3 Ideas for Knowledge Sharing at the Workplace

Workplace knowledge sharing ideas

3 Ideas for Knowledge Sharing at the Workplace

Most successful learning organisations are great at sharing knowledge, both formally and informally. As more and more organisations comprise of knowledge workers, we should no longer undermine information exchanges as a tool for keeping the expertise up-to-date. At the same time, even companies with more practical jobs face a challenge of getting employees up to speed through onboarding as well as staying on top of the constant change in the business. These are all areas where fluid workplace knowledge sharing can make a big impact. Naturally, social media and collaboration platforms are a relatively easy way to get things started. However, here are three ideas that go slightly beyond that.

Letting employees train employees

In the conventional corporate setting, L&D is usually quite a top-down effort. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be. An interesting experiment could be to provide employees with tools to train their peers in the organisation. For instance, small group webinars could be a low entry point way of easily sharing knowledge. But you could also go a step further, and let employees start creating training content. This could take the form of micro-programs, short lessons and topical updates. Nearly all of us nowadays carry a smartphone – a powerful content production tool in its own right. Should you want to shoot practical how-to videos or capture work processes, you don’t have to look any further than that.

As many digital learning platforms nowadays come with rather easy-to-use content authoring tools, this kind of an approach doesn’t necessarily require much training. If you think about this as simple knowledge sharing rather than rigid learning design, the content should be valuable as long as the topics are relevant!

Sourcing tacit knowledge from employees

Now, if you’re still hesitant to give away the keys to the L&D kingdom, there’s another approach you may try too. No matter the job, people and teams always develop some specific, tacit knowledge about the tasks at hand. This may be e.g. improved workflows, better practices, systems knowledge or stakeholder insights. This is the kind of expert knowledge that you don’t learn “in the book”. However, it can be extremely valuable for the job in question.

Similar to employees training each other, we could surely extract this knowledge and formalise it into a learning experience. For instance, if you’re looking to train retail staff on store operations, you could ask the people at different locations to document and submit pieces of information to the L&D team. The L&D team could then use this “raw material” to build a more structured learning experience, or curate a pool of resources. In terms of knowledge sharing value and relevance, this is likely much higher than conventional content.

Employee or team challenges to unlock new ideas

While the previous parts have dealt with employees sharing existing knowledge, that’s not to say there’s no value in tapping into them for new ideas. On the contrary, the “front line” of any given job usually knows the workflows, routines, challenges and problems so well that they can be a major source of incremental process innovation. Most likely, there are a lot of ideas out there. It’s just that people don’t voice them for a variety of reasons. And often these are things that the company would be better off listening to as well!

So, instead of losing out on all those possibilities, how about trying to extract some of these new ideas? Now, this could take many forms. In the digital realm, the process could be similar to the few outlined above. Employees can submit their ideas, review others’ and suggest improvements. Alternatively, this could also take the form of a design sprint or a hackathon. With these facilitation mediums, it might also be convenient to prototype the ideas further. You could also turn this into a problem-based learning challenge. Regardless of which medium you choose, the relevant decision makers could then tap into this flow of ideas, and see which ones could be successfully implemented.

Final thoughts

Overall, effective knowledge sharing can be a huge tool of competitive advantage. It helps you to constantly improve, stay on top of change and even lead it. However, when implementing these kinds of initiatives, don’t forget to incentivise. If you wanna create a sharing culture, you need to establish a safe environment for it and then reward the behaviour accordingly. And if you think you may need help in figuring out how to implement these kind of things in your own organisation, don’t hesitate to drop us a note. We’d be happy to embark on an exploration with you.

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Data-driven Learning Design – How to Get Started?

Data-driven Learning Design

Getting Started With Data-driven Learning Design

As a whole, the L&D industry hasn’t always been doing a terribly good job when it comes to designing learning. However, we have started to recognise that one-size-fits-all activities are probably not the way to go, and that we should design learning for the people doing the actual jobs, not for the company HR department. Fundamentally, designing better learning is about knowing your learners. In that aspect, the overall capabilities of the industry have developed tremendously over the past few years (with things like xAPI etc). However, as we start to accumulate more data and information, it’s important to know how to use it well. Thus, we decided to look at data-driven learning design, how to get started and the different types of data you can use in design decisions. We’ll divide this article into two, resembling an initial- and a subsequent round of design.

