Idea Learning Group

"training-versus-learning" Posts

Check out our co-founder Jillian Douglas’ interview with Justin Foster of Foster Thinking in his 6th episode of the Bacon Coterie series.

“Jillian is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Idea Learning Group in Portland, OR.  With the growing emphasis on customized learning in the workplace, Jillian and her team are true innovators on creating memorable learning experiences for companies. Jillian is an interesting, funny, smart and driven person who I could visit with for hours!” – Justin Foster

Thanks Justin!

Mind the Gap: The Ultimate Instructional Design Responsibility

When you put your training course out into the world, how do you know it’s successful? What are you really trying to measure?

This is an age-old concern for the instructional designer. (And for the project owner. And especially for whoever is paying for the course.) Too often an instructional design team prematurely congratulates itself on a training course well done, just because it’s been launched—way before anyone knows how effective it was for the learners.

Here are three ways success is typically proclaimed in a training course and the problems with relying on these signals:

  1. People participated! You built it. People showed up. Of course you want people to experience the course, but that’s only part of the plan. Sometimes learners are required, coerced, or even guilt-tripped into taking a course. Maybe there’s a competition, or an incentive for the team with the highest participation. These can be effective motivators, but they don’t necessarily result in actual learning.
  2. All pages were visited! The learner was not permitted to move ahead in the eLearning course until all the pages were clicked. And guess what, all the pages were clicked! Hooray! Not so fast. Clicking the “next” button is not an accurate measure of engagement or comprehension.
  3. The end-of-course assessment was completed! Even if you’re measuring scores—80% is a typical “pass rate” for final quizzes—it doesn’t mean much if there’s no indication how that knowledge is actually applied in real life.

When measuring success, could it be that you’re asking the wrong question? Instead of “Did people show up?” or “Did they pass the test?” ask, “Did the learners’ behavior change after taking the training?”

MindTheGapSo how can you better encourage and measure success in training? Here are three suggestions for instructional design teams.

  1. Mind the gap before, during, and after the training event. Identifying the gap is the first thing to do when designing a new learning experience. Figure out the distance between the current state and the desired state, and map out the journey to guide the learner. Clearly document the progress made, and make note of any new mini-gaps that open up along the way.
  2. Follow up with participants after training is launched. Conduct post-training interviews or surveys with participants. Ask for their feedback. Ask for stories about how their jobs are different or how their behavior has changed as a result of the training. Consider making this information available to other participants or those who will be taking the course.
  3. Build in opportunities for perpetual learning. Training does not need to be a discrete event. As part of the master training plan, create on-the-job shadowing or teach-back opportunities. Give learners templates and other resources to document their experiences and share their wisdom with others.

These three strategies focus on closing the gap identified at the beginning of a learning plan. What other strategies do you use to guide learners from their current level of knowledge and behaviors to the desired state? How do you measure success?

How Accountability Affects Teamwork and Learning

“Know your audience” is the first rule of learning. When designing a learning experience, it’s not only helpful to know something about learners’ skills or backgrounds, but also their frame of mind. How invested are they in learning, especially if they need to work together? Do they seek solutions to challenges, or do they tend to take a more passive “wait and hope” approach?

Recently I facilitated a workshop with a group of preschool educators. I chose the Ladder of Accountability metaphor to help guide our discussion about peer coaching and team-building.

We started with an activity in which the participants completed a simple task together. Although on the surface the exercise seemed easy to accomplish, it was actually deceptively difficult. They attempted to do the task several times together, only to discover that the result was exactly the opposite from what they expected.

The group was permitted to talk to each other to solve the challenge. It’s amazing how differently people respond! Those who have not completely bought in to the experience will often make excuses, blame and complain, or just wait for someone else to figure it out. And those who are allies in the experience tend to own the situation. They seek solutions…they find constructive ways to make it happen.

