available for contributions to discussions is four minutes per person. For a five-person one-hour meeting, the average time available is 12 minutes. If we deduct from the meeting duration 10 minutes per hour for overhead, the respective average times available per person would be 3.3 minutes and 10 minutes, respectively. In the larger meetings, many people speak very little or not at all, because time isn't allocated evenly.
- Ironically, holding large meetings to save time tends to have the opposite effect. It tends to increase the need for meetings, in part, because it allows less time for self-explanation. A pattern of smaller, shorter, more focused meetings makes more time available for people to articulate their views or to inquire about the views of others. Because self-explanation is a likely precursor to articulation, smaller meetings tend to accelerate the pace of grasping the essence of the issues at hand.
- Task teams
- In task teams, when work is allocated to individuals, much of the work of the task is executed in a solitary manner. Self-explanation tends to be suppressed unless the members of the task team engage in self-explanation on their own initiative. What explanations do occur tend to result from the need to report status or seek help.
- Contrast this to a mode of working where all effort is carried on in twos or threes. In work organized in this way, the need for each member of the task team to communicate with the other members creates an almost continuous need to engage in self-explanation. What each one learns by doing this is then shared with the others. The cumulative effects of frequent self-explanation in this context might account, in part, for the effectiveness of pair programming. [Rodríguez 2017]
The above three suggestions illustrate how to exploit the self-explanation effect in the context of knowledge work where the work in question produces the output of the organization. But I promised three-and-a-half suggestions, so here's the half bit: self-explanation can be just as helpful when the purpose of the work is improving the organization itself. Activities such as change management, strategy development, training design, reorganization design, policy development, and acquisition planning come to mind. Try explaining to yourself why your organization might consider exploiting the self-explanation effect in just one of these activities.
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- When Your Boss Is a Micromanager
- If your boss is a micromanager, your life can be a seemingly endless misery of humiliation and frustration.
Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do
is change the way you experience the micromanagement.
- Social Distancing for Pandemic Flu
- It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or
not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances
of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.
- Why We Don't Care Anymore
- As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might
help you appreciate your job.
- Down in the Weeds: I
- When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing
on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can
we do about it?
- Be Choosier About Job Offers: II
- An unfortunate outcome of job searches occurs when a job seeker feels forced to accept an offer that
isn't a good fit. Sometimes financial pressures are so severe that the seeker has little choice. But
financial pressures are partly perceptual. Here's how to manage feeling that pressure.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info