Learning Science and Agile Training

New cognitive psychology results can help us provide better training. Trainers seek to transform the way you think about tasks, motivation, planning and outcomes, and equip you with enough understanding to succeed. My Scrum Trainings are done in the afternoon, reinforcing learning by exploiting sleep cycles. Further ideas include changing venues from day-to-day, varying ways of applying agile thinking to problems, etc.

As Director of the Agile Program Office at Citrix Online, I trained people in agile thinking, including XP, Scrum, Lean and enterprise-level productivity improvement. I’m keenly interested in approaches that enhance learning, especially in Scrum Training. Agile methods are difficult for many to fully embrace, and I want to do anything I can to help.

Scientists have known for years that sleep enhances memory [elle2006] [biel2006]. Traditional trainers provide Scrum Training as two solid 8-hour business days of classes. At Citrix Online, I conduct Scrum Training over four afternoons, with 4-hours each day. I prefer afternoons, to replicate studies that seem to indicate proximity to sleep provides for better learning. [scul2010]

This afternoon approach may provide for better conceptual learning, but it also has other advantages. By spreading out the training, it gives the trainer time to adapt to the interests and experience of attendees. Co-trainer Nick Kim and I used 4-day training to better adapt our team-teaching. Ultimately, we have alternated short lectures and exercises among each other. This made for a more diverse teaching style, and for livelier exercises.

By leaving students with mornings free, training was less disruptive to their work. They had a chance to coordinate with others in the morning and feel more focused in the afternoon. In addition, routine work in the morning allowed students to think about how Scrum, Agile and Lean methods might change how they work.

Research on learning also indicates that some commonly accepted truths are false and suggest surprising approaches worth considering [care2010]. For example, catering to left-brain or right-brain dominance in students apparently has had little value in helping them learn [pash2008].

In contrast, varying the context in which learning takes place, including changing the actual room, can help increase conceptual memory [smit1978]. So, perhaps, I will hold the next Scrum Training I provide in different classrooms on different days; we need to mix it up a little, so the ideas will gel.

Is your trainer applying these techniques when they teach you?

Though an occasional reference section arises vestigially from my academic past, I remain your devoted servant in the present. —Dan Greening


David Biello, “Snooze or Lose: Memory Retention Enhanced by Sleep,” Scientific American News (July 11, 2006).
Benedict Carey, “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits,” New York Times (September 8, 2010).
Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, Justin C. Hulbert, Robert Stickgold, David F. Dinges and Sharon L. Thompson-Schill, “Interfering with Theories of Sleep and Memory: Sleep, Declarative Memory, and Associative Interference,” Current Biology, Volume 16, Issue 13, pp 1290-1294, 11 July 2006, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.05.024.
Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer and Robert Bjork, “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence,” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9:3 (December 2008), pp. 105–119.
Michael K. Scullin and Mark A. McDaniel, “Remembering to Execute a Goal: Sleep on It!” Psychol Sci. 2010 Jul;21(7):1028-35. Epub 2010 Jun 2.
Smith, S. M, Glenberg, A. M., & Bjork, R. A. (1978). “Environmental context and human memory. Memory & Cognition,” 6, 342-353.

One response to “Learning Science and Agile Training”

  1. Mark Levison Avatar

    Very interesting – I haven’t included considerations around sleep yet, however I do spend alot of time studying the neuroscience of education: The Science of Learning: Best Approaches for Your Brain (http://www.infoq.com/articles/science-of-learning)
    See also Sharon Bowman’s work: http://bowperson.com/

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