What makes this particular approach so powerful? Intellectually, it appeals to the visual, auditory and kinesthetic learner. Behaviorally, it creates high levels of engagement and interaction. Intuitively, the metaphor often used in the learning visual provides a “big picture” that draws all the content together in a meaningful way. But that is not the whole story. Read the full blog post, The Power of the Learning Visual, now.
It doesn’t matter if you call it a Work Mat, Discovery Map, Learning Map or, as we do, a Learning Blueprint. I’m constantly in awe of the power of this medium to change attitudes and pass on knowledge. The solutions we develop utilizing learning visuals consistently garner comments such as “This is the best training experience I have ever had,” but more importantly show significantly enhanced learning retention and use.
So what makes this particular approach so powerful? Intellectually, it appeals to the visual, auditory and kinesthetic learner. Behaviorally, it creates high levels of engagement and interaction. Intuitively, the metaphor often used in the learning visual provides a “big picture” that draws all the content together in a meaningful way.
While these are certainly considerations when choosing to recommend a Learning Blueprint for our client, there is a fundamental reason for its impact: a well designed learning visual taps into the power of stories.
Stories are one of the oldest, and certainly one of the most basic ways that we learn. For most of human existence the primary way of passing on hard-earned lessons was through story telling. If it can be said there is a primal way we are hard-wired to learn, it would be through the power of stories.
What makes the learning visual a particularly powerful story medium is that the learner becomes a part of the story. Of course, a story line is often built into visual and experience, but the real power is that learners become both the storytellers and players in the story. Good design begets an experience in which each table builds its own story and each person has a role in that story. This taps into our natural inclination to internalize and remember stories. Retention and impact grow, because the story becomes personal, it becomes my story for each learner.
The point of all training provided by an organization is to improve people’s performance on the job. For this to happen, employees must use what they have learned when they are working. In their 1992 book, Transfer of Training, Mary Broad and John Newstrom evaluate the impact of three key resources on skills application – the facilitator/designer of the training, the trainee, and the trainee’s manager. Their analysis showed that the largest contributor to whether people actually use what they learn on the job is the manager. And the biggest factor was not what the manager did after the training (like coaching) but what the manager did before the training occurred.
Since Broad and Newstrom’s work was conducted nearly twenty years ago, and there have been a lot of innovations in how we deliver training, including eSimulations, virtual classroom, social learning, and mobile, I was curious to ponder whetherÂ the role of the manager in learning transfer has changed?
Based on a three-year study of over 10,000 learners by KnowledgePool, not that much. Their research shows that “where learners receive line manager support, 94% go on to apply what they learned”. Apparently, managers do still make a key difference
The question this raises for me is, as we move to more “bite-size” and ubiquitous training through social and mobile learning, how do we continue to ensure that we tap into this critical resource to ensure learning gets transferred? As stated above, Broad and Newstrom’s work indicated that what a manager does before the training session occurs is even more critical to learning transfer than what they do afterwards.
In 1991-92 its very likely that a manager would have had significant opportunity to interact with the trainee before a training session, if nothing more than to ensure there was coverage for their absence to attend a class. Even if the training was offered via elearning, it is likely the manager was aware of when the employee was going to take a particular course.
Now jump to today (and even more so into the near future). The trainee may be just as likely to complete a 5-10 minute mobile learning session while waiting in line at the cafeteria or bank drive-thru. Or perhaps, they’ve spent part of their lunch time browsing through recent postings in their favorite Community of Practice portal. Will the manager even know that they have engaged in learning? It may be that self initiated training like this will consistently have a high transfer of learning, but I think we are failing our clients if we don’t continue to find ways to engage managers and tap into the impact they have in ensuring that what is learned gets used on the job. Just as we are developing new and innovative ways to deliver training, we will need to find new and innovative ways for manager involvement.
What should be a training designer’s goal? The answer would seem obvious: design a training solution. While that may be the product the designer produces, it should not be the goal.
Recently I’ve been reading Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. While at Blueline we often find a serious game or game-like element is an effective part of a training solution, I’ve found that the lenses that Schell offers extend beyond games to training solutions in general.
In chapter two Schell states, “Ultimately, a game designer does not care about games. Games are merely a means to an end. On their own, games are just artifacts – clumps of cardboard, or bags of bits. Games are worthless unless people play them. Why is this? What magic happens when games are played?
When people play games, they have an experience. It is this experience that the designer cares about. Without the experience, the game is worthless.”
I think we could easily substitute “training” for “game” in his statement and it would fit nicely. Yes, I’m fully aware of Bloom’s taxonomy and it’s importance in writing clear and specific objectives for a training solution. And I strongly support the theory that the ultimate outcome of any training should be a positive impact on business results. However, from a designer’s perspective, the goal should be to design an experience that leads to those results.
