4 Ways to Use Scaffolding in Corporate Learning

Instructional scaffolding is a set of techniques used to support learners in their learning process. The goal is to enhance learning and aid the learners in achieving mastery of the topic in question. While the techniques are nothing new, they remain highly relevant. In particular, transformational learning initiatives, whereby organisations introduce new work practices, tasks or strategies can benefit a lot from well-designed scaffolding. If we use a toddler analogy, the process is similar to learning to walk. Initially, you’ll have the parent holding up the kid, gradually giving more “responsibility” to the child, and ultimately letting go altogether.

So, let’s explore instructional scaffolding in the context of workplace learning. Here are 4 techniques that tend to work well in our experience.

1. Tap into and connect with learners’ prior knowledge

A big component of adult learning is learning through building on prior knowledge and experiences. Hence, it’s important that you let the learners see the big picture; how the learning relates to other things. Thus, you should aim to make connections with the employees’ current skills, professional experience and prior learning.

2. Break up content into digestible chunks

To enhance the effect of the previous point and help learners activate their prior knowledge, you should consider breaking up your content. Smaller chunks, or microlearning activities, that build on each other tend to work well. But instead of just chunking up content and delivering it the same way as before, the “consumption” of these activities should be spread over time in a spaced learning approach to enable the learners to build up their knowledge gradually.

3. Give the learners time and opportunities to talk

People need time to process new information and make sense of whatever they have been learning. Peer discussions enable the learners to articulate their own understanding, synthesise information and learn about different points of view. Guided discussions also provide a good platform for sharing personal experiences, tips and best practices that might help other learners. With different social learning technologies, you can facilitate these types of learning discussions in a digital way.

4. Give the learners time and opportunities to practice

Finally, a critical piece in scaffolding is to enable sufficient amounts of practice. When learning new things at the workplace, the challenge is often not in the learning itself, but transferring that learning back to the workplace. But if you allow people to practice, they can build up their confidence doing things in a new way before being exposed to “live” situations. Hence, you should always aim to incorporate practice time in learning activities. That might be role play in small groups, digital simulations or many other types of activities. However, the important factor underlying them all is providing a safe environment to make mistakes.

Final words

Scaffolding techniques have proven to be quite powerful and should be a part of every learning professional’s toolbox. In workplace learning, scaffolding can help employees to learn more effectively and increase learning transfer. However, as a process, it shouldn’t continue forever. Just like with the toddler learning to walk, you need to figure out when to let go completely and let them do things on their own. Similarly, when learners reach a certain level of proficiency, they no longer need or even want you to hold them up.

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