Do you remember the last time you learned something new?
For me it was at a conference in Copenhagen. My slides were ready, I had a ton of knowledge to share, and I was feeling pretty confident, when the big screen suddenly went all black. Ten minutes later, the technician had showed up, and the apologetic smile on his face told me I had to change tactics.
Most conferences and workshops are aimed at presenting participants with new knowledge or a new way of doing things. As the organizer, one of your goals is probably that the participants will leave the conference with new knowledge or new practical tools—that they must have learned something valuable. But how do you ensure that it happens? At this particular conference, without the ability to use my slides, I simply started with what is normally the end of my presentation: the reflection.
My reflection was, “When we think about learning, we typically focus on getting information into the participants’ heads. What if, instead, we focused on getting information out of their heads?”
I asked participants to share a learning experience—learning a new skill, or improving a skill they never seemed able to master. A few shared their stories with the audience, and before long, the room was bustling with energy. Some wanted to help others with their struggle, some people shared their passion for learning, and some just engaged in listening. Together, we explored awesome shortcuts to learning new skills. As the workshop ended, all my content about mindset, motivation, and effective learning technologies had not been presented—but people were exchanging business cards and setting up coffee dates.
I believe a conversation can change your life. In our quest to optimize learning, we have forgotten the greatness of people learning from other people. In my experience as a learning designer, and according to recent learning theory, we learn better and remember more if we are actively engaged. Reflection and feedback are two very effective ways to optimize learning outcomes. By enjoying a chance to pick each other’s brains, participants were able to link their own challenges to something relevant in their everyday life. Learning from other people’s successes and failures was a key element that afternoon in Copenhagen.
I wish I could say that putting people in a room and letting them talk is a failproof recipe to create a great learning experience. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all, and learning does require some preparation. At PlayMyDay, we have developed three learning experience strategies that we use for all sessions:
1. Build attention. In a world of limited attention, it is important that learning be an experience. By making your participants co-creators and using their input to adjust the content, you can increase the interaction in your event and optimize learning outcomes.
2. Build a common thread. Tie your ideas together before, during, and after the session.
- Before: We build up the story about learning. We define a clear learning goal that includes what the participants can expect from the session and how we are there to help them reach that goal.
- During: We incorporate feedback, reflection, and low-stakes quizzes to keep engagement high.
- After: We prolong the experience with learning takeaways, which are available either by email or in our free LinkedIn and Facebook Learning groups, where we upload all quizzes and learning material.
We have a free learning buddy program where people can enroll and get weekly or monthly reminders about the learning goals.
3. Create an environment where people have something to talk about. In this environment, the focus is to get the knowledge out of their heads and then add new knowledge and perspectives on others to create even more knowledge and sharing.
The particular technique I used in the workshop described above is also called retrieval. I’ll discuss that and four other ways to optimize your learning experience during my session at ATD 2018 in San Diego.