Idea Learning Group

"social-learning" Posts

Learning Through Play as Adults

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than
in a year of conversation.” – Plato

Learning through play is a given for children. Why do we have a hard time accepting “play” as an effective means of learning as adults? It’s often dismissed as a waste of time. Research into the brains of animals with higher orders of intelligence reveals that many species continue to play beyond their youth. Play is one way to spread discoveries through social learning. In fact, some animals like rats and grizzly bears fail to properly develop socially without a healthy amount of play.

In a recent article in Chief Learning Officer, Andrea Park looks at problem solving through the lens of play, particularly gamification. She cites research by The Wharton School at the University of Philadelphia indicating there are eight steps to promote business success in workplace gamification: “Problem solving, exploration, teamwork, recognition, success, surprise and novelty, creativity and knowledge sharing.” She continues: “Interactive learning programs at millennial-friendly companies often provide examples of several, if not all, of these qualities.” Forbes has a list of helpful tips about how to use gaming at work as an effective strategy for motivating employees and changing behavior.

Play is one of nature’s resources for generating new neural networks and reconciling cognitive difficulties, according to an article in US News. It’s not only a useful way to solve problems, but it also helps us build our creativity and social relationships, according to the National Institute for Play.

Playfulness is part of our culture at Idea Learning Group. We developed Cafeteria Learning as a way to engage participants in play and interactive collaboration, while maintaining a focus on behavior change. Last year we facilitated a session called “Play to Learn: The Cafeteria Learning Model” at the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference. We’ve designed programs with this method to train learners on topics such as diversity and inclusion, internal corporate processes, health and wellness, performance management, and other topics related to leadership development.

We create these programs with the belief you can add levity and fun without compromising instructional goals. In the end, people report that they love having “permission” to play at work, and that it’s an unexpected but welcome way to learn.

Attend March’s Collaborative Learning Network

IdeaLearning Group invites you to our monthly series, The Collaborative Learning NetworkEvery month, we curate the latest insights, best practices, and techniques around a different topic related to learning and development. Innovative professionals from the learning and development community are invited to gather, share insights, and collaborate—social learning at its best.

This Month’s Topic: Learning with Social Media

Social media isn’t just for keeping in touch with friends. It’s about connecting, sharing and collaborating. It’s also a powerful way to learn. Compared with traditional learning, how can social media enhance learning? With hundreds of ways to connect online, which resources do you use to help you learn, teach or share with others? Join our Collaborative Learning Network session on March 6 to share your social learning suggestions. We’ll compile a list of all our favorite resources and send it to all participants following the session. Jennie Thede from IdeaLearning Group will facilitate the free session.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 from 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM (PST)

Montgomery Park | Suite 103
2701 NW Vaughn St
Portland, OR 97210

Registration is free but is required. Please bring your own examples, stories, and insights to share!

Click here to register.

Reflections From DevLearn: Informal and Social Learning

I attended the “Informal and Social Learning” session led by Patti Shank and Ben Betts. Did you know that 70 – 90% of workplace learning is informal and social? The big inquiry for this session was whether or not it makes sense to spend most of our resources building training courses when people learn informally and socially for most workplace needs.

We hear the terms “social” and “informal” a lot in the learning world, but what do they mean?

On Trends in Informal Learning…

Informal learning includes situations where the learner determines some combination of the process, location, purpose, and content. The learner may not even be aware that instruction has occurred.

When we ask professionals where they get their work-related knowledge, they increasingly say “not from my training department.” Half of the respondents say training is somewhat important. We’re entering an age in which people are taking control of their own learning.

Many of us work in knowledge-oriented businesses. It seems that we can’t build training courses fast enough for people to keep up with their jobs these days. What does this trend mean for learning professionals? We need to change what we’re doing, Patti and Ben suggest. The cost of content is gradually reducing to zero. We must remember that our specialty is knowing how people learn. It’s becoming more important to collaborate with teams, meet with people, and curate content.

On Trends in Social Learning…

Social learning is part of informal learning. It helps build our social efficacy, which allows us to judge how we’re doing in comparison to someone else. It is not a new concept. It happens naturally; you don’t “switch” it on. We’re being enabled by new technologies to interact with each other in a social sphere.

Social learning helps us learn what “good” looks like. If people don’t know where they are, it’s difficult to determine what they need to improve. Here are some guidelines for using social learning principles at work:

  • Interacting with someone else who can help you scaffold is much more effective than learning alone.
  • Participating in what Patti and Ben call “communities of practice in situated learning” allows you to learn from the crowd. Some examples include Quora and the eLearning Guild.
  • Learning in the presence of others is a growing trend. Acquiring personal endorsements on LinkedIn is a good example.

On Implementing Social and Informal Learning at Work…

There’s nothing worse than starting a “community of practice” in your organization that no one uses. It’s embarrassing, say Patti and Ben. They suggest finding out where learning in your organization is already taking place, and then identifying ways to improve those opportunities.

