Is Optimal Challenge an Effective Strategy for Learning?

Is Optimal Challenge an Effective Strategy for Learning?


The concept of ‘optimal challenge’ was developed more than 15 years ago by a team of researchers working on something known as the challenge point framework’ for motor learning. Researchers were focused mainly on developing a framework for improving motor skills via physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc. Today, educators are wondering if optimal challenge is effective elsewhere.

Could the optimal challenge concept be adapted to corporate training, for example? Fulcrum Labs, a Salt Lake City company that has won numerous awards for its Adapter 3.0 learning platform, says it can. In fact, optimal challenge is a big part of their platforms design.

Optimal Challenge Explained

Research into the challenge point framework emphasized the fact that people learn, at least in part, by being presented with challenges that stretch them to go just a little bit further than their current capabilities. Working under that assumption naturally leads to questioning how difficult new challenges should be. That is where optimal challenge comes in.

The optimal challenge concept seeks to present learners with challenges that are neither too easy nor too difficult. Challenges that are too easy can lead to boredom and complacency. Learners disengage because they already know they can do what they are being tasked with.

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On the other hand, a challenge that is too difficult can lead to frustration. Experiencing one frustration after another in a learning environment can lead to throwing one’s hands up and walking away.

Those who employ optimal challenge seeks to find those educational challenges that are neither too easy nor too hard. Optimal challenge is, therefore, all about finding that sweet spot that keeps learners engaged but also continually pressing forward to master new things.

Optimal Challenge in Corporate Training

Understanding the optimal challenge concept brings us back around to the question of whether or not it can be leveraged for corporate training. In a word, yes. But to make it work, corporate training programs cannot rely on a static way of training. They have to turn to adaptive learning instead.

One of the key components of adaptive learning is that it adjusts to each learner in real time. For example, an adaptive e-learning platform that is learner-directed and AI-powered constantly tracks performance and adjusts to learner knowledge, skill, and competency.

The artificial intelligence component is able to ‘learn’ from user input and thereby present optimal challenges. Learners engage through interactive, challenging content. They master the material at their own pace and the system verifies mastery before they move on to the next challenge.

Overcoming the Boredom

If you have ever sat through corporate training sessions in a traditional classroom environment, you know that boredom is always a risk. You are familiar with sitting at a table and watching a passing slide deck for what seems like an eternity. You also know how easy it is to mentally disengage. You just go through the motions so you can get the completion certificate and be on your way.

Boredom may very well be a bigger problem in the corporate world than training programs that prove too difficult. The adaptive learning mindset seeks to overcome boredom by engaging learners on an individual basis and getting that necessary “buy in.” Instead of everyone getting together in a classroom, learners address training individually via technology.

Through computers, mobile devices or tablets, they go through training programs at their own pace and at whatever time works best for them. They engage with those optimal challenges that eliminate boredom and keep them moving along the individual pathways to success.

Yes, optimal challenge is an effective strategy for learning in a corporate environment. Companies like Fulcrum Labs are proving it every day.


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