How we deliver content continues to change. The strategies, tools, context, and cadence of learning efforts are in the midst of significant disruption – much of it aimed at helping individuals, the organization and the L&D function operate at the speed of business. And yet, are we accelerating the process at the expense of its purpose? Are we getting better and quicker at deploying information only to have it lost on those who need it most? Too many people, learning professionals and learners alike, think so.
At its core, the learning most needed by today’s organizations boils down to embedded, relevant knowledge and skills that can be accessed and applied appropriately. It begins with appropriately selected learning vehicles that can be implemented in various ways. But the information exchange and even practice of new skills, while important, is just the first step in the process.
If you strive for learning that people internalize, rationalize, assimilate, and incorporate into their behavior, this requires more. It requires reflection. And the inconvenient truth is that reflection, deep, performance-changing thought and consideration, requires some time.
Ramp Up Reflection
In our current environment of instantaneous gratification, immediate response times, and results that were due yesterday, patience is in short supply. But learning doesn’t operate at the speed of light. Those who endeavor to accelerate the learning process must be prepared to encounter a bottleneck – and it’s above the neck. As a result, enabling thinking (and the time required for it) must be an L&D priority.
Given the bias for action that many L&D professionals share, it’s natural to focus on and prioritize the kinetic elements of learning – the workshop activities, online interactions, or hands-on application. But we can no longer leave the more ‘passive’ elements of reflection to chance. We must invest just as much attention to engineering opportunities for the instruction and information to sink and settle in.
So, help people commit to and engage in the thinking required to drive real learning results with these strategies.
There’s nothing that prompts reflection better than a juicy, well-chosen question. So, put as much time into your questions as you put into the rich content that you craft. Challenge yourself and others to go well beyond basic knowledge recall. Ask provocative questions that help learners connect the dots and figure out what the information or skill might mean to them and how they can use it within the context of their work.
Thinking is becoming a lost art. As humans, we are falling out of the practice of quiet reflection. So, L&D professionals must force the issue. We must carve out time for contemplation. But amorphous thinking time might freak both management and participants out. Instead, offer a framework that focuses attention and trains the fast-traveling brain. Dedicating even 10 minutes to visualization, journaling, or a silent walk around the parking lot creates the time, structure or space for thinking to happen.
While you might be able to engineer more thinking into the actual learning experience you control, what about after participants depart the sacred learning space? Ensuring ongoing reflection in today’s ‘no-time-to-think’ workplace requires discipline, commitment and planning, which must begin before learners return to their job.
This means proactively including in the training an opportunity for people to identify when they will stop to allow for reflection. It could be a specific time of the day or week. Or an environmental cue (like making the commitment to set aside time to reflect after each difficult conversation) that triggers a pause to consider what’s been learned, how it’s working, and what individuals might do differently.
Technology can also help. Chatbots can effortlessly reach out to learners with targeted questions at just the right intervals. Apps can be developed to ping participants with timely reminders to stop, drop and think. And lastly, integrated performance support can incorporate questions that inspire contextualized, in-the-moment reflection.
So, feel free to accelerate and streamline everything else around learning. Make delivery and knowledge acquisition as efficient as possible. Take out the extraneous and condense content down to its most essential core. But just remember that when it comes to learning, the need to think will never shrink.