Understanding who you are designing for

At the start of any design process, you should always spend time understanding the problem and the “customers”. In corporate learning, this discovery is equally important, yet something that many organisations skip almost entirely. Here’s where data-driven learning design approaches already come in handy, albeit not perhaps in the way you expect.

Since it’s your people and employees you are designing for, you have an abundance of data available to you. However, this data is not necessarily siloed within the L&D’s systems or records. Rather, you might have to look for it in other places. For instance, demographic data might sit in an HR system. Assignment and task related data might sit in a performance management system. These kinds of data can help you create rough archetypes, or “personas” of your learners, i.e. who they are, what they do etc.

However, if we leave it there, we might still miss the mark. At the initial design stage, we should also explore how our learners can engage with the learning content at the workplace. As we don’t want to inconvenience them, it’s important to get to know the workflows and they ways we could instil learning into them. Now this a part of data-driven learning design that you don’t have an easy tool or a dashboard for. Rather, you have to get out there, start observing and exploring, and collect qualitative data. Different service design methods prove quite effective in this regard.

Understanding how learners engage with the content

Unfortunately, once you’ve put a learning activity together, your job doesn’t end there. Although the initial time spent on learning design does pay off, it’s still unlikely that everything works perfectly. Maybe there are pieces of content that the learners don’t engage with. Maybe they engage in ways different to what you initially thought. Whatever the actual usage and engagement behaviour is, it’s our job to find out.

To start out, tools like web analytics can provide handy insights into e.g. engagement times, devices used and geographical locations. Then, more specific tools for learning content analytics can tell us stories about how the content is being consumed. Finally, it’s tools like xAPI that enable us to practically follow the learners’ journeys through the material, tracking and seeing every interaction along the way.

Once we know what’s not working, we can fix it. Maybe we need to cater to different device sets than initially thought. Maybe the video we produced doesn’t actually engage the learners. Or perhaps the sequencing of learning activities seems to be wrong, as the data might show they jump between sections rather than following a linear path. Regardless of what it is, smart data-driven learning design enables us to get information, understand its magnitude, and make design decisions accordingly. Remarkable results are not produced in one iteration.

Final thoughts

If we want to improve as an industry, L&D has to start working with data to be able to produce better outcomes. It’s easy to view data-driven learning design as something daunting and terrifying, but it’s really not. Sure, we need to adjust our mentality a bit. We need to become more comfortable with “betas” and iterations, and the fact that we may not always get it right the first time. But once we get past that, once we learn that, there should be a great future ahead. And if you’re not entirely comfortable with all this just yet, we are happy to hold your hand. Just contact us here.

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Problem-based Learning as a Tool for Innovation

Problem-based learning

Problem-based Learning as a Tool for Innovation

One of the challenges in corporate learning is that activities tend to be distant from the business itself. Furthermore, formal programs tend to be somewhat inflexible, focusing too much on content rather than context. An interesting approach to tackle these problems and a handful of more could be found in problem-based learning. While certainly not applicable to every kind of training topic, problem-based learning can help to enhance collaboration, teamwork and culture. More importantly, the method can also become a method of innovation within the organisation. Here’s the way we see it:

What’s problem-based learning all about?

As the name might give away, problem-based learning is centred around solving problems. The method is increasingly popular in leading universities around the globe. Business school case work can be a good example of the method. The problems are open-ended, meaning there are no predefined right answers or solutions. Furthermore, the subject matter in question only plays a minor part in the learning. The learners will naturally develop their capabilities around different skills like teamwork, collaboration and communication. However, for companies, this provides a tool for learning while solving real business problems.

The method as a tool for corporate innovation

In addition to having people learn to collaborate better, problem-based learning methods could have a significant value-adding offer to corporates. Having people work on real business problems, and organising it in a smart way could help to source ideas, insights, process innovation and solutions from within the organisation. Furthermore, it could help to expose people the different parts of the organisational value chain, and hence have them understand the business in more holistic terms.

