Repetition and its Link to Behaviour Change

Published on 2014-05-28

Source: Judit Klein @ Flickr
LILY HAD JUST RETURNED TO CHINA after living abroad for three years to learn how to become a teacher.  The training that she received combined a mix of learning methodology that included a top down academic style, with the potential teachers learning theory, writing papers, and giving presentations about how they would use the teachings. But Lily was not happy.
“You know, some of this is a waste of time. As new professors arrive to teach us, they repeat the same ideas as the last ones. I’m not really happy,” she said to me, as we sipped our coffees one afternoon.
“Ok,” I replied, “What is it that is repeated? Teach it to me.”
“Umm, I can’t remember…”
“Ah ha! If you can’t replicate these teachings, why are you complaining?”
“I don’t know, it still seems to me to be a waste of time….”
This represents one of the quandaries of cognitive learning theory. Repetition is useful and effective in many cases, but it takes a more in-depth and multi-varied approach to get the concepts to be learned, understood, reproduced, and used. Repetition is great for recognition of the concept, and, in the absence of other variables, will be effective in influencing behavioural change, but the subject of the message needs to utilise more than just the mental processes of remembering. The Holy Grail of training is that the skill can be used, and used unconsciously (ie. Behaviour change).
For this reason, in our trainings, we use the TAPE method: Theory, Application, Practice, and Evaluation. The key message (ie. Theory) is repeated, but the trainee must process these concepts in various ways, as we expose the trainee to examples, case studies and role plays (ie. Application), and then get them to demonstrate the skill through to a group (ie. Practice). An assessment (ie. Evaluation) is then conducted by the trainer to ensure that the skill set is not only learned, not only understood, not only reproduced, but can be used outside of the classroom.
So while we tell the trainees what we ‘will say’, then ‘say’ it, and finally tell these trainees what we just said, we do it using different methods throughout that journey. This ensures that the skill that we are training is both remembered, but more importantly used to achieve behavioural change.