Create engaging and dynamic virtual classes!

By Sophie Lanoix

In these times of home confinement and mandatory telework, it’s the perfect time to think about converting your classroom-based training to virtual classrooms. However, ensure that when you do, you use a minimum of pedagogical design, so that it doesn’t waste everyone’s time and money.

If you take only one thing away from this article :
Get your learners involved as much as possible!

In these times of home confinement and mandatory telework, it’s the perfect time to think about converting your classroom-based training to virtual classrooms. However, ensure that when you do, you use a minimum of pedagogical design, so that it doesn’t waste everyone’s time and money.

If you are having difficulty converting your learning activities, go back to the pedagogical INTENT of the activity. In a team building course, the objective of your activities is not to make learners good at building a tower out of popsicle sticks. What other online activity could bring participants to work as a team?

The virtual classroom is a flexible training methodology that offers several advantages for both your organization and your learners:

  • Reduced travel time and costs
  • Delivery to geographically dispersed participants
  • Breakdown of training into shorter periods of time
    • for an easier integration into working hours
    • for greater retention through spacing of exposure to the content
  • Just-in-time training, when learners need it

Virtual Classroom or Webinar?

A virtual classroom is the equivalent of a face-to-face class, while a webinar is the equivalent of a conference. Be careful not to convert your participatory classes into passive webinars!

On the other hand, if you have never converted classroom training to online training, you will face several challenges:

  • Lack of knowledge of delivery tools
  • Poor instructional design
  • Distraction of participants
  • Difficulty for participants to access the training (loss of password, blocked invitation emails, etc.)

In this blog, you will find a few tips to make your virtual classroom more dynamic and efficient, as well as a few elements to reflect upon while selecting your technology.

The biggest challenge of conversion arise when organizations and trainers mistakenly believe that all you have to do is talk to the computer to create virtual training. When converting classroom training to online training, a complete redesign is required.

Avoid long speeches

In a classroom course you can afford—although it is not always recommended—to give a lecture for 45 minutes or even 1 hour. In virtual classrooms, this should be avoided at all costs! Your participants will fall asleep on their keyboards, check their social networks on their phones or play games on their second screen.

See why active learning methods are preferable in this article

Involve your learners!

In a virtual classroom, you need to involve your learners as often as possible to keep their attention and interest. How often will you ask me? It depends, of course, on your topic. Try to have your participants interact at least once every 10 minutes. How? Here are a few examples:

Online questions

Ask questions that people have to answer using the presentation software, their phone or computer. For example, Zoom’s built-in questions or Mentimeter, Poll Everywhere,, Kahoot, etc.

Surveys and chat questions

Ask questions that participants answer in the chat. Important! Give them time to answer and review their answers! Otherwise, interest and participation will diminish very quickly.

Whiteboard and interactive slides

Set up activities where participants can write or annotate slides of your presentation or whiteboards in your presentation software.

Small group work or discussion

Most classroom activities can be adapted to the virtual classroom. Good virtual classroom software allow you to divide the group into subgroups for discussion and small group work, just like in a classroom.

Change your rhythm!

We often hear that our attention span is now only a few minutes… yet we are very capable of paying attention to a movie or TV show for one or several hours! According to studies, there is no fixed maximum attention span. The most important factor in attention span is the interest generate by the trainer.

The difference between an interesting training and training where our attention drops off after a few minutes is often in the rhythm. In a classroom training, you move in front of the group and bring a certain dynamism by your presence alone. In a virtual classroom, this dynamism is much less present. How can you compensate for this? Try one of the following tricks:

Use diagrams and avoid death by PowerPoint

Honestly, what do you do when you see someone presenting a slide with lines and lines of text? If you stop listening and read the text, you’re like the vast majority of people, especially if there’s movement on the screen.

The human brain is made so that you can listen or read, but you can’t do both at the same time. Therefore, if you put sentences on the screen, stop talking to give people time to read your text.

Ideally, instead, use graphic diagrams with a minimum of words and elements or a diagram with key words that illustrate the relationship between the concepts of your topic. Visual elements will help your learners understand what you are explaining and retain your content.

I will talk about cognitive load and overload in another article.

Change slides more often

  • Follow the tip: one slide = one idea
  • Instead of having an entire diagram during an explanation, make each part appear as you discuss it
  • Show visual examples of what you are discussing

Create a dialogue, just like in a talk show!

To make a virtual classroom more interesting, why not adopt the talk show format? Rather than having a single person present for hours, work in teams of interviewer and specialist. When working with a team of trainers, you can even alternate the roles of interviewer and specialist instead of taking turns speaking without interacting. You will keep the interest and attention of the participants much longer, especially if you show complicity between the two people on the screen.

Work as a Team to Manage Technology and Chat

Whatever your level of comfort with technology, but especially if you are just starting out, work as a team to deliver training. At the very least, have one person responsible for monitoring the chat and who:

  • Answers technical questions and problems, such as technical, audio or connection issues.
  • monitors participants’ questions during your lecture periods and summarize or highlight those that you have not answered

Choose the right technology

Finally, you will not be able to broadcast a virtual classroom without technological means. There are tons of blogs that specialize in comparing tools for virtual classrooms and webinars. The goal here is not to list all possible equipment in all configurations—it would take too long, change too quickly and that’s not the purpose of this blog—but rather to discuss the minimum you need to launch your first virtual classroom.

