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Direct learning

Direct learning

Table of Contents

    It’s an exciting time for Learning and Development (L&D). With so many advanced training strategies out there, we’re kind of spoiled for choice.

    Yet, sometimes it’s best to stick to tried and tested teaching methods. An instructor, a classroom, and a group of learners. This is what the direct instruction model is all about.

    But don’t worry, we’re not advocating for boring, passive lectures. 

    Our guide on direct learning covers everything training managers need to know to do lectures right. Keep reading to discover:

    • What direct learning (or direct instruction) is
    • The difference between direct and indirect learning 
    • All the stages of direct instruction
    • The advantages and disadvantages of this teaching method
    • Examples of direct learning 
    • Direct learning best practices


    What is direct learning (aka direct instruction)?

    Direct learning (aka direct instruction) is a teacher-directed learning method. With this approach, instructors give learners detailed, guided, and explicit instructions to get them to learn new information or a specific skill.

    In other words, a lecturer standing in front of a blackboard.

    But don’t think that Direct Instruction (DI) is about giving stodgy, yawn-inducing lectures. On the contrary, this approach requires teachers to focus on creating well-developed lesson plans so they can deliver clear, structured instruction to their learners. 

    Originally, this method of instruction was developed in the 1960s by Wesley Becker and Siegfried Engelmann, who believed that applying it correctly can increase student performance. 

    Contrary to popular constructivist ideas stemming from cognitive theories, Engelmann believed that letting students pursue self-directed learning without adequate support would make learning ineffective. 

    There are two core principles of DI to remember:

    • All students can learn when instructed correctly, regardless of their histories and backgrounds 
    • All teachers can be successful if they have effective teaching materials and presentation techniques

    In a corporate setting, direct learning refers to a training method where the employees are taught directly by a trainer, instructor, or subject matter expert (SME). 

    Some common examples include:

    • Workshops run by professional trainers to provide employees with hands-on training on a specific skill or tool
    • In-person or digital lecture-style training sessions led by an SME 
    • On-the-job training consisting of a seasoned employee showing a newbie essential company processes, procedures, and workflows

    So, what exactly is the difference between direct learning and indirect learning? Let’s take a look.


    What is the difference between direct and indirect learning?

    The main difference between direct and indirect learning is that with DI, instructors give students definitions and guidance directly. This is most often in the form of a lecture. 

    Indirect learning is when learners acquire new knowledge indirectly and independently through transforming or constructing the new material into a meaningful response or behavior. These responses or behaviors differ both from the material teachers use to present the lesson and from responses given by learners previously.

    Another difference between these two learning processes is when you should use each of them. 

    The direct instruction method is best when students need to learn facts and figures—such as the order of a process or a sales technique. 

    On the other hand, using indirect learning activities works best for training on topics such as problem-solving or critical thinking. Learners will be more engaged and retain knowledge better when they learn this information through experimentation and real-world problem-solving.

    Stay tuned for the six key stages of DI.


    The six stages of direct learning

    So, how exactly does direct learning play out in the classroom? Whether that’s a physical training room, a webinar, a VILT session, or an online course hosted on a Learning Management System (LMS).

    There’s more to direct instruction than simply putting an instructor in front of a training group. For it to be an effective training strategy, you’ll need to follow the six stages.

    Here’s a step-by-step look at each stage of direct learning.


    Stage #1: Get learners’ attention

    Remember that we said DI isn’t about droning on with a lecture while students’ minds wander and they don’t meet their learning objectives. That’s one of the main misconceptions about direct learning—that it’s unengaging and boring.

    So, you need to:

    1. Make the opening part of the lesson engaging
    2. Get the learners’ attention
    3. Try to activate any prior knowledge they may have. 

    That way, you’re promoting student learning and engagement. 

    The best way to get the learners’ attention is to build upon previous lessons and get a sense of their background knowledge. 

    Just because DI is teacher-directed doesn’t mean it can’t also be learner-centered. Remember, it’s the learners who are doing all the actual work.


    Stage #2: Present the learning material

    Now that you’ve got learners waiting for the lesson with bated breath, it’s time to present it. 

    The most important thing is to present the new material or new skills with clear instructions while guiding the learners through all the new concepts. 

    In the DI approach, you typically present new material either as a lecture or a demonstration.

    The lecture method needs to:

    • State the main points 
    • Introduce the main theme 
    • Use examples to illustrate each idea
    • Use repetition to reinforce the main points 
    • Summarize everything and call back to the main idea of the lecture

    This works equally well with online courses and VILT sessions. Instructors can present the topic using a deck of slides and add animations, audio, and interactive activities like polls to engage learners.


