7 Tips To Apply The Generative Learning Theory In Corporate eLearning

7 Tips To Apply The Generative Learning Theory In Corporate eLearning
Summary: Are you offering your employees a meaningful corporate eLearning experience, in the truest sense of the word? The human mind must be able to form a connection between new concepts and preexisting schemas in order to enhance knowledge retention. In this article, I’ll share 7 tips for using the Generative Learning Theory to facilitate meaning construction in corporate eLearning.

How To Apply The Generative Learning Theory In Corporate eLearning

Generative Learning was founded by Merlin C. Wittrock [1], who suggested that new ideas must be integrated with preexisting mental schema. This schema may consist of personal experience, previously acquired knowledge, and learner cognitions. Wittrock believed that learners established relationships between stimuli and the information they’ve already stored in their memory. The process is referred to as "generation". Here are 7 tips and techniques for applying the Generative Learning Theory in your corporate eLearning strategy.

1. Take A Problem Solving Approach

Corporate learners must use their preexisting knowledge and experience to solve problems or overcome challenges. As a result, real-world problem solving is one of the most effective Generative Learning activities. Invite your corporate learner to break off into groups and then pose a question that requires analysis and reflection. They must work together to arrive at a conclusion and think of viable ways to remedy the issue. This also requires that they evaluate all of the circumstances surrounding the problem and assess the skills or information they have available. Instead of watching someone else overcome the obstacle by watching a video or reading an online story, each corporate learner must actively participate in the process and use their own cognitions.

2. Develop Branching Scenarios That Facilitate Active Recall

Active recall involves accessing information from the long-term memory. Rather than simply using the information they recently acquired, corporate learners must utilize ideas and concepts that they've encountered in the past. This actually serves two purposes. Firstly, it reinforces preexisting information by refreshing the memory. Secondly, it connects new information to old ideas so that corporate learners can construct meaning. Branching scenarios are one of the powerful active recall corporate eLearning exercises because they immerse corporate learners in the problem or situation. They are more likely to use all of the tools at their disposal, such as a concept they learned six months ago, if there is some degree of pressure. When the human mind is experiencing low levels of stress it is more likely to search for answers in the memory banks. Thus, corporate learners will use active recall to draw on the resources that they already have.

3. Provide Real-World Examples

For Generative Learning to occur, corporate learners must be able to relate to the information. Furthermore, the new ideas and concepts must offer them real-world value and be relevant in their lives. Otherwise, the brain will not embed it into the mental schema because it does not view it as being "worthy" of its time or attention. Real-world examples give corporate learners the information in a functional context, which makes it easier to remember and recall. For instance, a corporate eLearning story that highlights how an employee uses a specific skill on-the-job will make the skill more meaningful. Corporate learners can see how they might use the skill in their real lives and why it is so important. They can also determine how it ties into knowledge they've already learned and create mental shortcuts.

4. Create Corporate Learner-Centered Online Training Paths

Self-regulation and motivation are two of the driving forces behind the Generative Learning Theory. Corporate learners must be able to take control of the process and play an active role in order to form a meaningful connection. Learner-centered online training paths give corporate learners the opportunity to set their own goals and choose the ideal online training activities based on their preexisting knowledge base and cognitions. New hires will, undoubtedly, have different corporate eLearning needs than experienced employees who wish to upskill. Personalized online training experiences allow them to skip information they've already acquired and integrate new information into their schema.

5. Incorporate Attention-Triggers

When something grabs our attention the brain automatically takes notice. It pauses what it's currently doing and focuses on the stimuli. You can harness the power of this natural human instinct by incorporating attention-triggers into your corporate eLearning course design. This includes emotionally-compelling images, vibrant color schemes, and thought-provoking questions that pique a corporate learner's curiosity. The trick is to make it impossible for your corporate learners to look away or to think about anything else. You want them to fully concentrate on the subject matter and ponder the ideas, then figure out how they fit into the existing mental pathways they've formed.

6. Offer Knowledge-Structuring Corporate Online Training Activities

In some cases, your corporate learners may not be able to see the connection between new ideas and the knowledge they've already acquired. Knowledge-structuring online training activities can help them identify relationships, as well as compare and contrast concepts. For example, a word map that features the key idea in the center and then branches out to include traits and sub-topics. Corporate learners may discover a few traits that seem familiar, and then link that new idea to an experience they've had in the past.

7. Use Elaboration Techniques To Create Meaning

Elaboration techniques go hand-in-hand with the Generative Learning Theory. Corporate learners are required to link new ideas to existing concepts through in-depth analysis. One of the most effective ways to integrate this into your corporate eLearning course design is by issuing corporate learners a prompt or sentence and inviting them to elaborate on the idea. Rhetorical questions are also a great way to help them assess and evaluate the problem so that they can make the schematic connection.

At its core, the Generative Learning Theory is about forming connections between the new and the old. Learners can only assign meaning to new concepts if they can tie it to preexisting knowledge or experiences. As such, a learner’s background plays a crucial role, making eLearning audience research an important part of the corporate eLearning development process.

Are you interested in finding out more about Generative Learning? Read the article Instructional Design Models and Theories: The Generative Learning Theory to explore the history, concepts, and applications of Wittrock’s Generative Learning Theory.


  1. Wittrock , M. C. 1974. Learning as a generative process. Educational Psychologist., 11: 87–95.


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