Physical delivery configurations vary greatly, from the permanent dedicated room to the compact mobile kit, to the emergency kit for giving a virtual class only once. Of course, equipment prices vary enormously too. However, it is possible to find a microphone and a camera that are perfectly acceptable for less than $100 each. Here are a few things to help you choose the technology that’s right for you.

Broadcasting Software

The most important technological element for a virtual classroom is the broadcasting software. A good virtual classroom software contains at least the following elements:

  • A chat room: a space where participants can discuss in writing, ask trainer some questions or answer questions from the trainer
  • reaction tools: icons allowing participants to raise their hands, applaud, like a comment or indicate that they are absent for 5 minutes. These tools allow participants to focus on what you are saying rather than writing comments at length.
  • Annotation tools: functions that allow your participants to comment, write, highlight, circle items on your slides, if you give them permission, of course.
  • Breakout rooms: a feature that allows you to divide the group into smaller groups that can talk to each other without the rest of the group hearing them, which is essential for teamwork during the course.
  • A whiteboard: function allowing the trainer or learners to draw by hand, make a diagram or write, as in a real classroom. If your delivery software does not have a whiteboard, you can add a blank slide to your presentation. You will then need to plan when to use it or navigate through your presentation during delivery.

You can also compare the options for recording sessions, connection security, maximum number of participants, etc. depending on your needs.


Your participants must be able to hear you! A microphone built into your computer or camera is usually not the best option. When choosing your microphone, think about your needs in terms of the following features:

  • Tabletop or boom: Tabletop microphones are easier to use.
  • Type of connection: microphones that plug into a USB port are easier to use and often more compact.
  • Directionality: Does the micro pick up all ambient sounds or only those coming from one direction? If two people are presenting, the microphone must be able to pick up both voices, especially if you are facing each other.


The camera is the other crucial piece of equipment for creating quality virtual classrooms. You need to get a high-quality camera. When choosing your camera, consider the following features:

  • Resolution: Ideally, the camera should have a 1080-pixel sensor. Even if your camera has a 4D resolution, you will need to adjust it to 1080p to limit the negative effects on bandwidth.
  • Focus type: Look for cameras that offer autofocus.
  • Light sensitivity: Choose a camera that works well in a variety of lighting environments. Otherwise, if possible, choose natural light or buy accent lighting.

In conclusion…

Studies have shown that the most effective training methodology is neither classroom training nor synchronous or asynchronous online training, but a combination of several methodologies in a hybrid training path.

However, whether it is a single training event or part of a blended learning path, your virtual classroom must be designed according to your learning objectives and you must take into account the particularities of this means of delivery in the organization of the course.

Enjoy your distance learning!

Don’t forget anything!

Download the Engaging Virtual Classroom Checklist

Let’s get rid of our myths! Throwing out the learning styles and the learning pyramid


By Sophie Lanoix

Neuroscience is booming and the amount of brain research has exploded in recent years. There is a growing understanding of how the brain works and, more importantly for us, how humans learn. However, we are realizing that some widely held beliefs are wrong and that many myths persist about how the brain works and its impact on learning.

A Quebec study (Blanchette Sarrasin et al., [accepted]) identified the five most popular neuromyths among Quebec teachers:

  1. Students learn best when they receive information according to their preferred learning style.
  2. Students have a predominant intelligence profile, e.g., logicomathematical, musical, interpersonal, which must be taken into account in teaching.
  3. Differences between students with dominant left and dominant right brains may help to explain differences in learning observed in students.
  4. Short coordination exercises, such as touching your left ankle with your right hand and vice versa, can improve communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.
  5. We use about 10% of our brain.

I have not found a similar study for myths about workplace training, but I often hear training professionals dispelling these same myths. It’s high time to put an end to them! In this article, let’s start by addressing learning styles and the learning pyramid.

Myth #1
Training needs to be tailored to the learner’s learning style

The myth

You’ve heard it before, that’s for sure. Regularly, someone will proclaim that we have to adapt our training to the learning styles of the participants because we learn better if we receive the information in our learning style.

What is true in this myth

There are studies that show that a person may have a preference for receiving information. As a result, several studies have tried to prove that a teaching method adapted to the learning style is more effective and increases retention or comprehension.

The reality

Unfortunately, no study has been able to prove that we learn better when training is adapted to our preference.

Evidence that this is a myth

  1. In 2015, Rogowski et al. hypothesized that “visual” people would learn better with written words and “auditory” people would learn better with an audiobook. Their study showed that both groups of learners learned better with the written text than with the audiobook.
  2. In 2017, Cuevas et al. also tested learning styles with university students. They found that learners who received the training material adapted to their preference did not retain information better than learners who received it in another style. On the other hand, they found that learners who received the information visually learned better than all learners who received it auditorily.
  3. In 2017, Paschler et al. conducted a review of the literature on learning styles. They concluded that “there is currently no adequate evidence to justify the use of learning styles in educational practice.”