So what do you do with the information you discover about people on the Ladder of Accountability? Knowing where your learners stand on the ladder will greatly inform the approach you take to build a meaningful curriculum or modify one to better suit the audience, no matter what type of learning experience you’re creating.

Posing a challenging activity is a great way to find out how accountable your learners are. It’s about awareness of where people are coming from. Obviously the ladder is there to be climbed. If you find yourself hanging around on a lower rung with others who make excuses or wait and hope for a solution to materialize, think about stepping up to a higher level to make more of a team effort.

I introduced a three-part process for giving peer feedback: Describe the situation, the behavior and the outcome. I was so impressed when one of the clients demonstrated her new coaching skill when she flew a paper airplane toward me. Inside it simply read “Great job Jillian.” She then used the Situation, Behavior, Outcome model to tell me specifically what she liked about the training, and how she would be applying it in her job.

After the session, other participants reported that they felt emotionally engaged, that they enjoyed the physical activity as a complement to the more academic content we discussed, as well as the opportunity to practice solving a challenge together.

To me, this feedback supports an important phase in the IdeaLearning Group’s process that we use to frame our curriculum: Think, Feel, Move. We believe in supporting a variety of learning approaches, from jumping right in to reading instructions first. We believe humor is an important part of the learning experience. And we understand the strong connection between movement and learning.

Creating a Productive Learning Environment

“Learning is experience, everything else is just information.” – Albert Einstein

 When we learn something new, it doesn’t usually happen on purpose. In fact, learning is often a result of observation, experience, or failure. Organizations can’t always plan for formal learning to take place. Employees must feel motivated and free to apply the information they’re exposed to in order for true learning to occur. The best way to encourage learning is to set up an environment that actually supports it.

Brain-based research tells us that pre-exposure to information, also called “priming,” makes subsequent learning proceed more quickly. At IdeaLearning Group, we recommend creating an environment at work that’s conducive to formal and spontaneous learning by making sure relevant information is accessible, based in a context that makes sense, and also easy to share with peers.

Ready, Set, Learn

We call this first phase of learning “Ready, Set, Learn.” When learners are immersed in a productive learning environment, they:

  • Are armed with techniques and resources to maximize their efforts
  • Understand the scope of their commitment
  • Start with the same baseline knowledge
  • Have the support and involvement of their managers
  • Can draw a clear line between course objectives and their professional success

According to an article published by Training magazine, “A productive learning environment must address the physical, cognitive, and emotional elements in that environment.” The article goes on to recommend, “Organizations also need to consider who is involved in employee training, as interaction and support are critical and play a direct role in learning uptake.” You can give people a stack of information with instructions to learn it, but they will likely never absorb the information without the appropriate context and support.

Create A Culture of Learning

On his Brain Rules website, Dr. John Medina discusses our natural inclination to learn through exploring. “Babies are the model of how we learn—not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion,” he says. “Babies methodically do experiments on objects, for example, to see what they will do.” So when you’re building a learning program for your organization, you can’t expect to force learning, but you can create a culture that encourages learners to experiment and apply information.

Try these best practices for tapping into your organization’s zest for learning:

  • Engage your learners immediately. Use stories, scenarios, and examples that speak directly to your organization. Learners should understand what’s in it for them right away.
  • Make blended methods of learning easily accessible. (Go way beyond PowerPoint.) Create a learning library, and encourage staff to explore and experiment with the material.
  • Appeal to a variety of senses. Use video, online learning, and audio along with traditional printed materials. Make it easy for learners to explore and share.

On his blog, informal learning expert Jay Cross sums it up this way: “Training is something that’s imposed on you; learning is something you choose. Knowledge workers thrive when given the freedom to decide how they will do what’s asked of them.” We couldn’t agree more.

NEW BUSINESS Contact us with business inquiries or to discuss your project needs and vision.
CAREERS We always enjoy connecting with talented professionals in the learning and development field.
CONNECT 503.208.3256
LOCATION 2701 NW Vaughn St #103
Portland, OR 97210

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