That’s why we say that at Blueline we focus on immersive learning experiences, whether they be simulations (classroom or esim ), virtual classrooms, learning visuals , or even large group communications events. To paraphrase Schell’s question, “What magic happens when Blueline training occurs?” it is the rich immersive experience that produces the results.
Keeping the learner’s experience in mind throughout the design and development process leads to a set of questions beyond just “was the content clearly communicated?” and “was ample practice provided for skill development?” Thinking about designing an experience that leads to powerful learning means continually asking questions like:
- What frame of reference is the learner likely to have at this point?
- How receptive to learning will the learner be? How can we increase that receptivity?
- How have the previous elements or activities likely affected the energy and focus of the learner? How will this element or activity impact that focus or energy level?
- How can we engage the learner’s interest, curiosity, and/or emotions with this material?
- How might we have the learner “disagree” to incite more passion about the topic?
- What methods can we use so the learner must actively engage with the material rather than merely serve as a passive recipient of information?
- Would a “failure”or a “success” at this point be more likely to engage the learner? Increase the stickiness of the learning?
- What situation can we setup so the learner actively creates his or her own learning? Or generates his or her own data?
When we design with the learner’s experience in mind, we keep the learner and not the content front and center. Developing a training that puts the learner at the center more often than not results in greater learning comprehension and stickiness.
I recently discovered a presentation from last year’s TED conference by Tom Wujec, an Information Designer and Fellow at AutoDesk, in which he explored the question, “How can we best engage our brains to help us better understand big ideas?” Certainly an important question for those of us engaged in developing training and communications programs.
Wujec’s investigation was stimulated by people’s reactions to an experiment conducted at the previous year’s TED conference. (For those not familiar with it, TED is a conference for bringing together leading thinkers and practioners in the fields of Technology, Education and Design. The purpose is to share “big ideas” that will “change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world.”) At the previous conference, artist from AutoDesk and The Grove were capturing the main ideas or concepts from each presentation in sketches. These were then assembled into an interactive display that attendees could explore. The overwhelming positive response led Wujec to begin to investigate just how does the brain “make meaning” or assemble mental models.
Not surprisingly, his investigation of cognitive science lead to the conclusion that the visualization of ideas and concepts plays an important role in how we make meaning of and retain ideas. He learned that meaning comes through a series of discovery or “ah-ha” moments, through various processes. His talk focused on three areas of the brain involved in converting visual input into mental models.
- The Ventral Stream – which determines “what” we are looking at
- The Dorsal Stream – which spatially locates or places items
- Limbic System – where the feeling or emotional reaction to what we’re seeing resides
Wujec’s examination of how these three (along with about 25 other processes) create meaning led to three conclusions that have significance for how we develop training and communications.
- Have People Interact with the Images to Create Engagement
- Augment the Memory with Persistent and Evolving Views
Of course as I watched the presentation, I immediately thought of our Blueline Blueprint learning visuals. For years we have known how effective they are at helping individuals grasp new ideas and concepts. One of my clients found that after three months people who attended a session using a learning visual I had designed had a 65% better grasp of the company’s new strategic objectives, and how those objectives should influence their work, than individuals attending the traditional CEO “road-show.” I was struck by how the training and communication sessions built around one of our Blueprints tap directly into Wujec’s three components of making meaning.
1. Use Images to Clarify Ideas — Now I can hardly draw a stick figure, but I’m lucky enough to work with talented artists who excel at developing visual metaphors and images to capture and clarify clients’ ideas. During at least half the Blueprint (links to projects I’ve worked on, someone on the client team will say, “we’ve struggled with this for months, but your visual has created alignment and clarity of message that we just couldn’t achieve.”
2.Have People Interact with the Images to Create Engagement — Using the Socratic Dialogue method, small teams of learners explore this powerful visual to find information, make connections and discuss application to their work. This creates a level of engagement and processing of ideas that is an order of magnitude greater than listening to a presentation of material.
3.Augment the Memory with Persistent and Evolving Views — Frequently, we will use elements from the Blueprint as a visual component in on-going communications that occur after the initial session. This provides a visual trigger that recalls the experience and the learning. We have also created place-mat size copies of the visual or even mouse-pads as take-aways, all to provide that persistent review of the concepts and application.
Of course, discovery learning, or creating those “ah-ha” moments, is fundamental to all of our designs and programs. We constantly strive to find ways to live up to a slightly altered version of Lao-Tse’s quote on great leadership, “But of a good design, – when its work is done, its aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.”