How to do it in practice?

Here’s a list of things and processes we would like to install into a corporate problem-based learning program.

  • Form groups of diverse individuals. Mix participant groups from different business units, departments or even locations. To come up with innovative solutions, we must avoid tunnel vision.
  • Introduce the learners to a real business problem. If needed, have a person working on the topic brief the participants. However, remember to keep it a blank slate. Don’t put boundaries in place.
  • Ask people to come with solutions to the problem! However, as business problems are complex, give the participants adequate time to come up with novel solutions. Also, it’s good to have learners present the ideas to the heads of the business.

In general, the more diverse groups you can assemble, the better. If you’re trying to solve an operations problem with people just from operations, don’t expect great results. You may get small improvements, but radical innovation rarely happens that way. On the other hand, it’s easier for people with little prior knowledge to question and re-evaluate the existing practices.

In terms of facilitation, a blended learning approach may work best in problem-based learning. It’s a good idea for the participants to meet in and organise around physical workshops. But digital mediums and social learning tools can be helpful in keeping the collaboration going in between the workshops. For instance, a collaborative platform can enable participants to share ideas, insights and thoughts to the group immediately, and thus “record” them.

Final thoughts

Overall, problem-based learning can provide an effective tool for not only learning, but also to source innovative solutions to everyday business problems. As a learning experience, the method is highly collaborative, and thus touches on the practical aspects of communication, teamwork, leadership, project management etc. However, the best thing about it might just be that it doesn’t really feel like learning. Instead of mindlessly going through courses, your employees can actually contribute to the business whiled developing themselves. Could just be a much more fun way of doing (at least some of the) corporate learning!

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4 Service Design Methods for L&D Professionals

Service Design Tools for L&D Professionals

4 Service Design Methods for L&D Professionals

The nature of workplace learning is undergoing a shift. Organisations are starting to recognise that simply delivering conceptual knowledge doesn’t necessarily yield results. Rather, the function of the L&D should be to facilitate performance by solving business challenges and helping the people succeed in their jobs. And as we go more and more into learning in the workflow, and integrate learning activities to our daily jobs, we need to update our toolbox as well. Packaging information with instructional design techniques is no longer enough. If we want to truly make an impact on performance, we need to get much deeper into it. And that’s where different service design methods, such as design thinking, may come in handy. Here are 4 service design tools for L&D and how you can use them in practice.

1. Service Safaris

Service safaris are explorations. Participants are asked to go out and explore examples of both good and bad services. You can narrow down the field of services to e.g. the same sector as the organisation, or it can be an open field. This is an easy way to put the participants in the shoes of the end-users, and get to experience things from their viewpoint.

In L&D, this service design method can be similarly handy. You can set people out to learn about different kinds of learning experiences, what works and what doesn’t. This first of all helps you define what are the critical elements of a good learning experience overall and in a particular context. Secondly, this also opens you up for small scale learning innovations. As you’ll experience the problems of the end-users first-hand, you are much better positioned to come up with novel solutions to solve them!

2. Shadowing

As a service design method, shadowing involves the designers immersing themselves in the lives of the customers (or end-users). The aim is to observe behaviours, practices and experiences, without being obtrusive. Of course, documentation is important, for which text, photos or video can be used. Immersing oneself in the real environment enables the designer to document problems that others may not recognise. Furthermore, spending time “at the front line” is often the only way to develop a deep understanding on how things operate.

This service design method provides L&D another avenue to understanding the workflows of the learners, and thus gaining insights on how to provide learning opportunities within them. This is especially helpful when designing performance support resources and delivery.

3. Contextual Interviews

Contextual interviews are a good method of collecting qualitative, user-driven information. The interviews always take place in the environment or context of the service or process in question. This helps to provoke more in-depth discussion, compared to e.g. conventional focus groups. As the interview happens “on the spot”, the interviewees are also more likely to remember specific details. People may also be more comfortable in communicating their own thoughts when they are in a familiar environment. It’s often beneficial to document these interviews with audio or video.