The impact on our ways of doing things

Now that we all know it’s a myth, we must:

  1. Stop talking about learning styles to stop propagating the myth
  2. Vary the teaching methods and especially the ways of explaining
  3. Accompany verbal explanations with graphs or pictures
  4. Stop wasting time and money trying to adapt training to the learning styles of our participants

Myth #2
We only remember 5% of what we hear

I often hear training professionals cite the “learning pyramid” to justify their pedagogical design. But where does this famous pyramid come from? And what is its validity?

The evolution of the myth

In 1946, Edgar Dale proposed a hierarchy of learning methods for adults. In this version, we can see teaching methods in a pyramid, without any numbers.

Dale's cone of experience, 1946
Dale, 1946

Over the years, people have misquoted Dale. In turn, these people have also been misquoted. One thing led to another as in the telephone game, and in 1960 Dale’s pyramid came to contain percentages — very accurate and all rounded to the nearest 5 or 10% — and the list, “People generally remember…”.

Wiman & Meriheny, 1960, based on Dale, 1946

In 2002, Maine’s National Training Laboratories went even further and added the concepts of passive and active learning methods to the pyramid.

National Training Laboratories, Maine, 2002, based on Dale 1969

Several groups of researchers have studied the evolution of this myth and its explanation. Subramony et al. and Letrud, K., & Hernes, S. have written several articles on the subject from the perspective of the history of the myth in order to find out when the numbers appeared in Dale’s original scheme and was thus distorted. To my knowledge, no study has reproduced the figures in the pyramid.

Why the myth is stubborn

Because the theory seems valid and sensible, and because it supports what is instinctively believed about active and passive learning methods, it is widely adopted and repeated everywhere by teachers and trainers of all kinds.

The impact on the way we do things

Now that we all know it’s a myth, we must:

  1. Stop talking about the learning pyramid to stop spreading the myth.
  2. Select teaching methods based on our learning objectives, including lecturing, demonstrations and collaborative learning.

What do you think about this? Will you change your ways, knowing that these are myths?

Why is it so hard to get rid of your beliefs? Simply because we believe in our sources. In Blanchette Sarrasin’s study (accepted), teachers cite university, logic and practical observation as sources related to their adherence to myths. Where do your myths come from? From your colleagues, from your readings in popular science journals?


Blanchette Sarrasin, J., Riopel, M., & Masson, S. (accepté). Les neuromythes chez les enseignants québécois : à quel point sont-ils fréquents et quelle est leur origine? Éducation Canada.

Cuevas, J., & Dawson, B. L. (2018). A test of two alternative cognitive processing models: Learning styles and dual coding. Theory and Research in Education16(1), 40-64.

Letrud, K., & Hernes, S. (2016). The diffusion of the learning pyramid myths in academia: an exploratory study. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 48(3), 291-302.

Letrud, K., & Hernes, S. (2018). Excavating the origins of the learning pyramid myths. Cogent Education, 5(1), 1518638.

Masson, S. 19 et 26 novembre 2019. « Neuromythes ». Cours Neuroéducation et didactique générale. Montréal : Université de Montréal. Montréal : UQAM.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological science in the public interest9(3), 105-119.

Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2015). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of educational psychology107(1), 64. doi :10.1037/a0037478

Subramony, D. P., Molenda, M., Betrus, A. K., & Thalheimer, W. (2014). Previous attempts to debunk the mythical retention chart and corrupted Dale’s Cone. Educational Technology, 17-21.

Subramony, D. P., Molenda, M., Betrus, A. K., & Thalheimer, W. (2014). The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Bibliographic Essay on the Corrupted Cone. Educational Technology, 22-31.

Subramony, D. P., Molenda, M., Betrus, A. K., & Thalheimer, W. (2014). Timeline of the Mythical Retention Chart and Corrupted Dale’s Cone. Educational Technology, 31-34.

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2018). Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas about the brain. WW Norton & Company.

Learn Better! Tips to get the most out of your training

Lightbulb surrounded by content icons

By Sophie Lanoix

We are all learners. Sometimes voluntary, sometimes forced. In both cases, attending training takes up valuable time in our busy schedules. Why not make the most of it then?

Download my learning log

As a participant, we generally have little or no influence on the design of the training. What we have influence on is our motivation to learn and our attention during the training. We can also use some concrete tips to increase retention and transfer what we’ve learned in training to the workplace.

Children are not the only ones who have to learn things by heart! As an adult, we also sometimes need to be able to remember something quickly in order to apply it without the need for a checklist. Examples:

  • Pilot, firefighter, police officer: emergency procedures
  • Air traffic controller: airport and airway data
  • Physician and nurse: medical procedures
  • Sales representative: characteristics of a new product
  • Exams: for university, for a position, to enter a professional order, to obtain certification

What You Can Do BEFORE Training

Tip 1: Believe in Your ABILITY to Learn

Do you think you are able to learn, improve and change? If so, you have a growth mindset. If, on the contrary, you believe that you are good or not in a field and that there is no point in even trying to learn and improve, you have a fixed mindset. If you tend to have a fixed mindset, remember that your skills are the result of your neural connections and that they change continuously, regardless of your age and natural abilities.