    Stage #3: Practise the new concept alongside learners

    At this stage, an instructor has to practice a new concept alongside their students. Whether the knowledge is theoretical or a practical new skill, it’s important to let the learners attempt to understand or perform it with guidance. 

    This is guided practice, and it involves the assistance of the teacher and other learners. The objective of guided practice is to gently steer learners’ initial practice. Instructors should correct any mistakes, reteach if necessary, and provide enough hands-on application for the students to be able to practice on their own later.

    During this stage, it’s very important to ask questions to verify the trainees’ understanding.


    Stage #4: Provide feedback

    This stage is all about providing feedback. By this point, you’ve introduced and delivered the lecture or demonstration. You’ve also practiced the new skill or concept alongside the learners. 

    Now it’s time to give them constructive feedback based on what kind of knowledge and ability they’re displaying. 

    To test how well the learners have understood the training material, arm yourself with some good questions. 

    Then, based on those questions, if the learners don’t understand something, it’s time to take corrective action. 

    There are four types of student answers you need to pay attention to:

    1. Correct answers: Ask them a new question and keep up the lesson 
    2. Correct answers given with hesitation: Encourage your learner 
    3. Incorrect answer: Correct, then move on
    4. Incorrect answers and lacking knowledge: Provide hints, ask a simpler question, reteach 

    If you’re delivering direct learning via an LMS (live sessions or e-learning courses), an interactive quiz is an excellent way to check knowledge. For instance, with Docebo, you can build your own quizzes within the platform or host assessments created using other tools. 

    You can then pull an LMS report to see how learners answered and identify knowledge gaps.


    Stage #5: Encourage students to practice on their own

    Now it’s time to let your learners practice on their own. Independent practice is extremely important because it gives students the repetition they need to integrate the new skills with their previous knowledge. 

    Independent practice also makes learners more confident with the material they just learned. The goal here is to have learners go from unitization to automaticity. Doing that is essential for student achievement.

    Those are some big words, but don’t worry—an explanation is coming. Unitization is a process where learners are putting together the skills they learned and using them in new situations. Automaticity comes after unitization. At this stage, the learners don’t have to think through each step anymore. They perform the new skill or recall the new knowledge easily and rapidly. 

    During this stage, instructors need to watch carefully how students practice on their own because that’s a source of a lot of important data for the review stage.


    Stage #6: Review

    Now you’ve completed those steps, it’s time to review.  You need to make sure that your learners understand what you’ve just taught them before you move on to the next lesson. The best way to do this is with a final assessment. This could be a larger final quiz or practical assessment. 

    What you’re really looking for is whether the learners have achieved the learning objectives. Based on that, you can decide whether to move on or review the material.

    No matter what learning model you’re using, whether it’s the ADDIE model or agile learning, a final review is key. It gives you valuable metrics to evaluate if learners are ready to move on with the training. 

    We now know how the direct learning model plays out, so let’s talk about the pros and cons. That’s coming up next.

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of direct learning?

    Here we’ll take a look at some advantages and disadvantages of direct learning.  This will help you decide if and when to use this training method.

    Case studies have shown that DI has many benefits that work for all learners, including those with lower performance and those in special education.


    Advantages of direct learning

    • Instructors can easily monitor learners: It’s easy to monitor and track learner progress, unlike teaching methods that give too much learner autonomy
    • Instructors can create assessments easier: Since trainers base DI on a standardized curriculum, it’s easier to create quizzes and tests
    • Instructors can adapt to the learners’ needs: During review and assessment, if you discover that learners don’t fully understand the material, you can adapt it to their level

    Disadvantages of direct learning

    • Less room for creativity and improvisation: DI requires you to follow standard procedures, which limits the space for improvisation and creativity
    • Instructors must be well organized: Trainers who can’t stay organized will have trouble teaching effectively using the direct learning method
    • Doesn’t encourage learners to think creatively: Since DI requires teachers and students to follow a standard and fixed curriculum, it doesn’t encourage learners to think as creatively as some other training methods

    We’ve seen the theory. Now let’s put it all together with an example of direct learning.


    What is an example of direct learning?

    Let’s imagine that you’re conducting compliance training. The training involves teaching employees a lot of facts and procedures, so you’ve decided to use DI as your training method. Here’s how that would go. 