When it comes to service design for L&D, contextual interviews work well in understanding how employees interact with learning, whether it’s in the workflow or as a separate activity. These kinds of qualitative insights can be used to validate quantitative data as well.

4. Co-creation

Co-creation, in its fundamental, is at the core of the whole service design philosophy. It’s about involving different groups of stakeholders and collaboratively examining and innovating an experience. However, organisations should be wary of challenges related to participants’ fears of e.g. speaking up or disagreeing with a boss. Unless these kind of challenges are overcome, co-creation will only have limited efficacy. In general, co-creative approaches tend to bring a variety of benefits, e.g. increased ownership of the concepts created.

In L&D, this service design tool can be used in a number of ways. For instance, you can use it to develop strategy, new work practices or training needs analysis. Additionally, co-creative methods can extend all the way to the execution as well. For instance, smart use of user-generated content at the development phase can help to alleviate a lot of the output pressure of the L&D team.

Final words

Overall, service design methods can prove very beneficial to any modern L&D practitioner. They enable one to identify real problems and points-of-need, design more effective learning experiences and support performance in ways that conventional instructional design cannot. In the end, the better L&D can understand its business, people and their problems, the better learning impact it can deliver. If you’d like to explore designing learning in a new way, but feel you may need additional support, feel free to reach out to us. We can help you implement service design principles within your L&D, or demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods in practice.

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3 Quick Tips for Improving Learning Transfer

Learning transfer

3 Quick Tips for Improving Learning Transfer

One of the biggest challenges in corporate learning is not the acquisition or retention of knowledge, but learning transfer. Employees might learn the conceptual knowledge and take in information, but often it’s the application phase where we fall short. You see, learning things is easy (relatively speaking!). However, when trying to apply to learning, you may run into barriers like lack of practice or support, organisational culture, resistance to change, unfitting operational practices etc. Naturally, many of these problems will be outside of the immediate purview of learning and development. However, smart learning design choices enable us to tackle some of these problems already before they emerge.

Thus, here are 3 tips for improving learning transfer:

1. Focus more on practical learning

A lot of corporate learning is not very practical. Courses and programs are often heavy on rather abstract concepts and knowledge. In such cases, the learners are required to bridge the gap between the abstract and the real life themselves. Often, that may be asking too much. It’s not that people are not capable, it’s just that they do have a lot of other things occupying their mind. Hence an overload of conceptual, abstract knowledge often goes to deaf ears.

So, if you want to improve learning transfer, focus on the practical. Focus on how to make the employees succeed at their jobs. And be specific. The learning should put more emphasis on “here’s how you can do things” rather than “here’s what you need to know”. Use learning mediums that serve the purpose. Visual elements may help to illustrate how things work in real life.

2. Provide adequate practice opportunities

Another area where we in corporate learning could do better is giving opportunities to practice. People need to be confident in their ability before they dare to do things in a new way. Hence it’s important that we provide them with a safe environment to practice, make mistakes and fail during our learning programs. Naturally, there are several ways you could do that. If you’re planning to do fully online training, simulations can be a big help in ensuring learning transfer. On the other hand, if you’re running blended learning programs, this might be a good use of the expensive and intensive face-to-face time!

3. Understand the learners’ context

Finally, the biggest hurdle of learning transfer is related to the learners’ context. Even before you start putting together learning content or activities, you should spend time figuring out the work, tasks, routines, responsibilities and environment of the end-users (learners!). To make learning transfer possible, you should identify if any of these might conflict with the objectives of the learning you’re looking to do. On paper, doing something in a particular way may seem feasible, but in practice it might be impossible. Therefore it’s important to know the practical environment and setting – the context – of the learners. Otherwise, you’ll end up producing a lot of learning that can never really be applied.

Final words

Learning transfer is not always easy. However, good design methods, time spent on discovery and focus on practical things can help a lot. Of course, you should never forget the importance of relevance in corporate learning. Furthermore, it’s also important to provide a support infrastructure that acts as a safety net for the learners. As we solve these kind of problems, we are gradually getting closer to learning with real impact. After all, if people don’t apply the knowledge, our work has been meaningless.

