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Learning Science Principles

Engaging Users, Changing Behavior

Proofpoint Security Awareness Training's highly effective cybersecurity training solutions utilize Learning Science Principles to engage the learner and change behavior. The way we employ Learning Science Principles was proven to be effective through research performed at Carnegie Mellon University.

We use the following principles in our solutions to help employees learn how to protect themselves, and their employers, from cybersecurity risks.

Offer Conceptual and Procedural Knowledge

Conceptual knowledge provides the big picture and lets a person apply techniques to solve a problem. Procedural knowledge focuses on the specific actions required to solve the problem.

Combining the two types of knowledge greatly enhances users' understanding. For example, users may need a procedural lesson to understand that an IP address included in a URL could be an indication that they are seeing a phishing URL. However, they also need a conceptual understanding of all the parts of a URL to understand the difference between an IP address and a domain name. Otherwise, they may mistake something like for a phishing URL.

Serve Small Bites

People learn better when they can focus on small pieces of information that the mind can digest easily. It's unreasonable to cover 55 different topics in 15 minutes of cybersecurity training and expect employees to remember it all and then change their behaviors. Short bursts of training are always more effective.

Reinforce Lessons

Repeating elements over time is a key to learning. Without frequent feedback and opportunities for practice, even well-learned abilities go away. Cybersecurity training should be an ongoing event, not a one-off seminar.

Train in Context

People tend to remember context more than content. In cybersecurity training, it's important to present lessons in the same context as the one in which the person is most likely to be attacked.

Give Immediate Feedback

If you've ever played sports, it's easy to understand this one. “Calling it at the point of the foul” — i.e., delivering just-in-time teaching when mistakes are made — takes advantage of teachable moments and greatly increases their impact. If users who fall for a company-generated simulated attack get advice and tips on the spot, it's less likely they'll fall for that trick again.

Let Them Set the Pace

It may sound cliché, but everyone really does learn at their own pace. A one-size-fits-all security training program is doomed to fail because it does not allow users to progress at the best speed for them.

Tell a Story

When people are introduced to characters and narrative development, they often form subtle emotional ties to the material that helps keep them engaged. Rather than listing facts and data, use storytelling techniques.

Vary the Message

Concepts are best learned when they are encountered in many contexts and expressed in different ways. Cybersecurity training that presents a concept to a user multiple times and in different phrasing makes the trainee more likely to relate it to past experiences and forge new connections.

Involve Your Students

Students who are actively involved in the learning process are more likely to remember what they’re taught. If a trainee can practice identifying phishing schemes and creating good passwords, improvement can be dramatic. Sadly, hands-on learning still takes a backseat to old-school instructional models, including the dreaded lecture.

Make Them Think

People need an opportunity to evaluate and process their performance before they can improve. Security awareness and training programs should challenge employees to examine the information presented, question its validity, and draw their own conclusions.

Measure Results

Collecting baseline data and new data after each training campaign provides positive reinforcement to trainees.

While we wouldn't consider measurement a Learning Science Principle, it is a critical element in any educational program. Without an understanding of employee knowledge and areas of strength and weakness, employers and learners don't know how vulnerable they are to attack.