    1. Firstly, you would introduce the subject matter, making it clear what you’ll cover and why it’s important. Remember that adult learners need to understand why they have to learn something for the learning to be engaging. 
    2. After this, you’d start delivering the learning content in the form of lectures and demonstrations, where appropriate. For instance, you could present the rules around sexual harassment or safety procedures first and then do demonstrations in the form of role-playing (or online simulations). 
    3. Then you would engage in guided practice by asking questions to see how well the learners have understood the material. 
    4. Finally, you would assign relevant tests or quizzes.

    This is the beauty of DI—you’re following a standard procedure, so you always know what to do next.

    Here are a couple more examples of DI:

    • Assignment of projects
    • Completion of papers
    • Interaction with learners in online discussions
    • Data and information interpretation
    • Participation in group projects

    Just because DI has standardized procedures as a base doesn’t mean there’s no room to make it engaging for learners. We go over some tips in the next part of the guide.


    Five tips to make direct learning more effective

    Direct learning is a straightforward learning method with well-defined stages and processes. 

    Don’t let that discourage you from making it your own, though. There are plenty of ways to make your lectures as engaging and effective as possible. 

    Here are five tips to do just that.


    1. Break the lecture into shorter parts

    One of the biggest errors teachers and learning experience designers alike make is dumping too much information on learners at the same time. This is particularly problematic if you do it at the beginning of the course. 

    Learners will feel overwhelmed and may question if they can cram so much material. 

    It’s much better to take a page out of the book of microlearning and break the lectures down into manageable chunks. That way, you can also incorporate breaks into the learning process and use those to allow trainees to ask questions or discuss the material among themselves.


    2. Use visuals and movement

    A great way to make lessons more engaging is to add movement and visuals. 

    For movement, consider allowing some time for learning activities that get the learners out of their seats and moving about. That will do wonders for engagement. 

    In an e-learning course, that could mean interactive exercises that encourage learners to actively participate in the training.

    But don’t neglect the visual component. Add multimedia such as images, infographics, animations, and videos to lectures to boost learner engagement and bring stale topics to life. Whether it’s in-person with an overhead projector or through your LMS if you’re doing online or blended learning.

    Remember that not everybody learns in the same way. So, ensure your training material caters to different learners by incorporating varied lecture materials.


    3. Don’t reveal all information at once

    As we already mentioned, you should avoid overwhelming your learners with too much information. 

    Instead, reveal new information gradually and in accordance with the lesson plan.  Learners simply cannot absorb and assimilate a lot of information all at once. 

    So, while some instructors give a lot of material out of good intentions (such as saving time for busy team members undergoing employee training), it ends up backfiring. Too much information means less engagement and bad knowledge retention. In the end, the students don’t meet their learning objectives.


    4. Incorporate writing into your teaching

    DI can limit the opportunities for students to get involved in the learning process. Asking questions is good and necessary. But usually, only a handful of the same learners volunteer to answer.

    To counterbalance this, you can add writing assignments. We’re not talking about full essays or anything like that. Just have the learners write down the answers to some brief questions. 

    If you’re creating online courses, add a free text box so learners can note down their reflections or key takeaways. Alternatively, enable discussion boards on your LMS so learners can share their thoughts about the training topics. 

    At the end of each lesson, you can also prompt students to write something down:

    • What are the two most important things you learned today?
    • Write down something you’re still unsure of.
    • How would you explain today’s topic to an absent learner?

    Writing is old-school for sure, but it’s also effective and a simple and cheap way to boost engagement.


    5. Use real-life and personal examples

    Whenever possible, make sure to include real-life examples of the subject matter you’re teaching. This shouldn’t be too hard in the context of corporate training since you’ll aim most of your material at giving employees a concrete skill set. 

    To engage learners even more, don’t be afraid to relate the material to your own personal experiences. Share with the group what makes you excited about a topic or how a skill that you’re teaching them helped you in your personal and professional development. 

    We know, you’re chomping at the bit to put all this into action. Before you go, stick around for a quick recap.


    Key takeaways

    Direct learning (or direct instruction) is a training method where trainers use explicit instruction to teach learners new skills and information. 

    Originally delivered in person, many organizations have now moved direct learning online (e-learning courses, webinars, VILT sessions). That way, training is more accessible, scalable, and cost-effective. 

    All you need is an instructor, a laptop, and a robust LMS.

    Plus, top LMSs come with tools, such as gamification, to boost learner engagement and retention.

    While it may not be the most advanced and innovative learning method,  it’s a tried and true approach that packs a punch. 

    Learners have the guidance of trainers or SMEs, and instructors can breathe life into lessons with interactive elements, role plays, multimedia, and gamification. 

    Are you an L&D professional looking to keep your finger on the pulse? Head over to our glossary for all the essential information on digital training.