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Why We Need Design Thinking in Corporate Learning

Design thinking in corporate learning

Why We Need Design Thinking in Corporate Learning

Unless you’ve been living in a basement for the past few years, chances are you’ve heard of design thinking. While the term has become a buzzword, and all sorts of vendors have spawned to offer services within the space – some more ambiguous than others – the underlying ideas and concepts are something an L&D professional should not ignore. We though we’d explore those ideas and concepts, and give you our thoughts on where we see the value. So, let’s look at why we should use design thinking in corporate learning.

Design thinking (the way we see it)

To avoid unnecessary buzzword sprees, we’ll skip the text book definitions. (If you’re totally new to design thinking, Google is your friend!) Perhaps worth mentioning is that design thinking is often defined as a process, but we don’t think that always does enough justice to it. There’s a danger of oversimplifying things and too rigid processes are not something that necessarily benefit design work.

That being said, the core ideas and concepts that make the process valuable are its big emphasis on discovery, research and user involvement. These are followed by ideation, experimentation, learning from mistakes and iterating. If you’re planning to put the methods into practice, it’s good to understand what these might look like from an L&D’s viewpoint.

Why is design thinking important in corporate learning?

Fundamentally, there are no learning problems in businesses. All of it is first and foremost business problems. Sometimes, though, learning might be a valid solution. Furthermore, big challenge in corporate learning is rarely the knowledge delivery and acquisition, but learning transfer, i.e. whether people apply the newly learnt in practice. Keeping these in mind, let’s look at the different design thinking concepts and why they can provide value.

Firstly, proper discovery is really important. As mentioned, all the problems are business problems and learning is a solution to only some of them. If we bypass proper discovery and blindly offer learning whenever someone asks for it, we are not doing any good. Furthermore, discovery is important for the learning design phase too. If you want to have people apply the learning, it has to be easy. Hence, it’s critical to understand the context of the learners. Even good content will go to deff ears if you don’t understand the context.

Secondly, ideation as an open process should be something to go through, even if at small scale. A set time for open exploration enables L&D to look beyond their own immediate scope of work and identify potential solutions that are not necessarily about learning. This helps you get closer to what the people actually need, rather than blindly providing what you think they need.

Finally, experimentation is one thing that you shouldn’t neglect either. Small pilots, test runs and demos let you collect data and validate assumptions before moving onto large scale implementation. But whether you’re doing small or large, it’s important to continuously learn about how people engage with whatever it is that you’ve provided them with. Too often L&D are in a hurry to roll out a solution, but stop the work once the solutions is out. Great solutions are the products of usually multiple iterations, that are made based on previous mistakes and learning.

Final comments

Overall, design thinking as a method or a process is something that any L&D professional should be aware of. However, the key takeaway from it shouldn’t necessarily be any rigid process itself. Rather, we should aim to understand what makes these kind of methods a near necessity in building the workplace learning of the future. Also, understanding the philosophy of why it’s imperative to spend time on discovery, engaging with the users or constantly learning and iterating is important. Ultimately, L&D is about helping people succeed at their jobs and the business to perform better. Taking a design thinking angle to it might help to better address those issues.

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Whiteboard Animations in Corporate Learning – Why Use Them?

Whiteboard animations in corporate learning

Using Whiteboard Animations in Corporate Learning

Video has become a popular format when it comes to corporate learning. Of course, not all topics lend themselves well to a video, so you should always keep in mind using mediums that are fit-for-purpose. However, there’s still a lot of use cases. Due to the challenges in making traditional training videos, animations have grown in popularity – ourselves being heavy users as well. While we’ve written about using animations in digital learning before, this time we wanted talk about a particular type. Whiteboard animations are perhaps the stripped down version of conventional animations. However, they’re still effective and highly suitable for corporate learning use.

What’s a whiteboard animation?