Patti and Ben offer additional guidelines for supporting informal learning at work:

  • Most of the time it’s about giving permission to talk to one another. They quote Jane Bozarth: “The best social media policy is ‘Don’t do anything that would make me write a social media policy.’”
  • Don’t act like a parent; don’t tell people what to do. Instead, ask, “What resources do you need?” People respond well to self-study resources.
  • If you want to kill informal learning, make it mandatory.
  • Create, source, and curate resources.
  • Leverage appropriate technologies for your organization.

On Further Reading…

Patti and Ben suggest reading Informal Learning Basics by Saul Carliner, published by ASTD. They also suggest reading Groundswell for an overview of new social technologies.

How to Thrive When Giving Presentations

Presenting or speaking to an audience regularly tops the list in surveys of people’s top fears—more than heights, flying, or even dying. A common physical reaction is a release of adrenaline and cortisol into our systems, which has a similar effect as drinking several cups of coffee. When this happens, the “primitive brain” shuts down normal functions as the “fight or flight” impulse takes over.

That used to be me.

Today I give presentations all the time. I love to engage with a group of people and talk about topics that are meaningful for the audience. Some people tell me, “I wish I could give presentations, but I don’t have any natural talent for it.” Well, I have a funny story to tell about my early experiences presenting.

The first time I stood in front of a classroom, my presentation pretty much turned into a recitation. That’s right—I read from a book for six hours in a row. That night I went home exhausted and hoarse, and very aware that I needed to find a different approach. I bored myself to tears that day!

Over the next month or so I spent time reflecting on who the best teachers and trainers are and what I needed to do differently. I studied how I could emulate them and use clever strategies and tactics in my own presentations. I watched videos of expert presenters, read up on the topics, and practiced on my friends and family. And I had an epiphany: Learning comes from the participants, not from the presenter. I’m simply there to facilitate the process. In fact, the less I do and the more the participants do, the better the overall results.

So I went on to teach a workshop for a couple hundred people. I call this my “middle ground” era. I’m not sure that it was obvious to the audience how incredibly debilitating my internal stress was, but speaking in front of a large group was still a nearly paralyzing experience. I found comfort in rituals. Just before presentation time, I would lock myself in the restroom stall to close my eyes and collect my thoughts. What will my first 10 minutes look like? What will I say to connect with the audience? And then I began to do what some athletes do: I visualized success by going through the activity and imagining a positive experience. I could get myself to this calm place where I could, well, just do it.

As I put myself out there more often, I slowly improved my technique, and the stress diminished with each new presentation. Here are some techniques I’ve embraced over the years:


  • The most important rule for effective presentations is to plan and practice. This is the only way I feel in control and more confident.


  • It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to memorize a presentation word-for-word. Recall takes so much energy that you would have little left for relating to the audience. So I never even consider memorizing. Instead, I use notes unobtrusively and effectively. If I know the content, there is no reason to feel anxious or concerned.



  • If I’m using PowerPoint as a presentation tool, I don’t rely on it for my notes. Because when you read the notes on the slide, you turn your back to your audience.



  • I like to untether myself by using a clicker instead of standing next to a screen with a mouse the whole time.



  • I ask questions to encourage participants to share their own perspectives. I find that this involves everyone and helps to draw people out—not just the “talkers.”



  • Every 10 minutes or so I change course to keep things interesting. I do this by providing some startling information—something that makes sense in the context of the presentation. This helps to bring people back to the moment and the content.



  • I don’t skimp on breaks. Research proves that short, frequent breaks increase retention. Breaks can be physical, like a stretch or quick walking activity, or they can be mental, such as a brainteaser, trivia, or other unrelated content. Even a five-minute break can provide enough of a brain shift to spur cognition.



  • They say that kids are sponges, but what about adults? We may have stronger filters, but we eagerly soak up new information if it’s compelling and engaging. Formal learning needs to be seeded with informal learning opportunities, like exchanging stories, observing behaviors, and playing games.



  • If I see things starting to wane, I pull out what I call an “energizer”—a physical opportunity to engage, laugh, or have an experience together to keep things interactive. I always have these energizers up my sleeve and ready to go when needed.


Aside from techniques, it’s important to cultivate your own style too. Here’s what I’ve discovered about my own style:


  • I see facilitation as partly a performance. People are sitting there. I might as well entertain them! It helps the learning come more easily. So it might not surprise you to learn that my presentation style is animated, with lots of movement. Standing in one place gets both boring and predictable and the audience ends up doing other things instead of listening or responding.


  • My style can be fluid or structured and dialed up or down, depending on the situation. I spend a lot of time thinking about what the audience needs when cultivating my approach. During retail presentations I tend to move at a fast pace, using humor and wit to engage the audience. But when I worked with a group of fish scientists, for example, my approach was more low-key, more deliberate, and more grounded by data.


If you’d like to learn more about my approach to giving presentations, check out the Presentation Skills session I teach as part of the ASTD Cascadia Fundamentals of Training program .

I’d love here from our blog readers about your own experiences with presentations. What do expect from your facilitator in a classroom experience? If you give presentations yourself, what rituals to do you go through to get ready? Feel free to send us your comments in the box below!

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