As part of the ATD Forum’s reflection project, we interviewed member Dana Alan Koch of Accenture. He and his team have researched the topic extensively and integrated it into their anytime and anyplace learning culture.
Forum: You have a graduate degree in cognitive science and have been in the profession for many years. What catalyzed your interest in reflection?Dana: I’m not sure if this was the first big aha, but it certainly was an inflection point for me, and it took place at a Masie learning conference. I was typing notes on my iPad during a session. I was typing as fast as I could to get everything the speaker was saying because it was interesting content.
A few days after the conference, I could not remember a thing the presenter said. I couldn't even remember the title of the session. I could remember the presenter and visually remember where I was sitting, but I couldn’t remember the content.
At that point, I realized I was hearing the presenter’s voice in my ear and the words were coming out of my fingertips. However, there was no stopping in between my ears and my fingertips. When I had that aha, I realized that the beginning of processing from a cognitive standpoint is when you pause and think about or reflect on what you are learning. It often begins with the big questions of “What did I just hear?” or “What just happened?” And when you do that, reflection starts and the cognitive process kicks into gear.
I had interest before that, but that experience was an inflection point, and my focus escalated. I started taking notes differently. I didn’t try to capture everything. Instead, I listened for key concepts and key points and jotted down a few words. Afterward, I would find time at the end of the day or during a break to pause and flesh out what I was learning from that particular session.
Forum: What is your company’s definition of reflection?Dana: There are actually two. One is short and one is a little bit longer. The short one is simply this: “Reflections are moments of reflective sense-making.”
The longer one is “Reflection is using thinking activities, templates, and tools that foster self-awareness, knowledge, and insights through strategic introspection.”
At Accenture, we base all learning on durable learning principles and have identified eight: relevance, engagement, setting context, requiring effort, being generative, engaging socially, practice, and spaced learning over time. The unwritten ninth principle is reflection—unwritten because it is so integral to all of the others.
To me, my favorite child of the eight is being generative. Being generative starts with reflection, with asking what happened, and thinking through the experience. However, it does not just stop there. It includes creating something, putting something in your own words, creating a visual image of what you learned, or teaching someone else the concept so it becomes more deeply ingrained in your mental models. It is a cycle involving recalling or retrieving something, intentionally thinking about it in ways to make sense of it, and then creating something from those actions.
Forum: What are some of the ways you have integrated this research on reflection into the learning ecosystem at Accenture?Dana: A couple of years ago, our chief learning officer came to our team and said, “What will learning look like in the next two to five years?” We found a lot of themes that were identifying things that have been in the learning industry for a while but were being rejuvenated for one reason or another. One of them was around the tighter integration of work and learning. The whole notion of learning in the flow of work is nothing new, right? Gloria Gerry wrote about the electronic performance support system in the 1990s. I tell my team there’s nothing new about job aids. If you go back to caveman times, you can undoubtedly find an image of a caveman pointing a spear at a buffalo in just the right place to optimize the kill, so job aids are nothing new.
What we found in our research that was new was the availability of data about the individual, the task they’re doing, and the length of time they’re taking to do a task. The signals around data were suggesting that the availability of data will continue to explode. Further, data could help fuse learning and work in ways not possible before. So, we said, “This has a similar feel, but it’s something new. This is really making work and learning so integrated you can’t tell the difference between one and the other.” As a result, we wanted a label that spoke to this refreshed, data-infused vision, and we called it worklearn fusion.
We call it worklearn fusion rather than learn work fusion because it has to start with work to be done: a task to perform, something to do. It doesn’t lead with learning objectives or courses or curriculum. It leads with “Hey, I need to solve this problem, and I don’t know how to do it. I need resources to help me.” It begins with something that triggers reflection, begins learning, and leads to the work getting done.
There’s also a mindset shift needed. All designers will wrestle with this because we are so oriented toward objectives, lessons, modules, courses, and curriculum that we can’t get out of that mindset of saying things like, “What are the skills gaps?” or “How can I structure an activity to teach that?” What we need to be doing is analyzing the work or the job-to-be-done with something like a rapid workflow analysis and from that unique perspective understand the pain points.
This mindset shift is not easy because we’re measured by things like how many people went through the course or how long people stayed in a particular module. There’s all these different measurements we have that go hand-in-hand with the traditional instructional design model. When you talk about worklearn fusion, it’s not as easy to measure, and we, as an industry, need to learn how to measure that and how worklearn fusion drives impact on the business.
Forum: What are some things your team has done to further your reflection research?Dana: We certainly don’t have the whole answer, but here’s a couple of things that we’ve done that seem to be getting traction. One is taking some of the reflection tools and creating small videos around our public brain hack video series. We’ve got a handful of videos that fit into the reflection category, including what squares and sentence starters.
We have made it part of worklearn fusion by using microlearning, embedding it in the coaching outlines, and helping project teams use it as part of their daily practice.
The challenge is reflection is very personal. Learning designers can create space and time in agendas and provide tools and techniques to support reflection. Ultimately, though, for an individual, it’s a motivation thing.