If you approach training believing that you can learn and improve, you increase your chances of retaining the content of the training. You will also be better able to imagine yourself doing the task or exercising the skill, which increases your chances of applying what you learn during the training. Most importantly, you activate your error correction mechanisms, which will help you improve your learning and performance. We always learn from our mistakes… or at least we should!

Tip 2: Know WHY You Are Participating in Training

When do you familiarize yourself with the learning objectives of a training course? Before you register or when the training begins? If you want to maximize retention and transfer, you should know WHY you are attending training well before you arrive in class or start the online course.

By being aware of how training can help you in your daily work, you will be better able to project yourself into the future completing the task. Most importantly, by making concrete links between the content and your work, you will increase the perceived value of the training for you. These two very important elements increase the likelihood that you will put what you learn in training into action in the workplace.

Your participation in training should be part of your learning or skill development plan. What is the link between this training and the others in which you have or will participate? How will this training contribute to your personal or career development?

Finally, you must also ensure that you have the prerequisites for training in order to properly integrate new knowledge and skills. Do you have any doubts about the usefulness of training for you? Discuss this with your supervisor, colleagues or former participants.

Tip 3: Plan PRACTICE Opportunities

You may be able to imagine doing a new task or exercising a new skill, but until you actually do it, you do not have acquired that skill. How many times have you enthusiastically participated in training and never put anything into practice? This is a monumental waste of your time, the trainer’s time and money for the organization. From the moment you register for training, you should immediately identify opportunities to apply what you will learn. Discuss this with your supervisor and colleagues to clarify expectations.

This conversation is also the ideal time to negotiate a longer time to complete the task to properly integrate new knowledge or practices and discuss your right to make mistakes. If your supervisor does not want you to practise your new skill, why is he or she paying for the training? The opportunity to practise will not come for another year? Consider postponing your participation to a more appropriate time. It is unlikely that you will remember the content in a year’s time, if you have never practised it before.

What You Can Do DURING Training

Tip 4: Be ATTENTIVE and Reduce Distractions

You have just paid a lot of money to attend a conference in your field. The speakers are very interesting, but as in all conferences, they follow one another in a long series of lectures. When you focus on the content of a lecture and follow the presenter’s explanations, the areas that are activated in your brain are the same as if you were doing the action yourself. Your learning already begins (I have already touched on this aspect from the designer’s point of view in this article).

Moreover, if you are constantly distracted by your emails and all kinds of notifications on your phone or computer, you absorb less knowledge than when you pay full attention. One study even showed that just having your smartphone in your field of vision reduces the cognitive ability to learn. Simply storing your phone in a bag or leaving it in another room increases retention and this difference is even more pronounced for people considered dependent on their phone.

Tip 5:
SLOW Down!

Whether at a conference, in a classroom course or in an online course, you are sometimes placed in a situation of passive learning. But you can still become active learners!

To listen more actively to a presenter, interrupt the flow of information and participate actively. Whenever possible, ask questions, re-explain or rephrase the content that has just been explained.

To be more active when reading a text or an online course, interrupt your reading to reflect on the content. Ask yourself questions about what you have just read and make connections with other concepts, knowledge and experiences. Try to anticipate what comes next, explain what you have just read and above all try to remember what you have just read. You can also search for the definition of a word. If you have difficulty stopping naturally, plan your pauses, for example at the end of a chapter, section or every 30 minutes.

What You Can Do AFTER Training

Tip 6: Make Efforts to REMEMBER Contents

Ask around you: how do people study to retain content? Most often, people reread their notes, sometimes highlighting important passages. According to studies—and experience!—this is an inefficient learning strategy! If you want to spend less time studying AND remember more content, try the following strategies:

  • Try to remember content WITHOUT reading it first. You can use cue cards or applications such as,, goconqr, etc. (there is a very long list of such applications).
  • Explain the content. Prepare a list of questions that start with Why? and How? about content and try to answer them. Don’t forget to check if you have the right explanation! It would be silly to learn well wrong information…
  • Create a diagram of the content. By drawing a diagram that connects the concepts you are studying, you will need to think more deeply about them and the knowledge will be more ingrained.

Tip 7: SPACE Your Learning Periods

When you try to learn something, do you study for long hours a few times or do you plan shorter, more frequent learning periods? If you feel that it is more effective to study for a long time and less often, you are not alone… but you are wrong.

Studies clearly show that you retain much more with learning periods spaced over time than with learning periods grouped in the same day. If grouped learning seems more effective, it is because after a few hours or minutes, the knowledge is fresh in the memory, and therefore easier to remember. However, the exercises done under these conditions no longer consolidate the knowledge in your memory. On the other hand, if you resume your study the next day or a few days later, you need to reactivate the knowledge in the brain, which is more difficult, and you feel you are learning less well. Don’t get fooled! It is in these moments that you consolidate knowledge and learn it for the longer term. In the very words of one of my participants: learning hurts the brain!

Tip 8: Seek Honest FEEDBACK—Even If It Hurts!

