Because I love innovation and going against the norms…
I always expect the innovative approach to training and education to come from … well, education. However, the latest trend in training methodology comes from the corporate world. Perhaps it’s because the pace there is quite faster than it is in schools and universities, for example. Or maybe corporations are more open to risk. Whatever it is… changes are happening. And because they are coming from the corporate world, this is a bigger need for a change at schools/universities. After all, they are preparing the future workforce.
More and more companies emphasize on the social element of training. If we have to look at a breakdown, informal learning happens 80% of the time, and the rest 20% is dedicated to the conventional model of courses and workshops supported by a self-paced element. The big change here is in the perception of what is effective and what is less so. Apparently, the social informal type of learning is way more effective than asking people (new employees, customers, partners, etc.) to sit down and read for days so they can get up to speed. Mentoring is a huge part of it. Pairing people and even teams to work and learn together is crucial for quick learn-on-the job experience. But it is also impacting morale, team work, communication… in a good way. Actually, the impact is great.
The sceptics would ask if it’s possible to measure success of such training model. The answer is yes. There are multiple metrics that one can apply. From surveys and satisfaction reports, to setting assignments the learner needs to complete. For example, in one company, the team lead requested that all new people who start at the company must attend courses and workshops, read documentation and participate in group discussions and meetings for the first half of their first day on the job. By the end of the day, they were supposed to create a scenario or a solution to a real problem they learned about during that day. In addition, they had to come up with a plan on how they would train the next new employees who come on board. The solutions and proposals were presented to senior staff and managers and evaluated on the spot. That evaluation does not mean to praise or punish. It has two roles: provide constructive feedback to the new employees on areas they can improve; and it also demonstrates weaknesses in the training material which might have caused confusion or difficulty for the new person to learn. The goal of the exercise is to improve the learning environment and support new people on their path to life-long learning.
So the metrics may not be quizzes and tests… it’s a bit more creative than that. Imagine the amount of solutions companies can have that new people have suggested based on what they see at the company. Maybe this new employee will identify a problem the company didn’t know they had. Either way… it’s a win-win situation.
From an education point of view, this model looks very ambitious. I understand that this would be difficult to apply in the traditional sense of a learning environment. However, it pushes us to think in a direction very different from what we have now. It makes us evaluate the effectiveness of what we are comfortable with. The easiest thing to do is get everyone to do a test, sum up their results, and give them a grade. If that’s the easiest way though, wouldn’t our learners take the easiest way to prepare for that kind of assessment too? For example, if I am a learner who knows that at the end of my semester, all I have to do is show up and write a test to get a grade, I would not really care about the content of the course too much. I know that no matter how much I study, eventually it will come down to three things:
- my test-taking skills
- a little bit of luck
- a little bit of knowledge
So why should I bother remembering or learning any data if I have strong test-taking skills? I’d read the material once, maybe twice. But only to get a good idea of what the course is about. On test day, though, it will not matter too much. All I need is to pass the course.
Now imagine, I have to actually come up with a plan to impress my instructor and fellow classmates. I know that there will be no test at the end. I know that my grade really depends not only on my knowledge and what I have learned, but also the effort I put into preparing for this course. Imagine that the response from my peers will affect my grade. I know all this. What would be my plan of attack? First of all, the project/assignment will involve a lot of critical thinking on my part. I need to come up with clear enough message to get everyone on board with me and get them to support my idea. Then, before presenting or submitting, I’d get some feedback from peers just to make sure I am being understood. I’d get feedback from other instructors too and see what they have to say. Then I’ll put it together. On “assessment” day, I will have to defend my idea and impress my audience. The feedback I receive will not be critical and putting me down. It will be constructive and encouraging with very sound reasoning behind it. Even if I have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch, then I know I didn’t do something right and I have to make it right.
Now that’s a quite interactive way to evaluate students’ achievement and involve everyone in the process. Students will benefit not only by being able to receive feedback and implement it in their work, but they will also learn how to give feedback. This is an exercise for the whole group. It’s not easy to provide constructive feedback. And how else would students learn how to do it? It’s not enough to just say you like or don’t like something. How about the “why”?