Password Protector SANS Security Awareness

Editor's Note: This guest blog post is from Dr. Lisa Murray-Johnson, Director of Content Research for SANS Securing The Human.  Lisa begins a series of posts on effective content design and learning theory, starting with interactive learning.

What is interactive learning? It is the hands on approach to engagement in the learning process. Your learners are curious and critical consumers of content, and they need to practice their cyber security skills so that as situations and factors change in our organizations, they are able to transfer those skills.  It is about getting your learners to both “know” and “do” the right thing at the right time with accuracy and consistency. Interactive learning activities are just the tools in the toolbox used to guide different phases of learning. Let’s look at an example of interactive learning. Our Password course has learners review methods for creating strong passwords, how to use passwords safely (shown), and how to use security questions to protect your online accounts. Learners demonstrate their strength for each individual task, while also showing competency across the global set of skills needed to protect passwords. We use learner scores as feedback to review content, and plan the next iteration of development. Our goal is to keep your learners ready and hungry for the next challenge.

Sitting Down for a Great Meal:  A restaurant meal is a good analogy for interactive training. If you’re like me, I’m looking at the appetizers and entrees at the same, and planning to enjoy each one without over eating. Whatever appetizer and entrée you order, you’re looking for a satisfying experience, and within each course, the right balance, of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and according to the Food Network, umami. When it comes to training, once content is presented your brain is looking for an actionable trigger or cue. It says, “look at me and what I can do”.  Interactivity delivers that dosing effect. To your brain, it provides the same satisfaction of a great meal because your brain craves the ability to see the consequences of action. This is known as the ABC cycle:

Antecedent -> Behavior -> Consequence, where the “A” is the trigger.

Start by Using Good Ingredients: Effective interactive training engages learners where they are in the learning process. Learning content in context, practicing partial and whole tasks, and synthesizing skill sets can be served up with many type of learning activities.  The cooks in the kitchen review the strategy, story, resources, time, cooperation or competition, and levels of skill needed by learners to mix the meal into digestible chunks. Artful Presentation: We provide enough information for the learner to get started, to go from the stage of knowing to doing. It is the anticipation of what is coming before eating that wakes up your brain. Content is served up with variety so that when it comes to connecting knowledge to behavior, you flex different muscles to get stronger faster. It also minimizes avoidance, or intentional attempts by a learner to avoid tasks because they are afraid of making a mistake. Preventing Mindless Eating and Savoring the Experience: Like a restaurant, we want a meal that is memorable long after its finished. Interactive training heightens your awareness when the trigger occurs. The result is that you pause and review your options before engagement.

Antecedent -> Awareness -> Consciously Review-> Behavior-> Consequence

If you have a behavior that needs to change, the review is even more important. So many of our behaviors are automatic because we’re not thinking carefully about the environment and do not associate our behaviors with consequences. Yet, it is in our everyday activities where we need to be vigilant, such as reading one of our 10,000 emails to avoid phishing. The consequences of interactive training solidify our experience. If you succeed immediately, you grow in confidence and are ready for your next challenge. If you fail with support, the training message becomes sticky and your brain craves the opportunity for another chance to success and not make the same mistake again. Movement through the entire cycle brings satiety, or a meal well enjoyed. So, we hope you enjoy the new interactive modules coming out of our factory.  I hope you’re hungry!

This is the first part of a multi-part series on building effective, high-impact content and interactive learning.  

BIO: Lisa Murray-Johnson, PhD is the Director of Content Research and Development for SANS Securing The Human. Dr. Murray-Johnson holds a PhD from Michigan State University and has 20 years of experience working with social and cognitive factors that influence learning and behavior.