Who really likes to receive feedback… be honest! Getting our mistakes and areas for improvement pointed out is hard on the ego and on the feeling of self-efficacy. However, it is an essential and truly effective mechanism for learning.

There are two types of feedback: positive feedback, which confirms that we have done an action correctly or given a good answer, and negative feedback, which confirms that we have made a mistake. Both types of feedback are important for learning and have different and complementary effects in the brain. Positive feedback releases dopamine and gives us a sense of well-being, which increases our motivation to learn and continue. Negative feedback triggers error correction mechanisms that, among other things, helps us focus our attention to our error to modify our knowledge or abilities.

There is no point in asking for feedback if you do not intend to change your actions. With feedback, therefore, comes automatically a personal reflection on our practices, paradigms and ways of doing things. Others can give us feedback, but they can’t change us! A real motivation to learn and improve is therefore necessary to receive feedback. People who are persistent and more successful are the ones who, by trying to improve, trigger the chemical reactions associated with positive feedback by correcting their mistakes.

So, Do You Know How to Learn?

Today’s working world is uncertain, volatile and constantly changing. The pace of these changes is only increasing, and we must all be able to adapt continuously to new work processes and technologies. Learning to learn has become an essential competence to lead a successful career with a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment at work.

The few tips outlined in this article are certainly not the only ones you can implement to promote retention and transfer of your learning. You can also, for example, take care of your health, walk every day, drink water, stay away from the screens for a while, meditate, cultivate your curiosity, be in a state of mind that encourages you to accept new ways of doing things, etc.

After reading this article, let me know: What tips did you already know? Do you know how to make the most of your time in training? What tips do you want to start using? Do you have any other tips to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Bradley, M. M., Costa, V. D., Ferrari, V., Codispoti, M., Fitzsimmons, J. R., & Lang, P. J. (2015). Imaging distributed and massed repetitions of natural scenes: spontaneous retrieval and maintenance. Human Brain Mapping, 36(4), 1381-1392. doi:10.1002/hbm.22708

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58. doi:10.1177/1529100612453266

Masson, S. 17 septembre 2019. « Principe 2 : Activation répétée ». Cours Neuroéducation et didactique générale. Montréal : Université de Montréal. Montréal : UQAM.

Masson, S. 12 novembre 2019. « Principe 7 : État d’esprit ». Cours Neuroéducation et didactique générale. Montréal : Université de Montréal. Montréal : UQAM.

Monchi, O., Petrides, M., Petre, V., Worsley, K., & Dagher, A. (2001). Wisconsin Card Sorting Revisited: Distinct Neural Circuits Participating in Different Stages of the Task Identified by Event-Related Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The Journal of Neuroscience, 21(19), 7733-7741.

Moser, J. S., Schroder, H. S., Heeter, C., Moran, T. P., & Lee, Y. H. (2011). Mind your errors: Evidence for a neural mechanism linking growth mind-set to adaptive posterror adjustments. Psychological Science, 22(12), 1484-1489.

Roussel, J. (2011). Gérer la formation, viser le transfert. Montréal: Guérin, éditeur ltée.

Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: the mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2(2), 140-154. doi:10.1086/691462

Wilkinson, L., Tai, Y. F., Lin, C. S., Lagnado, D. A., Brooks, D. J., Piccini, P., & Jahanshahi, M. (2014). Probabilistic classification learning with corrective feedback is associated with in vivo striatal dopamine release in the ventral striatum, while learning without feedback is not. Human Brain Mapping, 35(10), 5106-5115. doi:10.1002/hbm.22536

Quizzes before or after training: what promotes retention better?

Person wrting a test

By Sophie Lanoix

In workplace training, learners are generally tested less than in schools. First, training is rarely used to certify learners and move them from one level to another. Workplace training is mainly used to equip people to do their jobs better and, in this sense, the real test after training is the person’s performance in their work context.

In workplace training, learners are generally tested less than in schools. First, training is rarely used to certify learners and move them from one level to another. Workplace training is mainly used to equip people to do their jobs better and, in this sense, the real test after training is the person’s performance in their work context.

In classroom training, quizzes are rarely taken at the end of the day. In online training, on the other hand, there is a tendency to almost systematically quiz after training. Is it necessary to do so? How do quizzes affect retention? This article answers this question.

The Article

Title: Does pre-testing promote better retention than post-testing?

Authors: Alice Latimier, Arnaud Riegert, Hugo Peyre, Son Thierry Ly, Roberto Casati and Franck Ramus

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

The Experiment

The research team divided the participants into three groups that were equivalent in terms of demographics and prior knowledge of the subject. They assigned a different study method to each group, then tested retention with an exam seven days after the training day. Participants could not review the content between the training day and the final test day. The researchers then compared the results of the three groups to the final test to draw conclusions.

The subject studied was DNA and the content was presented in the form of seven online reading capsules. The final test focused on the content of the reading, with some questions on content that had not been tested in the seven quizzes.

