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Interval Training for the Body and the Brain
By Jen Eason, Instructional Designer
I can hear my personal trainer now, “It’s only 30 seconds. Give it all you’ve got! Push yourself hard.” Just when I think I can’t do it anymore, her countdown starts, “Five, four, three, two, one. Great job! Catch your breath, grab some water, and get ready to go again.” My personal trainer knows me and my athletic abilities well. She choreographs my interval training with short bursts of intense, challenging activities combined with longer activities of less-intense activity.
Interval training isn’t a complicated concept, nor is it one that you can only apply to fitness. For instance, if your exercise is walking, then you might add short bursts of jogging into your regular, brisk walks.
This concept also applies to instructional design. We strive to know our audience and their learning endurance for the topic at hand. As with physical training, we recognize our learner’s need for a brief warmup to engage and motivate the mind for learning. My personal trainer keeps me motivated by pointing out the muscle groups each activity targets. As a result, I’m willing to endure more if I know what’s in it for me (WIIFM), just as we do for our learners when we design a WIIFM with a hook that grabs their attention.
If we design training that is too challenging for too long, learners can get frustrated with information overload and give up, just as an athlete would with excessive fatigue. If the training is not engaging enough, we lose their attention. Either way, they tune out. How do we keep our learners in their target learning zone?
Good design includes creating learning intervals much like a personal trainer would, keeping in mind when learners need a change in intensity or activity to catch their breath, rehydrate, and keep them engaged without burnout. For example, building exercises, like scenario-based knowledge checks, allow learners to flex their muscles, build confidence, and take stock of their skill “definition.”
If you’re designing a learning marathon, remember to plot the course with learning intervals in mind. Ideally provide your learners with a map of the route and a level starting line for a brief warm up before a mixture of inclines and declines. Whereas, if you’re designing a quick cardio burst of micro-learning, these shorter durations require fewer intervals. Your runners can maintain their stride for a shorter duration without needing a break.
For your next training project, put yourself in your learner’s running shoes, and remember the concept of interval training isn’t just for the gym.
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