When learners are busy…

Reading through questions from a recent webinar about neuroplasticity has been fascinating because one question leads to another and some questions become answers to other questions.

One question that almost everyone has some experience of is this one:“From a corporate learning stance regarding time and energy:  When REMOTE learners have very limited time to learn, (specifically for big topics), what is the best way to help them receive, digest, and retain new information?  (These are very busy people that are on-the-go most of their time and can’t sit down for lengthy training.)”

The truth is almost everyone has limited time to spend lengthy periods in formal training or learning.  Evidence from all the learning surveys shows that we are all looking to pick up learning more quickly and in shorter bite size chunks; hence the proliferation of apps, mobile learning, elearning, web based learning, gamification learning, etc etc.
There are some great examples from the retail industry where people’s main role is customer facing and they can’t leave the shop floor.  Instead, the content they need to learn is on the technology they regularly use.  That could be on point of sale technology (what used to be ‘shop tills’), mobile phones, tablets and even down to notices that change regularly with key updates.  Put the learning where the people congregate rather than take them out of their environment.  This also improves retention because learning is context dependant – we recall things better if the environment for encoding and embedding (remembering the first time) is the same or similar to the place we need to recall it.

Social media can be a great way for people to learn quickly on the job and you probably already do it.  If you need to know how to wire a plug the quickest thing to do is find a Youtube video; and that’s true of almost anything you want to learn from leadership through to compliance.  For instance, I use twitter regularly to learn. I simply ask my own Personal Learning Network (PLN) of people who I follow and trust to have valuable content, or who can recommend  someone who does.  There are linkedin groups where I can ask a question and get valuable responses and I know others who use pinterest, facebook etc.  You name the platform and you’ll find someone who learns from it.As an organisation you may have to curate the content that’s available to make it relevant but there are many organisations who do this very successfully.

Lengthy training sessions lead to cognitive overload – we can only process limited amounts of information before our neurons need time to rest, after that we need to review, refresh and strengthen those new neuronal connections with repetition.  Large amounts of information crammed into shorter spaces of time are about information delivery and not learning – basically it might make the business feel better because “We’ve told them x,y,z and abc” but it doesn’t mean the learners have picked up and learned it all, or possibly any of it.

Picking up on the idea of ‘sitting down’ for lengthy training – this isn’t good for anybody’s health or learning.  It also helps to answer the webinar question somebody asked about eustress.  “How do we promote Eustress to increase performance for the trainees? without overwhelming the trainees so much?”When we sit we tend to relax and it becomes harder to pay active attention – people say things like ‘I feel I slip into spoon feeding’ mode.  When people sit for long they either become more inactive

or they begin to fidget and their minds wander because they want to be moving; let alone thinking about people with bad backs who end up just focusing on their pain.  Encouraging learners to move around as a natural part of the learning session increases their physical activity and their mental alertness – both of which are elements of ‘eustress’ – that area of alertness and arousal where people perform well.  So very simply, get people moving:

  • If it’s elearning create activities where they have to go and find some information that’s not on their computer
  • Build in brain breaks – where the elearning stops responding and advises them e.g. to go and get some water
  • Use audio recordings and encourage learners to walk and listen on their way to meetings etc
  • If it’s face to face split them into groups to discuss and capture their information at a flipchart
  • Ask them to switch groups and move to a different table/ space in the room
  • Invite people to visit information on posters on the wall rather than displayed on screen
  • Map out models on the floor rather than on powerpoint and invite people to stand, or better still, participate as key parts of the model.

When people are standing they ask more, better quality questions than when they’re sitting down.  And they answer each others questions and discuss ideas more readily which is another way for them to enhance their learning without it feeling difficult or overwhelming.  Be aware that if something is very cognitively challenging people will automatically stop moving – they unconsciously recognise that they can’t devote brain power to intense thinking and physical activity at the same time.

There are many more ways to share about digesting information more effectively but if you carry on reading you’ll end up with cognitive overload.  Repetition little and often is the key.