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March 2019
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TD Magazine

Word Wiz: Sandbox Learning

Remember playing in a sandbox when you were a child? You had the freedom to learn how to create the biggest, prettiest sandcastle you wanted. You got to learn from your own mistakes. All you needed to build your masterpiece was a shovel and a bucket—the rest was up to your own creativity.

Now apply that to adult learning. Today, learners are becoming increasingly able to jump right into a new product or technology and figure it out as they go. In the article "Self-Education: Teach Yourself Anything with the Sandbox Method," Nat Eliason lays out a four-step cycle for sandbox learning: Build your sandbox, research, implement and practice, and get feedback.

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Note that sandbox learning isn't perfect. Much like when learners were children, they want freedom and independence; however, they may not be ready for it despite having the material resources.

We all learn from making mistakes, but decisions shouldn't be make-or-break. It's up to organizations to provide all employees with a safe space to fall back on when they face a concept that they aren't familiar with—without taking away their creative liberties.

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About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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