Five Transformations for Better Learning


You don’t get to work like this anymore, do you?

Photo of horse and carriage

Then why are you still learning like this?

Boring lecture

Whether you develop learning experiences or attend them, if you’re settling for death by PowerPoint and days in a lecture hall, you’re wasting time and money. You can get better results more quickly by making five changes that leverage today’s available technologies and current knowledge of how the brain works.

  1. Make It Active: You didn’t learn to ride a bike by listening to lectures. You got out there and rode the bike. And you fell and you got back up. So, why do people think they can learn how to make good presentations or manage projects effectively by watching a bunch of slides? Deliberate practice theory tells us that in order to succeed at something we have to 1) be motivated to exert effort to achieve a goal, 2) be aware of our pre-existing knowledge and open to adding to that knowledge, 3) Receive immediate informative feedback on our performance, 4) Be willing to struggle and fail over and over again until we finally get it right.
    Transform: Set a learning goal. Then learn by doing relevant activities with lots of feedback.
  2. Stretch It Out Over Time: Think about the language you learned in high school. How much of it can you remember? We forget over time, so we need regular reminders to keep knowledge fresh in our minds. The spacing effect tells us that we actually retain information longer when we learn it in small chunks over time. Yet, still we bring people in for week-long seminars and send them out into the world thinking they’re experts. That’s based on our old model of learning, which comes from our grade school experiences, which evolved out of an Industrial Revolution model for teaching many people quickly. But today’s technology means that we can take advantage of the spacing effect and learn just a little bit every day, which also helps keep our attention on important topics.
    Transform: Look for ways to learn a little bit every day.
  3. Take Charge of Your Learning: It’s been said that whoever is doing the most talking is doing the most learning. That’s because when we talk (or write or do), we solidify neural networks of knowledge, and make it easier to retrieve that knowledge. Unfortunately, in many classes, the instructor does most of the talking. The participants, listening, think they understand the content, but later may recall little. We actually learn better when we are involved in the assembling and organizing of information. We learn as we coach and provide feedback to each other.
    Transform: Look for opportunities to collaborate in small groups and learn from others. Be an active creator of your own knowledge.
  4. Blend It Up: If you’re still thinking in terms of attending a class or taking an online course, you’re missing out on a lot of other alternatives for learning. New technologies each offer unique advantages. Pulling together the right blend of technologies can better target specific learning needs. Do you need to talk with an expert? Try social media. Do you need to find an accountability partner or mentor? Try a community of practice. Do you need the most current information on a topic? Try a wiki. Do you need regular refreshers? Try a blog. Do you need just-in-time support on the job? Try mobile learning.
    Transform: Think about learning as something you do all the time. Experiment with different technologies to see how they can support your learning.
  5. Make It Part of Your Work: We tend to think that we have to step away from our work to learn something new. After all, we spent the first 22 years of our lives in school learning, and then we went to work. But a lot of learning happens on the job. In fact, the Center for Creative Leadership tells us that only 10% of our learning occurs in a formal training setting. Of the other 90%, 20% comes from collaborating with others, and a whopping 70% comes from the work itself.
70-20-10 Model

Transform: Incorporate learning into the tasks on your daily To-Do list. Consider how your boss or a colleague could help.

What’s one thing you can do today to transform your learning? Take one step forward and let us know how it goes.

Claudia Escribano is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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