The term refers to a type of animation that is generally quite minimalistic. Colour is scarce, and generally used for highlighting things. Also, the props, characters and layouts are generally quite simple. These factors help to create visuals that are less cluttered and focus on the key message. As an example, take a look at the animation video below.

Quick, easy and consequently, cheap! Yet much nicer than slide decks or documents.

Why whiteboard animations in particular?

Naturally, the simplistic style of these animations and its constraints are not ideal for every kind of narrative. In our experience, whiteboards are generally a good option for abstract concepts and training topics (think soft skills, leadership, strategy), as well as delivering conceptual knowledge. If your training topic is more hands-on, other types of animation might help you to replicate those operating environments better.

In addition to the above, the benefits we as a power-user see in whiteboard animations go along the following lines:

  • Very fast to make – learning professionals are always under pressure to put out more content. To give you an idea of the time required, the animation above was made from start to finish during a lunch break.
  • No technical skills required – there’s a lot of good animation tools out there, that enable people with no significant technical skills to animate videos like these.
  • More engaging than slides or documents – Quick and easy to consume for the learner. The medium also forces the “trainer” to focus on what’s really relevant, as screen real estate is limited. Remember, less is more!
  • Easy way to visualise concepts – enabling visual cues could help your learners to learn more effectively.
  • Cheap! – in the end it’s all about the money, right? Thanks to the speed of production, these types of animations end up being quite affordable! Also, we’ve found that this medium often works quite well even without voice-overs, which is one of the biggest single cost items in producing training videos.

Final words

If you are a corporate learning professional that wants to move away from slides and documents, but struggles with the time required for producing better content, whiteboard animations could be a good addition to your toolbox. There’s a whole bunch of great tools out there. We at Learning Crafters really love Vyond and their comprehensive suite of tools. It’s rare that we find a need we can’t fulfil with their tools . But depending on your budget, there are a lot of offerings out there. And if you don’t have the manpower resources to design animations in-house just yet, we might be able to help with that. Just drop us a note here.

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Onboarding On-demand – Can We Train New Hires in a Smarter Way?

Onboarding on demand

Onboarding On-demand – Can We Train New Hires in a Smarter Way?

Onboarding is something that all organisations do, yet we’ve seen fairly little innovation in the general handling of it. While many organisations have started incorporating team-building and social experiences to their onboarding processes, the actual training part of it remains relatively untouched. Often, companies still sit their new employees through a large number of training sessions or eLearning modules in a very short amount of time. Naturally, learning retention is low, and most of the training is probably just wasting time. Could we do it a bit smarter though? Let’s play around with an idea of onboarding on demand.

The problems with most onboarding programs

In general, there are different problems that reappear regardless of the organisation. Here are a few of them:

  • Too much training in too little time
  • One-size-fits-all approach
  • Content is irrelevant
  • Content has relevance, but is rarely used on the day-to-day

First of all, trying to train people on a lot of things in a short amount of time simply doesn’t work. You’ll just give your new hires a cognitive overload which will cause them to retain even less. Secondly, onboarding programs may be quite uniform, but the jobs are widely different. That’s an interesting disparity there. Thirdly, a lot of the content on onboarding programs is actually not even relevant, and thus people forget it very quickly. Finally, there’s content that has relevance, but that is rarely applicable on the day-to-day jobs. If you can’t apply what you’ve learnt, chances are you’ll forget it.

How could onboarding on demand solve these problems?

So, what if we took a wholly different approach to onboarding. An approach where the focus is on helping to new hires succeed at their jobs and get quick wins, rather than trying desperately to make sure that they’re “ready” before they start working. Here’s what that could look like in practice:

