One of the biggest concerns that any of us has in training-teaching-learning is the question of whether our learners adopt and apply what we are offering—whether what learners study actually sticks. If we’re successful, the learning process looks like this: it not only sticks, but it’s agile, responsive, and fast-moving. So the real question is: how do we and our learners get there?
Chip and Dan Heath provided a wonderful starting point for all of us in the book they wrote in 2007. They called our attention to the way that stories that are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and emotional are those that remain with us—like the urban myth about people who were waking up, covered in ice in bathtubs, and discovering in horror that their kidneys had been stolen by organ thieves. Not a true story, as the Heath brothers quickly point out—but one that heard once, is not quickly forgotten. So the question for us is: how can we tell stories that help our learners retain and apply content gained through a learning opportunity? Let’s take a moment to recall and describe a situation where we’ve had a memorable learning experience and see what made it stick.
Once we have begun incorporating stories into the learning process, we need to remember to not overwhelm our learners with too many stories or any other form of information overload—what one colleagues calls “information deluge.” Breaking the learning process into increments—the 10-minute chunks suggested by this image, for example—not only helps learners absorb information more easily, but applies research to our learning environments. And it’s worth noting that while I’ve latched onto an educator’s in-class experiments showing that learners’ attention began to drift after 10 minutes of presentation time, we’ll find plenty of examples out there—ever since George Miller started talking about chunking in the 1950s—calling for shorter (two- or three-minute) chunks as well as longer chunks. Bottom line: let’s keep the process learner-centric: if we see that our learners are drifting, it’s time to re-engage them in a meaningful way rather than thinking that our primary responsibility is to play beat-the-clock by racing through a presentation.
We can extend the concept of chunking by a natural additional step at this point. By explicitly helping learners see how each new chunk builds upon what they have already learned, we help them see the learning patterns that lead to successful retention and application of what they are learning. And there’s no reason why we can’t be playful since play is part of the learning process. Which leads us to another step in creating sticky learning.
As you saw a few minutes ago when we stopped to talk about sticky learning experiences we’ve had, it’s not just about one-way transmission of information. If we’re lecturing instead of engaging, we’re probably going to see this level of engagement from and among our learners.
When we draw our learners into the process, we’re on our way to successful (sticky) learning. If, for example, we are asking doctors or nurses or social workers or chaplains or anyone else to learn how to use a mobile device to record patient information, we can encourage them up front to describe a hypothetical patient they are going to track—drawing from experience with a patient they actually served—and then learn how to use the mobile device to record that patient’s situation and condition. It doesn’t take much for us to see that we’re now already incorporating storytelling, chunking, and building blocks to engage in learning rooted in our learners’ own experiences—and the best part of this is that it’s completely engaging for anyone who is willing to participate in the process.
What we often overlook in all of this, however, is the effect that stress can have on the learning process. Plenty of brain-based research shows that stress shuts down the neocortex. When the neocortex shuts down, learning can’t occur. So we find ourselves in that terrible loop of feeling stress, realizing we are falling behind in our learning, feeling more stress…and, in the worst of learning situations, giving in to despair that not only can we not learn, but we are in danger of losing our jobs because we can’t keep up with what those jobs requires. Those of us engaged in facilitating the learning process need to help learners understand this process up front—it’s as important as anything they arrived expecting to learn. If we briefly talk this through with learners at the beginning of their time with us, and follow it up by incorporating a bit of humor into what we do and remaining attentive to early warning signs that stress is interfering with learning, we’ve gone a long way in paving the road to successful learning experiences.
Let’s not forget that homework isn’t just for children. Adult learners need time to reflect upon what they’ve learned, reinforce what they’ve learned, and apply what they’ve learned. If we’re in a workplace learning and performance (staff training) setting—we’re going to be most successful by providing time in the workplace for that level of reflection, reinforcement, and application of what we expect our learners to absorb. The work of Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, and Andrew Jefferson in The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results paints a wonderful picture of learning as a process that that begins with learners and managers discussing what is to be learned; continues with the actual delivery of learning opportunities; and is reinforced through follow-up…as we’re about to see.