Experiment Methodology

The Findings

  1. Quizzes, whether taken before or after reading an online course, increase content retention.
  2. Quizzes taken after reading the online course increase retention more than quizzes taken before reading the online course
  3. Quizzes taken after reading the online course increase the retention of materials related to the content, but not tested.

Why is this of interest to us, workplace training designers?

Let’s start by asking ourselves why we have quizzes in courses. Generally, there are no consequences for learners who do not achieve the pass mark. At most, they are asked to retake training. So why have a quiz at all? Simply to increase retention.

During a quiz, whether done before or after the training, learners must activate their neurons to remember the content or make links between different elements stored in their memory. The more you try to remember something, the easier it becomes to remember. The primary reason why quizzes help retention is simply that they are an active method of learning. And all learning activities that require learners to remember a content increase retention, whether it is a quiz question, a case study, an association, a sequencing question, etc.

Then, let’s ask ourselves why have quizzes before training if quizzes after training are more effective for retention? First, pre-training quizzes also increase retention. The simple fact of trying to generate an answer, even if that answer is wrong, reinforces the path between the question and the correct answer and promotes deep processing of information.

However, we must be careful! While post-training quizzes increase retention of untested content during training, pre-training quizzes have the opposite effect. During learning, learners tend to focus on tested content and pay less attention to untested content before training, reducing the retention of untested content.

What should I change in my professional practice?

When designing training, all learning activities must have a purpose. Quizzes before and after the training are no exception. If we decide to add a quiz to training, we must know why we are doing it and how it will serve learning.

Here are some key actions I take away from this article:

  • Add quizzes to classroom training. Not to make a learner pass or fail, but as an active learning activity that forces the learner to recall the content and consolidate the learning.
  • Add quizzes to online courses to consolidate learning. These quizzes can be at the end of the training, but also within the training modules, at the end of each section, for example.
  • Add a pre-training quiz to focus the learner’s attention on specific elements of the training, especially if it has been difficult to reduce the less essential elements of information.
  • Ensure that quizzes cover the essential content of the training, especially if they are done before the training.

In short, we must continue to ensure that our training programs are as active as possible and include a wide variety of activities, including quizzes where necessary.

Reference and link to the article

Latimier, A., Riegert, A., Peyre, H., Ly, S., Casati, R., & Ramus, F. (2019). Does pre-testing promote better retention than post-testing?. Npj Science Of Learning, 4(1).

Using Active Approaches to Support Learning

Neurons Blue

Using Active Approaches to Support Learning

Sophie Lanoix

By Sophie Lanoix

The lecture has had a hard life in recent years. As training specialists know, “active” learning methods are much more effective than “passive” methods. The lecture, seen as a passive learning activity, has therefore almost become a pariah amongst workplace training methods and to suggest using it sometimes amounts to blasphemy.

But why are active methods so much favoured? And are we really right? And to begin with, what is the difference between active and passive learning methodologies?

When Is a Learning Activity Active or Passive?

I often hear subject matter experts refer to an online course as “interactive” because it contains several videos and images that learners must click on to read additional information. As you have guessed it, this is not the right definition of “interactivity” in training.

In learning, when we say that a method is “active,” it means that the learner is focused on the learning content and that he or she must produce something with that content. Let’s illustrate this concept with an example.

Consider the case where a learner has to click on an element in an online course. This action can be “active” or “passive” depending on the context in which the learner must make the gesture of clicking on the element.

Question Slide

“Active” Learning Activity

The learner clicks on one of four elements as an answer to a question.

This is an “active” action, because the learner must think about the question, analyze the four elements and consciously choose one of them as an answer. His brain is then engaged in learning, as he must use knowledge stored in his memory to answer the question. In this case, they must produce a response choice.

“Passive” Learning Activity

The learner clicks on an image to bring up the next text box to read.

Here, the learner does not have to select anything related to the content. Clicking on the image to bring up the next text box is equivalent to clicking on “next” to bring up the next page of the course. The learner has nothing to produce with the content.

The same logic applies to classroom training. When the learner sits and listens to a lecture or watches a video, they are considered passive their learning. When answering questions, trying to solve a problem or analyze a situation, they are considered active in their learning, as they must activate their brain and use their knowledge to make connections between concepts.

Why Does the Brain Have to Be Active to Learn?

First, why do you offer training in your organization? Generally, because you want people to change their behaviour or adopt new ones. For example, if you provide leadership training, it is to make managers change the way they manage and be more effective and efficient. If you provide training on the use of a forklift truck, it is because you want employees to adopt safe behaviours when using the forklift.

To answer the question, “Why does the brain have to be active to learn? ,” you have to look at what’s happening in the brain while a person is learning. A person’s behaviour depends on their neural connections. To change behaviour, we must therefore create new neural or even create new neurons. This is the very definition of learning in neuroscience.

When a person learns a new skill or behaviour, neurons are activated and they connect together. If these neurons activate and connect together often enough, a path is created between the neurons, like a path in the forest. When the path is well traced, the skill or behaviour is well anchored, and the person is able to reproduce it. The more the trail is used, the deeper it is traced, the easier it is to follow. So, the more often you perform a gesture, the better and easier it is to remember.

