Think about a time when you started a new game, worked with a new piece of software, made repairs on a car, learned a new skill, or really just did anything new. Did you try the new activity on your own? Perhaps you did a little research, experimented, generated some ideas, made some mistakes, got stuck, and asked for help?
I believe this is how many people choose to learn in their everyday lives. If so, why would we create professional training and learning experiences that are linear, predictable, and effortless for our adult learners?
You often hear things in the training and learning design communities like people learn by doing or they learn through experience. At the most basic level, learning actually occurs when we’re able to discuss and reflect on our experiences. However, in order to get to a point of productive reflection, there first has to be that experience.
When I take on a new project for our Peak Performance program—an internal management training curriculum—one of my primary goals is to create meaningful and challenging experiences as part of the design and development of authentic assessments or tasks.
In Peak Performance, courses are designed based on an action learning framework: we design tasks that mirror real-world job activities and behaviors so people are able to learn alongside their actual work and daily job duties. When executed well, these types of “action learning” tasks allow learners and their coaches to assess challenging situations, make relevant decisions, and see the real-life consequences of those decisions.
Ideally, a Peak Performance task can be designed to have the learner do something in the real world. When that’s not possible, we work to create a simulated, realistic, and safe environment where learners can try, make mistakes, ask questions, receive genuine and specific feedback, reflect, try again, and then repeat this process.
Design Challenge Example
One of my projects where the action learning framework comes to life is in the Peak Performance course, Managing Metrics to Drive Financial Performance.
I was tasked with creating a learning experience for contact center Team Leads to learn how to perform a real job task: create weekly coaching and feedback action plans based on prioritizing support needs and using the financial levers that were available to them.
Given that challenge, I focused on what learners actually had to do on the job. They didn’t need to analyze a P&L, participate in a financial forecasting process, or simply understand financial concepts. Instead, learners needed to analyze their team’s performance and behaviors and make decisions that would positively impact the financial health of their account.
For some of us, finance is not the easiest topic, and we wanted to avoid learners getting so focused on the numbers that they put additional pressure on their people. To that end, we decided to create a simulated environment in which learners would analyze a team of fictional agents. That way they could practice safely without impacting their own people until they received some coaching and feedback on the decisions they made within the course tasks.
To begin, we provide learners with some brief instructions and the task file. Upon opening the task file, learners are immediately assigned one of the five teams. From there, they are asked to first analyze the data; then prioritize the agents based on red flags, support needs, and financial impacts; and finally explain their rationale for why they made their selections.
If learners get stuck along the way or just want to see how others would approach the task, then mini-scenarios, instructional walkthroughs, and expert war story videos are immediately available to them in their course resources. Upon submission of the task, learners automatically receive another copy of the task that had been completed by a Senior Manager or operational expert so they can compare and contrast their choices and rationales.
Then the real active learning comes in: learners complete the same analysis and prioritization task for their own team. Finally, they meet with their assigned Peak Performance sponsors to ask questions, get feedback on the work they did for their own teams, and discuss financial levers and how to make future decisions on their own accounts.
Does this mean that our learners are now experts out of the gate? Probably not—without ongoing practice and coaching. When learning new skills, most people are typically going to be nervous, anxious, and awkward. However, if we can provide realistic, meaningful, and challenging experiences during training, then we are significantly improving each person’s case base to draw upon when new challenges or situations occur in the field.
To date, we’ve received hundreds of quality submissions for this task, the kind you would never get from a multiple-choice test or simple short-answer assessment. As we review each submission, we actually get to see how people worked through the problems and reflected on the experience.
Anyway, if you’d like to try out this approach in your own design, I invite you to first think about what learners need to be able to do, and how you can use action learning to have them actually learn while they work.
Interested to learn more about how Jeff designs learn-by-doing experiences? Click here to watch a short clip from the TalentSprout YouTube library. Or contact us if you’d like help creating your own learn-by-doing programs!