Set and organise goals within a defined space
Set out a clear picture of what success looks like in story form using real stories from people the learner knows, trusts or has heard about. Alternatively, use case studies or a ‘day in the life of’. Be sure your story describes mastery application of the required skills, knowledge, behaviours and attitudes to authentic situations. Also be sure to highlight indicators that the learner can use to recognise when they are demonstrating mastery of each criteria.
Next, ask the learner to set their own goals for each criteria, in terms of how well they want to do it by the end of the program. This may be a slider of basic, intermediate and mastery levels or perhaps a percentage proficiency. Explain that these metrics will be revisited at various times throughout the program and they will be able to reset, stretch and compare their goals historically, with benchmarks and with other learners.
Based on their goals, ask learners to fill their learning path by selecting some pre-existing activities (linked to the criteria), to populate their learning paths, learning stacks, matrix, framework or whatever structure makes sense. Most importantly, leave spaces and provide support, for them to nominate and/or create their own activities and ideas on how to reach their goals. You could also allow for peers, managers and reports to contribute activity ideas.
For example, they might work with a coach to devise activities or look at the learning paths of previous successful learners. The most important part is that they feel a sense of agency in determining what will most effectively:
- Stretch them towards lofty goals
- Nurture them towards modest goals
- Make use of their existing skills and experience.
Once again make sure the learner understands this activity will be revisited and updated on a regular basis. You might also consider the use of symbols and metaphors to scaffold this activity, but only where they simplify understanding, not where they add cognitive load.
Provide new knowledge linked to goal space and current experience
Some activities in the learner’s path or stack could be pre-formed including micro-learning sessions. These use just a few minutes of interaction, animation and/or video to establish a constrained concept or body of knowledge in the learner’s memory and then link it to a problem or need that the learner must address and to experience and knowledge the learner already possesses.
Test knowledge coverage in goal space
Micro-learning is followed by discussion with peers or with a coach, discussing what’s needed to meet the need or solve the problem. The aim is to uncover learning gaps and find ways to close those gaps through adding and customising activities and resources in their advanced organiser to close the gaps. These activities need to be brief, practical and on-point, to maintain momentum towards application.
Facilitate successive approximation and development of heuristics
Once learners have adequate foundation knowledge, they need an environment in which they can independently test what they have learned, through cause and effect. This may be workplace projects, simulations, roleplays, games or whatever fits. The key is that it should:
- Allow for success, failure and consequences
- Enable successive approximation
- Uncover causation of fallacy
- Explore exceptions
- Violate expectations
Also important is that learners are minimally supported. They need to make mistakes and learn from them. This might involve scaffolds that fade over time, a support ticketing system, regular mentoring sessions or whatever works. But the key is to provide support when learners really do need it, not when they think they need it. The other key is that support should be metacognitive, not corrective, because they must construct their understanding, not ‘receive it’. Though many argue that it is equally effective to allow learners to ‘model’ the desired heuristics, without truly understanding them and allow understanding to come later.
Associate learning to existing schemas
Throughout the process of knowledge testing and successive approximation, learners are encouraged to make handwritten notes on paper, either freely or through a lightly structured activity to ensure they describe what they have learned and how it generates success ‘in their own words’. This process could also include visual activities like drawing, but it is essential that it is direct, personal and interpretive, not mediated through lots of online tools (like typing, digital mindmaps, digital whiteboards etc).
It is also essential that it be lightly structured and open ended, for example with an invitation to describe or draw how you might apply your knowledge and heuristics to a novel situation or what frameworks or processes you are observing in the material so far. Forcing people to engage their hand, eye and brain on an ill defined activity generates better comprehension and retention than highly structured digital activities.
Identify, diagnose and correct gaps and fallacies
After a number of these loops of learning, practice and summarising, learners need to test themselves in an environment similar to the one in which they expect to be ‘successful’. But unlike the practice situation, this environment is corrective, not constructivist. So it is focused on uncovering, diagnosing and responding to their weaknesses. This may take the form of an adaptive simulation, roleplay, or structured assessment by a workplace coach or perhaps a learner who is further along the path. Remediation may involve repeating parts of the learning path and/or taking sideways steps into individual learning.
Consolidate learning in memory
To ensure learners can use the material into the future, they must recall and apply those memories a number of times to mitigate the forgetting curve. This may for example take the form of spaced assessments pushed to their phone, additional workplace tasks or projects, teaching or assessing learners in an earlier stage of learning or reporting their progress in applying their learning to their coach or peers.
Arouse and motivate
Throughout the process the learner needs to be aroused and motivated by the ‘system’, intrinsically and by others. ‘Aroused’ in this context means mentally alert by invoking interest, curiosity or emotionality. Examples of this include storytelling, customising their advanced organiser, using surprise and novelty and so on.
Motivating techniques can include reflective activities identifying WIIFM, game mechanics like levels, unlockables, badges and character enhancements, social signals like community recognition or behavioural economics drivers like points, virtual currency or real world rewards.
I’ll write more about arousal, motivation and stickiness in an upcoming post, but for now, fare-thee-well.