Hebb’s Rule: Cells that fire together, wire together

Some examples of active learning activities

In an asynchronous online course

  • Associating an image with a word or concept
  • Answering a multiple-choice question, whether the options are presented with words or images
  • Putting process steps in order
  • Dragging and dropping a word or image into the right area
  • Identifying errors or good elements in an image
  • Etc.

In a physical or virtual classroom

  • Explaining a concept to a colleague
  • Answering questions
  • Writing a case study
  • Explaining the consequences of an action
  • Analyzing the possible options for solving a scenario
  • Making the gestures of the psychomotor skill to be acquired (driving the forklift, using medical imaging equipment, handling an instrument, etc.)
  • Practising a communication skill in a role-playing game
  • Etc.

So, Should You Throw Away Passive Methods?

That being said, we also learn when we read a text or listen to a masterful presentation, even if we consider them passive learning activities. Studies have shown that when an action is observed, the same neurons are activated in the brain as when the action is performed. So, if a learner is attentive and able to mentally follow the actions that the trainer explains during the lecture, learning begins in their brain. However, behaviour or knowledge will not be well anchored and active learning methods will be needed to consolidate them.

Passive methods such as lectures, video playback or reading are still useful. They are preferred when the task is completely new to the learner, or when the risk of error is very high. They will be used to lay the foundation knowledge that learners can then use to practise the skill with more active learning methods. In addition, lectures allow trainers to explain nuances more effectively than a text, to model behaviours and values and to stimulate learners’ motivation.


I admit it: I am one of those people who make life difficult for lectures and passive learning methods. However, I also recognize their value in certain circumstances. I still remain a strong supporter of active methods, especially considering that learners who enter our workplace training generally have prior knowledge related to the subject of the training. It is much easier to acquire new knowledge and skills when you are able to connect them to things you already know. 

We have created a simple and easy to use
Learning Method Variety Grid
to help designers determine how passive or active their online, classroom or virtual courses are.

Download the grid

Do you have any questions, comments or reactions? Feel free to share them with us in the forum below. Are you hesitating? You can write to us in private.

Need a helping hand to dynamize your training?
We can help you.

Contact us!

Spread the word!







Bradbury, N. (2016). Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more?. Advances In Physiology Education, 40(4), 509-513. doi: 10.1152/advan.00109.2016

Lachaux, J. (2013). Le cerveau attentif. Paris: O. Jacob.

Masson, S. 10 septembre 2019. « Principe 1 : Activation ». Cours Neuroéducation et didactique générale. Montréal : Université de Montréal. Montréal : UQAM.

Masson, S. 17 septembre 2019. « Principe 2 : Activation répétée ». Cours Neuroéducation et didactique générale. Montréal : Université de Montréal. Montréal : UQAM.

Masson, S. (2016). Pour que s’activent les neurones. Les Cahiers pédagogiques, 527, 18-19.

Mukamel, R., Ekstrom, A., Kaplan, J., Iacoboni, M., & Fried, I. (2010). Single-Neuron Responses in Humans during Execution and Observation of Actions. Current Biology, 20(8), 750-756. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.02.045

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2018). Neuromyths (pp. 147-149). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Adopting a Strategic Approach to Learning

Adopting a Strategic Approach to Learning

Sophie Lanoix

By Sophie Lanoix

Have you ever wondered if you are getting the most out of your training efforts and expenses? Are you tired of …

  • being reactive to training requests?
  • spending money on training that does not impact your organizational performance?
  • losing contracts or customers because your employees do not have the skills you need now and in the future?

How about taking a strategic approach to learning? You could transform the efforts and resources invested in training into real learning and growth for your organization. Training would become a strategic lever for your organization, and you would be in a better position to achieve your strategic organizational objectives.

“The ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Arie De Geus

Don’t know where to start? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a miracle recipe. Each organization must implement measures adapted to its internal and external context. However, to help you get started, here are some avenues of action.

1. Stop wasting money on training that doesn’t work!

Organizations waste a lot of money on training, and for two reasons:

  • because they do training even when they don’t need it
  • because the training they provide to their employees is not effective

Here’s how you can easily fix this problem and increase the return on your training investments.

Organize Training Only When it is the RIGHT Solution to a Problem

Before designing or organizing training, it is important to ask yourself if the performance problem you are trying to solve is really due to a lack of knowledge, skills or competencies. In many cases, this is not the case. Here are questions you can ask to find the cause of a performance problem:

Do the employees …

  • have the tools to do the job?
  • know what standards they must meet?
  • receive feedback on their performance?
  • are rewarded or punished for good behaviour?
  • want to do the task?
  • have the physical or mental ability to do the task?

If you answer NO to any of these questions, training will not be the first solution to your problem.

However, you can implement the training if you answer NO to the following question:

Do employees have the knowledge and skills required to do the job?

In short, the only situation in which a performance problem can be solved by a classroom course, a virtual classroom or an online course, is if employees do not have the knowledge or skills required to do the job.

Organizing or designing training for any other reason is just wasting resources.

