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Want to know if the players have learned implicitly? Test them.

In a previous post I talked about implicit learning...can you remember what that is? Yes! Great what a diligent type you are!

Let me just check...I have a couple of questions...

Q. In the post, how do I define implicit learning?

No, no...don't just read on...stop, think, can you remember? Resist the temptation to click on the link above. Really try and remember and write down what you think.

Q. What is a technique I described that can be used to ensure that implicit learning is taking place?

Depending on how you found that little task will depend on whether you feel that you passed the test. Either way well done for being diligent and commiting to your learning...If you didn't pass the test ask yourself the following questions...

Q. How deeply did I read the information initially?

Q. Did I use any techniques to help retain the information like making notes, drawing a pictogram or linking some of the ideas to things I have done before?

Now we can move on to the next level....

I think you might be seeing where I am going with this...

This is one of the biggest things that I see missing in most coaching sessions I observe...

A lack of testing...

This becomes increasingly important if we are using a 'contraints led' or 'game sense' approach to coaching which involves 'implicit learning' as opposed to an explicit instructional approach where athletes simply repeat actions that are prescribed to them by the coach.

One of the challenges that 'implicit learning' poses is how do we know if learning is taking place. I see a lot of coaches standing at the side of practice and saying nothing which is obviously better than shouting instructions all the time. But I am not always sure that they have given thought as to how they can establish that learning has taken place.

In the sports landscape a well designed challenge or game can serve help to establish learning by serving as a test. In this sense the coach can put the players into a scenario that will require them to perform certain actions if they are going to succeed in achieving the objective and thereby show that they have actually learned a concept.

Coaches can choose to be 'overt' or 'covert' when applying these tests to see if the players are able to apply the concepts that have been learned effectively or not.

In an overt test the coach would pre warn the players that they are going to be observed and they may also provide information about what they are intending to observe.

In a covert test the coach just gets the players into the scenario and then observes whether the players make the correct decisions based on concepts that have previously been applied.

In this way the coach can be clear about what has or hasnt been learned implicitly and can then make informed decisions about whether or not to move onto the learning of another concept.

I know that some people reading this would have reeled at that statement...testing, in sport, Really? Sport isn't school!

Tests are a dirty word at the moment. There is a lot of debate going on about if they are good for children's development or if we should be putting this much pressure on youngsters just so that we can identify if a school is failing or not.

At one time I would have agreed with that response but I have found out a lot more about the educational power of testing and Inow think that it is an essential tool for the coaches toolbox.

Peter Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel make this case in their excellent book "Make it stick: The science of successful learning", and argue that testing needs to be viewed as a learning tool rather than merely a way of assessing.

As they say...

"There are few surer ways to raise the hackles of many students and educators than talking about testing. The growing focus over recent years on standardises assessment, in particular, has turned testing into a lightneing rod for frustration over how to achieve the country's education goals".

They go on....

"But is we stop thinking of testing as a dipstick to measure learning - if we think of it as practicing retrieval of learning from memory rather than "testing", we open ourselves to another possibility, the use of tasting of as a tool for learning".

This method of learning is known among education scientists as 'Retrieval Practice'. This is explained by one of my favourite education writers Annie Murphy-Paul in a series of articles that are all about a concept of something she calls 'Affirmative Testing'.

As Murphy-Paul explains...

"Retrieval practice does not use testing as a tool of assessment. Rather, it treats tests as occasions for learning, which makes sense only once we recognize that we have misunderstood the nature of testing. We think of tests as a kind of dipstick that we insert into a student’s head, an indicator that tells us how high the level of knowledge has risen in there—when in fact, every time a student calls up knowledge from memory, that memory changes. Its mental representation becomes stronger, more stable and more accessible".

And this approach has been proven to work in the class envoronment as well. Murphy-Paul's article makes forther reference when quoting some teacher who have been at the coalface of this kind of teaching...

“I had always thought of tests as a way to assess—not as a way to learn—so initially I was skeptical,” says Andria Matzenbacher, a former teacher at Columbia who now works as an instructional designer. “But I was blown away by the difference retrieval practice made in the students’ performance.”

So we we can see that testing is an important part of learning. Tests are used routinely to ensure that students have understood key concepts and have mastered specific skills that they will need to be able to work out other more complex tasks later on.

The video below shows this perfectly, it is worth observing how the head coach remonstrates (rather colourfully, PG warning here!) with his assistant coaches to say a lot less so that they can actually observe what the players have learned without being told what to do.

So what are the takeaways here...

1. Well designed games make great tests of learning

2. Use games to test if learning has taken place.

3. Use tests as a way of strengthening learning

4. Tests can be overt or covert

5. Usually use the starting game as a way to test what has been learned from the previous week

Let m eknow how you get on!

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