Make Training Challenging

Sometimes the way training is designed and built works against the learner. There are lots of ways to get it wrong. Here are some instances (1):

  • Too much content

  • Unnecessary content (at too advanced a level, for example)

  • Overdone explanations

  • Pictures or graphics that don’t relate to the content (whether they are artistic and exciting or not)

  • Photographs, drawings, or illustrations and associated descriptions are in different locations

  • Unrelated decorations

  • Unnecessary or distracting color schemes

When there are too many distractions, there’s too much noise, and training over taxes a learner’s memory, making learning more difficult, impeding learning results.

When thoughtfully designed and built, training includes ‘desirable difficulties’ (coined and extensively explained by Elizabeth and Robert Bjork (2 & 3)). Putting essential terms or concepts in your own words is a simple example of good cognitive load; this kind of difficulty helps the learner understand and remember (1).

Desirable difficulties apply to realistic practice as well. When it’s authentic, practice builds on underlying principles to develop habit strength (2). Training must do the right kind and the right amount of analysis to uncover widely used and useful schemas and to tie practice to so that the:

  • Learner retrieves information in a similar manner to the work

  • Learner experiences scenarios that reflect the breadth and depth of the job properly

  • Scenarios are practical 

Building your Best Employee: Learning Strategies that Drive Results

(1) Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning by Patti Shank, PhD

(2) Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. Psychology and the real world: Essays illustrating fundamental contributions to society, 56 – 64, by Elizabeth Bjork and Robert Bjork

(3) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel

Additional insights come from Thalheimer, W. (2004, April; 2009, April). Bells, whistles, neon, and purple prose: When interesting words, sounds, and visuals hurt learning and performance—a review of the seductive-augmentation research. Retrieved February 8, 2021, from