Ensure That the Training Design is Effective

Now that you know that training is the solution to your performance problem, will all training solve the problem? Not necessarily. To be effective, training must be well designed. Make sure that the training:

  • is available when learners need it, not six months in advance
  • be as participatory as possible
  • focuses on what the employee needs to do, back in the workplace and not on a mountain of things good to know
  • responds to the perceived need of learners—explain to learners why this training or skill will be useful to them
  • is directly related to the learner’s work and that they can apply their new skills in a real work project
  • is only available to employees who need it, otherwise it is a waste of time for others

2. Analyze Learning Needs Over 360o

Many organizations rely on the ad hoc needs of employees and expressed by managers to make their annual training plan. Although it is necessary to take these into account, a plan based solely on those learning needs is incomplete and reactive.

In order for the training plan to contribute to your organization’s priorities, it is also necessary to take into account the related training needs:

  • strategic objectives and major projects
  • succession needs
  • the results of customer surveys
  • the results of performance indicators

Learning Needs Analysis Diagram

Once you have identified the learning needs, you can write a comprehensive training plan that will truly contribute to the success of the organization. For each training session, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Who will be trained? — Who really needs this training?
  • On what? — What is the skill or ability to be developed?
  • Why? — What problem are you trying to solve with this training?
  • How? — Which training methodology is most appropriate?
  • When? — When do the target employees need training?

3. Develop an Organizational Learning Strategy

Survey colleagues and you will see: very few organizations are mature enough to have an organizational learning strategy in place. However, it is a simple document that can have a significant impact on the organization. A learning strategy includes, among other things:

For example…

  • your commitment to learning

ACME Inc. is committed to the training, development and continuous improvement of all members of the organization, to ensure that everyone is prepared to meet the current and future challenges of our organization.

  • the principles that guide for your training decisions
  • Learning initiatives are focused on developing skills that enable people to perform to the best of their abilities
  • Learning initiatives are designed using to the competency-based approach and not a content approach
  • Training methods are selected based on the optimization of learning and the use of resources and not based on the requester’s preference or the simple availability of technology
  • Etc.
  • the roles and responsibilities of each person with regard to training and learning 

List the responsibilities of the key learning actors in the organization, such as:

  • Senior management
  • Training or human resources team
  • Managers
  • Employees

With a learning strategy in hand, your training and learning decisions will be consistent with each other and over time. All the actors will know their role, and it will be easier for you to get the necessary budgets to implement your training plan.

4. Become a Learning Organization

For several years, there has been a lot of talk about learning organizations and the importance of developing a positive learning culture. Take a few seconds to think: what does your organizational culture look like? How do you experience learning in your organization? Are you learning from your successes? What about your mistakes? How do you encourage learning? Changing an organizational culture takes time, but it can be done.

Here are three concrete actions you can take now that will help you move forward on the path to a positive learning culture.

1. Plan the transfer of learning

Each time a person participates in training, they should have a conversation with their supervisor to determine:

  • expectations for behavioural changes following training
  • the opportunities to practise the skill or ability after the training
  • the support they have access to in order to apply the skill or ability
  • their margin of error when practicing the new skills or ability

2. Have pilots and prototypes

When you set up a new training program or use a new training methodology, have a pilot courses and prototypes. Testing with members of your target audience will allow you to make adjustments and ensure that the training really meets the needs of the learners and the organization.

3. Learn from Your Experience

Have post-mortem for your projects, including your training projects. Once you have identified good moves and mistakes, adjust your ways of doing things and procedures to improve and avoid repeating mistakes. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? You would be surprised to learn how many organizations never do post-mortems or, when they do, do not take appropriate action to address their findings.

5. Identify a Learning Leader

Do you have a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Operating Officer? A head of learning is just as important. In large organizations, this learning leader may be in a management position. In small organizations, it can be the human resources manager or even an advisor.

The important thing is that there is someone who has a global vision of what is happening in the learning process in the organization and who is responsible for monitoring the performance indicators you have identified for training. Normally, this person is also the one who will have written the learning strategy and training plan. If this person does not hold a managerial or executive position, he or she should at least maintain a close relationship with the organization’s decision makers.


As you can see, taking a strategic approach to training is a long-term process. Each organization is different and your path to get there will be different from that of another.

Like all major projects, this can be achieved by taking one concrete step at a time and targeting actions in the short, medium and long term. Are there any other actions or paths than those described here? Certainly! But if you are thinking about it for the first time or on the contrary, for a long time without knowing where to start, you have here some ideas to start your adventure.

We have created a colorful infographics that you can use as a reminder of the actions described in this article.

Download the infographics

Do you have any questions, comments or reactions? Feel free to share them with us in the forum below.
Hesitating? You can write to us in private.

Need a hand to get started?
We can help you.

Contact us!

Spread the word!







Bowles, M. (2013). Lead learning strategy implementation. Launceston: Institute for Working Futures.

De Geus, A. P. (1988). Planning as learning(pp. 70-74). March/April: Harvard Business Review.

Gilbert, T. (1996). Human competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, Tribute Edition. Silver Spring, Md.: International Society for Performance Improvement.

Roussel, J. (2011). Gérer la formation, viser le transfert. Montréal: Guérin, éditeur ltée.

Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline. London: Random House Business.