  1. Instead of front-loading training, shift the focus to performance support resources on demand. This way, new hires can learn on the job and as they encounter problems, they have a resource base to tap into to gain confidence and identify solutions. By doing it this way, they have a chance to immediately apply the things they learn. This increases learning retention for the long term.
  2. Deliver personalised resources. The first 90 days of a newly hired engineer are likely very different from that of a new salesman. People should have access to learning resources that are designed or curated with their context in mind. This helps them to learn the right way of doing things, instead of being responsible for figuring out how to apply abstract concepts to a particular problem.
  3. Learn what’s really relevant through analytics, switch to formal delivery if needed. If you ask subject matter experts, everything is always “must know”. But in reality, most of it isn’t. Learning analytics can help you in identifying the most accessed on-demand resources. If there’s high use for a particular resource, maybe it could be meaningful to design a formal learning experience around that topic.
  4. Don’t bother learners with things they don’t use frequently. Forget trying to hammer some internal procedures (e.g. how to apply for leave, how to call in sick etc.) into employees heads on day 1. Instead, deliver a pool of easily searchable information where employees can find how to do those things. You’ll save a lot of time.

Final words

Naturally, some of the initial training given to employees can be mandated by law, e.g. compliance training. In those areas, it might be difficult to make radical changes in the training approaches. However, a large part of the training that isn’t mandated by law isn’t always really necessary, and that’s where on demand onboarding could save you significant amounts of time and productivity all the while helping people learn better.

This could also provide a way of replacing traditional training with more meaningful experiences, like team building and getting to know new colleagues, without increasing the overall time spent on onboarding. If you’d like to design onboarding programs that really add value, we’d be happy to share some experiences. Just drop us a note.

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Interleaved Learning – Improve Results by Mixing It Up

Interleaved learning can improve results

Interleaved Learning – Improve Results by Mixing It Up

Do you still remember the time you were in school? Chances are that the teachers probably offered you study advice. One particular piece of advise when it came to studying that we recall was “take one subject or topic at a time”. While the intentions were definitely good, it seems likely that it wasn’t necessary the best advice to give. In fact, studies have shown that learning methods that leverage on the opposite – learning a few different things simultaneously – can produce even better results. One of such methods is interleaved learning, and that’s what we’ll look into here.

What is interleaved learning?

Interleaved learning is a method in which one mixes up different topics or forms of practice to facilitate learning. The method is also occasionally referred to as mixed practice or varied practice. Instead of completing one things before moving onto the next one, the learner switches between materials. And that’s where the secret of the method is.

In simple terms, this method of learning works because of the “switching”. The human brain and its cognitive mechanisms such as contextual interference are behind this effect. In practical terms, this means that the increased interference in doing a task forces the learner to use multiple different processing strategies for the topic. This in turn leads to higher learning retention. Interleaved learning also forces the learners to identify the right strategies for tackling a particular problem from their long-term memory, rather than applying the thing they just learned about.

How could we use the method in corporate learning?

In addition to help our personal lives, the method could also be beneficial in corporate learning. Most corporate learning programs often take quite a conventional approach. Usually you’ll have a module on a particular topic, followed by questions (assessment). This type of assessment is certainly not formative enough to really assess learning. It’s more likely that you’ll just be testing short term recall. So, what if we just changed the way we do those questions? Instead of having a small set for particular module, what if we had a big one for a group of modules? This would force the learners to apply the knowledge, instead of just regurgitating it.

Another possible approach could be changing the way we structure learning materials. Normally, you have your “courses” that have a very specific and focused subject matter. But what if we abolished the structure of courses and started working within the framework of topics? Instead of studying a particular course on e.g. how to deliver presentations, the learner could be prompted with various types of not necessarily related materials under the wider umbrella of communication skills. This is similar in philosophy to the resource-based learning strategies that a growing number of organisations are employing.

However, a thing to note when planning interleaved learning is that the topics should never be too similar (so you need to identify right strategies and apply knowledge) nor too unrelated. For instance, pairing up communication training materials with something for technical skills is unlikely to have the desired effect. However, pairing up communication with leadership could work a lot better.

Key takeaways

Interleaved learning is an interesting phenomenon, and certainly good to know about. L&D professionals and learning designers can use the technique to facilitate better and lasting learning. However, even if you’re not a learning designer, the method might be beneficial to incorporate in your own educational endeavours.

Whether you implement it personally or on an organisational level, there’s one thing to note. Interleaved learning is not easy. It feels more difficult, because it is. But that’s exactly why it’s so effective. It forces us to spark those neuron connections and apply knowledge on a wide level. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate, quick wins with the method. Rather, focus on the long term, as that’s where the effect tends to really start to show.

