By Theo Winter
Beyond instructor-led classroom training, which continues to be a staple of modern training delivery methods, we increasingly see the widespread acceptance and incorporation of digital learning technologies across most learning departments. Last year's Training Industry Report noted a major jump in Blended Learning (i.e., online learning combined with traditional face-to-face methods) — climbing from 35% to 69% of training hours in a single year. The same report indicated the most frequently used learning technologies were Learning Management Systems (LMSs), Rapid e-Learning Tools, and Application Simulation Tools. (More on that report here.)
Adding to what’s trending and what’s about the same, we thought it would be worthwhile to identify and briefly outline a few creative or slightly out-of-the-box training methods with near universal application. (This is actually just a small sample from a much larger project concerning 100+ learning methodologies we’re working on, inspired by a recent visit to Germany. More to come on that project soon.)
For your consideration, I present 6 ideas to kick around:
Mastermind Group Mastermind groups are relatively small-sized groups (around 3-8 people) that can be comprised of people within the same organisation or industry, or from outside of work, whose members usually meet on a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly basis, either online or in person, typically for about 30-60 minutes at a time. Why do they meet? Well, that really depends on the group. Mastermind-ers commonly get together to solve each other’s problems, bounce ideas around, brainstorm, network, pool resources, give and receive feedback, and, perhaps most importantly, provide support and accountability. Mastermind groups usually work best when the people have a clear agenda and purpose for meeting, the particular members included are active and committed to the group’s success, and everyone involved is given equal time to share what they’re working on and where they need help.
FedEx Day While originally popularised in the software space, the principle concept behind a “FedEx Day” can be applied to any industry. At its core, this kind of development initiative gives employees permission to work on anything outside of their usual work routine with the intention of having a finished presentation, pitch, project, or product by the following day. Many companies have taken up the practice as a means of encouraging team building, innovation, and gaining a better understanding of what matters to employees, often resulting in exciting and unexpected discoveries.
Failure Party Many organisational cultures (implicitly or explicitly) deter employees from airing errors and stuff-ups, functioning on an oppressive operational mantra of perfectionism under the guise of productivity called “get everything done but don’t tell me anything’s wrong” which can lead to burnout, blame-shifting, lack of accountability, not being forthcoming with management about real problems, and similar toxic behaviours. A “Failure Party” (or as our German friend calls it, a “Fuck Up Night”) is one way of encouraging employees to share or even deliberately make mistakes in a low risk environment. The vulnerability and transparency encouraged at a Failure Party helps to foster interpersonal trust and goes a long way to building an open, supportive culture.
Microlearning Also known as nanolearning, microlearning is just what the name implies: small bits of learning content. Instead of delivering a full-course meal (e.g., a 1-day classroom event), microlearning might divvy up some or all of the meal into bite-size pieces to be spread out into a learning “thread” which is pushed to the learners at a steady pace (e.g., a short 3- to 5-minute video every day for a few weeks). There are several advantages to incorporating these “nuggets” of wisdom into the learning diet. Focusing on a specific topic at a convenient time for the learner means minimal impact on their work, and this in turn allows them to focus on digesting one thing at a time (increasing retention), while trainers can do away with all the headaches associated with organising event-based training (cost savings). Plus, there’s lots of emerging microlearning platforms to check out that can make content creation quick and easy.
Simulation and Role-play Simulations have the potential to be among the most powerful tools in the trainer’s toolbox. There are two broad types of simulations commonly used. The first type presents you with an imagined or hypothetical test scenario, usually online or on paper, where you must select the best option based on the information provided. The next is a simulation where you actively role-play a test scenario in real time (e.g., a pilot training program in a flight simulator). The best simulations are not necessarily the most fun and engaging, or even the most technologically sophisticated and expensive, but the ones that are most true to the on-the-job reality and are thus most likely to impact skill development while still giving participants a better overall learning experience than traditional classroom or lecture-style training.
Gamification Not especially new, but increasingly widespread and virtually limitless in creative possibilities, gamification — that is, the application of gaming and game-based principles — provides trainers and instructional designers with numerous options, ranging from the inclusion of badges, bonus points, leaderboards, progress bars, and timed competitions to virtual currency, lore, puzzles, mysteries, adventures, and avatar development. Finding the right mix of rules, rewards, and feedback mechanisms can take work, but, when done well, we all know how fun and (sometimes) very addictive a well-designed game can be.
I’m not here to say, “These are 6 MUST USE methods” or “Look at moi, look at moi, Kimmy, you NEED to do this.” It doesn’t make sense to introduce change for the sake of change any more than it makes sense to stay the same because it’s always been done that way. In most cases, any “you must” advice with zero consideration of the individual it’s directed towards probably deserves a good whack of scepticism. The merits of any methodology (new or old) should be weighed against your organisational context, budget, time constraints, audience, and other factors impacting “success” (however defined) which only you will be able to fully appreciate.
We all have to play with the critical tension between striking out in a new direction because we’re beckoned by the beat of a far-off drum and, on the other hand, playing some songs within a defined orchestral structure, bridging on and building off the works of others to produce the right musical harmony. (As in the magical combination of style, structure, and partnership Nerdwriter notes in this video.)
Have you seen The Time Machine (2002) starring Guy Pearce? The $80 million production seems largely forgotten and it’s a long way from flawless, but there’s a couple of special scenes that hit home for me on this idea of conformity vs. creativity. One is a discussion between Pearce’s character (Hartdegen) — the apparently eccentric professor-inventor who hates the fact that most everyone walks around wearing the same things, thinking the same ol’ thoughts — and his bowler-hat wearing friend (Philby) who sees strength in unity and uniformity.
Hartdegen: Look at them, Philby, all alike, all in identical bowler hats. Do you want your students to turn out like that? Philby: I want my students to be prepared for the realities of the world they’re about to greet. Hartdegen: Well I don’t. I want them to run along this street and knock off every bowler they see.
And then there’s this gorgeous and wonderful line towards the end, which I’ll leave you with, by the beautifully-costumed and singularly-voiced Jeremy Irons:
“We all have our time machines, don’t we? Those that take us back, are memories. And those that carry us forward, are dreams.”