If we expect carpenters to learn their trade, we help them apply what they’ve learned by putting it into practice. There’s no reason why this simple principle shouldn’t be applied to any learning endeavor for any group of learners. Those learning new forms of technology need to be supported in their workplaces as they put that new technology to work—and quickly make the transition from focusing on the tool itself to seeing the technology as a tool that helps them meet their workplace goals.
As we start wrapping up what we’re exploring here, there are a couple of elements we shouldn’t overlook. The first is that learning is a wonderfully social endeavor. If we’ve been successful together, we’ll walk away with some ideas that we can apply within our work places; continue to learn from each other; and become even better helping our learners to understand that they, too, are developing communities of learning that help them support each other and apply what they’ve learned to the larger extended community they serve.
The second is that visuals in learning, as John Medina points out in Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School , are critically important to success: “ Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources…We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words” (p. 240) I hope that one of the things you’ve picked up from this presentation is the idea that visuals, seamlessly interwoven into a learning experience, enhance that learning. And to make the point a bit more strongly, let’s end with what I call a visual summary—a technique I adapted from the concluding moments of Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk (http://buildingcreativebridges.wordpress.com/?s=ted+talks).
We started with the idea of finding ways to make learning sticky.
We turned to one of the seminal resources— Made to Stick —and noted that stories need to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and emotional.
An element of all of this is the idea of chunking—that learners absorb material in manageable chunks—and that 10-minute chunks are one way to approach the process.
Each chunk becomes a building block in a cohesive structure comprised of related blocks of learning.
An interactive process that encourages interactive learning among the learners rather than relying on antiquated models of one-way delivery of learning is proving effective and engaging in learning circles worldwide.
We need to be aware of the ways in which stress hinders learning, address that problem with our learners, and be attentive to the appearance of stress in learning so we facilitate successful learning.
We noted that homework is not just for children; learners benefit from opportunities to reflect upon, absorb, and apply what they are learning.
Our learners then solidify what they’ve absorbed—and that happens because we support their ability to apply that learning in meaningful ways within our worksites.
It all comes together through the ongoing support of communities of learning--one of the most productive elements we can create within the workplaces we inhabit.
And learning continues with additional explorations—some guided by learning facilitators, and some through learners own efforts to explore what is of interest to them. If you’re viewing this later in “Slide Show” mode, you can play the role of self-guided learner by clicking on any of these images to get to excerpts for the books.
LearningThatSticks:A Demontration Paul Signorelli Writer/Trainer/Consultant Paul Signorelli & Associates email@example.com February 11, 2013
For More Information Paul Signorelli & Associates 1032 Irving St., #514 San Francisco, CA 94122 415.681.5224 firstname.lastname@example.org http://paulsignorelli.com Twitter: @paulsignorellihttp://buildingcreativebridges.wordpress.c om
Credits & Acknowledgments (Images taken from lickr.com unless otherwise noted): Gecko: From Kerolic’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kerolic/2719582719/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Clock at 10:10: By Paul Signorelli Building Blcoks: From W eesen’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/weesen/3588499373/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Lecture Hall: From Sidwalk Flying’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/sidewalk_flying/5375603380/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Learning Lab (Experiential Learning): From New Jersey State Library’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/njlibraryevents/7394028422/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Stress: From MJTMail (Tiggy)’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjtmail/2170840714/sizes/m/in/photostream/Carpentry: From MikeBlyth’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/blyth/156453471/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Communities of Learning: From Mundo Exchange Volunteer and Intern photo’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mundo-exchange/7655003678/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Telling: From Averain’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/averain/5336663293/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Question Marks: From Valerie Everett’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/valeriebb/3006348550/sizes/m/in/photostream/