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How to Enable Self-directed Learning in the Workplace?

Self-directed learning in the workplace

How to Enable Self-directed Learning in the Workplace?

Imagine an organisation where employees would proactively learn the things they need to perform and take charge of upskilling themselves for the future. Sounds like every L&D professional’s dream, doesn’t it? In fact, more and more organisations are exploring for ways to achieve some of that, even if with limited scope. On one hand, we’ve realised that the traditional organisation of L&D activities is not agile enough to respond to the rapidly transforming business environment. On the other hand, there’s also a lot of of talk about 21st century employees having to take charge of their own learning and development. This type of self-directed learning is certainly not a new thing for individuals. However, organisations still have a fair bit to learn in facilitating it.

So, let’s explore self-directed workplace learning in a bit more detail. Here are a few key pieces we think need to be in place for this individual-led approach to be successful.

Organisations need to allow time for learning

This may sound overly self-evident, but in fact is a fundamental consideration. While an added benefit of self-directed learning is the flexibility it provides, organisations can’t expect their employees to learn on their own time. Some employees of course likely will do that, but a large part of them won’t. Thus, it’s important to make it clear that learning is part of the work of every employee, and to allow time within the “office hours” for it. If the whole organisation doesn’t support the approach and promote a self-learning culture, the impact will be very limited.

Managers’ commitment is crucial in facilitating self-directed learning

One of the key stakeholders in enabling a self-directed workplace learning culture are the managers. As previously mentioned, the managers need to firstly commit to the fact that their employees will be spending some of their time learning. But that’s not quite enough. The managers need to also take an active approach in following up with the learners who are having difficulties or are not engaging. They should also take an active role in identifying challenges and guiding people towards the right resources. Some employees will likely require more elaborate coaching on what self-directed learning is, and how they should be going about it. After all, the approach doesn’t necessarily come naturally for everyone.

Organisations should offer employees resources and tools

One key part of a feasible self-directer learning strategy is the resources and tools that employees can use. Sure, Google, YouTube and similar platforms exist. However, expecting employees to search for information, assess its value and relevance is likely too much to ask. Especially if you’re only beginning the journey and people are not used to self-directed learning. Thus, it’s important to offer employees resources and tools to take charge of their own learning. These can be a variety of things. Many organisations nowadays choose to curate learning resources, rather than designing everything from scratch. With this, employees get access to material that has been already vetted, and they no longer need to spend time evaluating it.

Increasingly many organisations also offer their employees collaborative and social platforms, where employees can interact with each other. These can provide a valuable informal learning resource. Often, it might make more sense to just ask someone, rather than find videos or other material on how to complete a particular task.

Never try to force people to learn, but encourage them

Finally, this one is a major issue we regularly notice with organisations who attempt to execute self-directed learning. For some reason, organisations expect that they can become self-directed, while they still “direct” people by forcing learning. For instance, this can be requiring employees to complete learning activities, set deadlines or impose other kinds of rules. This is what many L&D departments are used to, but it simply doesn’t work if you want to develop a self-directed learning culture. We cannot force people to learn.

However, that doesn’t remove the importance of encouraging employees to learn. In fact, some studies indicate considerable performance improvements pertaining to self-directed learning. But only in cases where the learning is voluntary. As we’ve mentioned before, organisations should make their absolute best efforts in promoting that culture and committing to it. People won’t take up on it unless they see their superiors and the people around them showing commitment to it.

Final words

All in all, building a self-directed workplace learning culture is by no means easy. It requires L&D to relinquish some control and accept the fact that everything cannot be strictly administered. For many organisations, this sort of change likely represents total cultural transformation. However, if you want to become a truly agile and effective organisation, we see this as a necessary step along the way. If you’d like to explore ways of facilitating self-directed learning in your organisation, don’t hesitate to drop us a note. We can’t promise quick wins or guaranteed success, but we can certainly help you learn about what might work and what might not.

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