Try Practice Demonstrate

Learning in Training: What is Try, Practice, Demonstrate


What is “Try, Practice, Demonstrate”?


Try, Practice, Demonstrate is a principle we use in our courses to increase learning, memorisation, knowledge retention and generally the effectiveness of training. To see how this works, we need to first see how learning works.


How Learning Works?

Consider a group of people you have just been introduced to. Suppose you want to learn the names of everyone in the group. This requires you to match the names with the faces and you want to learn this so that you remember the name of the person if you see her 6 months later. We all know how wonderful it feels when someone remembers our name even after a long time.

This is a simple learning activity, but as we all know, remembering the names of a large group can be quite hard. Research shows that the key in learning is repetition. The more we repeat, the more and faster we learn and the longer we remember it.

In the naming example above, the following research was carried out by psychologists Catharine Fritz and Peter Morris to examine the effect of repetition. They got a group of college students to form a circle of nine students each. In each circle, one student said his name. The person on the left, said the name of this person and then added his name. The next person repeated the first two names and then added his own name and so on until the last person had to say everyone’s name. After several repetitions where each student started the cycle, they began to fully memorise all of the names.

The results were staggering; 30 minutes after the repetition exercise, 75% of students could recall all the names. After two weeks, 40% of students could recall all the names and after 11 months, 27% of students could recall every single name! This was all achieved by a simple verbal repetition exercise.

This is exciting news as it shows we can take advantage of the power of repetition to learn more and remember for longer.


Why Repetition Works?

Further research by neuroscientist confirms that continuous repetition leads to a fundamental change on the neural level. It is well known that learning takes place when new connections are made between brain cells. A new research as demonstrated by Dr. Joe Tsien shows that special communication channels in our brain nerve cells called NMDA can facilitate the process of learning. When a nerve signal passes from one cell to another, a “receipt” is sent back to acknowledge that the signal has been received. This receipt is picked up by other nearby nerve cells that were firing at the same time.

The mechanism of exactly how this works in practice was presented by Prof. Aryeh Routtenberg. When a nerve signal crosses the gap between two nerve cells, a “receipt” molecule is sent back by NMDA receptors to acknowledge it. The receipt molecule activates certain proteins known as GAP-43 which in turn makes it easier for the next signal to pass through. In other words, the more you repeat and the more you fire specific neurons, the easier it gets for the signal to pass through and create a better connection. This leads to the ultimate magic; the more you repeat, the easier it gets to learn.

Try Practice Demonstrate Neuroscience


Spaced Repetition

A particular learning technique that greatly relies on the neural learning mechanism explained above is known as spaced repetition. In spaced repetition, you keep learning something repeatedly with increasing intervals of time in between the learning attempts. Each learning attempt fires the appropriate neural connections and makes them stronger. The technique also relies on what is known as the spacing effect in psychology; we learn a list much better if we repeatedly study it over a long period of time as oppose to a short period of time.

There is an interesting explanation for this, known as deficient processing view. It suggests that the short-time repetitions are not as effective because we get bored while going through the same exact material repeatedly over a short amount of time and hence pay less and less attention to it. There is also minimal variation in the way the material is presented to the brain, when it is repeatedly visited over a short time. This tends to decrease our learning. In contrast, when repetition learning takes place over a longer period of time, it is more likely that the materials are presented differently. We have to retrieve the previously learned material from memory and hence reinforce it. All of this leads us to become more interested in the content and therefore more receptive to learning.

Try Practice Demonstrate Spaced Repetition


Try, Practice, Demonstrate™

Try, Practice, Demonstrate is a principle used at Skills Converged to cover various benefits of spaced repetition and repeated learning in the context of a training course.

The repetition can be applied in three distinct levels:

  • Teaching a specific skill. In this case we use Try, Practice, Demonstrate to get the participants try a specific skill three times; first try it on their own while a trainer observes, then practice based on the guidelines provided by the trainer and under supervision, and finally demonstrate the skill in a simulated test environment and get judged on the quality of the performance. Our experience shows that this triple-attempt repetition is incredibly effective in learning and memorising a technique.
  • Covering a specific topic over the entire course. This method widens the repetition interval to that of a day, usually the duration of a training course. A specific topic or technique is covered repeatedly throughout the entire course, from different perspectives, to increase variation and interest. Repeatedly visiting the topic in different contexts helps the participants to remember and recall the subject while associating it with other topics. This helps them to reinforce similar neural paths in their brains which further boost learning.
  • Covering a specific topic over a period of time. Through multiple courses, the participants can be exposed repeatedly to a specific skill. Each attempt helps them recall the topic they were thought, possibly with the triple Try, Practice, Demonstrate, and go over it again. This allows participants to re-evaluate their current performance, think of how they can improve it, avoid falling back into bad habits and get a fresh take on the skills in order to become more conscious of it. Providing various soft skills courses over a period of time is something that all trainers should consider and plan for in conjunction with the training needs of their clients.

The spaced repetition techniques, in conjunction with our Try, Practice, Demonstrate methodology is incredibly effective for soft skills training. Communication skills and interpersonal skills are notoriously habitual and it will certainly take more than a mere awareness to change a lifelong behaviour.

This is why at Skills Converged, we always design our courses with this principle in mind and aim to employ all three repetition methods to make our courses more effective. The tangible and significant effectiveness of our courses is why they have proven so popular in the training industry all over the world. We are learning enthusiasts and constantly look for ways to improve our courses and take advantage of the latest research in the corresponding fields.