“Ugh! Why do I have to do this homework? When would I even need to know about this in real life!” Says my daughter as we work through her 3rd-grade assignment together. Frankly, I remember feeling the same way in school about certain subjects. When I was unmotivated to learn, the information covered didn’t stick with me past the end of the class.
After 10 years in Ed-Tech and Customer Learning, my mantra is the 4 Rs:
With the advances in neuroimaging and recent research on neurobiology, we understand a lot more about how learning happens (or doesn’t) in our brains. While I was working for Coursera our most popular course was titled, “Learning to Learn.” Old adages like ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ have been disproven (at least in humans). However, your teaching methodology may need to shift if you want the information to stick, especially with adults.
Today, working with thousands of front-line workers we apply these basic principles of adult learning theory to help them gain, retain, and apply new information.
Motivate the learner to want to learn. The hippocampus is associated with declarative and episodic memory as well as recognition memory. The prefrontal cortex is used for reasoning. When the mind wanders, it engages other areas of the brain, making the ones you need to use for comprehension and memory less effective.
When the mind is focused on being resistant to learning, it’s especially counterproductive! Help team members understand what they stand to gain by learning. The best way to do this is by using data to surface just-in-time learning that’s highly relevant to their immediate needs. Just like my 9-year-old, context is important so that they have an open mind and give the information their full attention. Get focused, and get ready to learn with an open mind!
Relate the information to something the person already knows. This allows the use of neural synapses (brain connections that are required to process and remember the information) that are largely already in place. Think of this as if you are standing on the edge of a field of deep grass trying to reach an apple tree on the other side. The effort to walk through a field of deep grass all the way to the tree is a lot harder than walking along an established path across the field, then taking a few steps in the grass to reach an apple.
The best way to do this in real-life is to serve up bite-sized learning so that employees can apply the new skill to an existing process. We’ve found that 5-10 minutes a week is the sweet spot for most adults. And just like for my daughter, understanding how the information will apply to real-life (those few steps from the path to the tree) will help move the training along from short-term to long-term memory.
Storytelling has been used for millennia to pass along information. But we now understand that it’s likely the release of serotonin that makes this so effective. If you can make someone relate an emotion to the information, they are very likely to retain it.
In the #Worklete world, that might be referencing the study showing that 57% of opioid death victims had at least one workplace MSD. So helping coworkers learn to stay musculoskeletal injury-free could save a life! If you’re one of the 1 in 3 Americans who have a friend or family member that has struggled with opioids, this will strike a chord in your heart that helps you retain the information that will prevent the problem for you and your coworkers.
Learning isn’t worth much if the information is forgotten over time. Dartmouth did a macro study of 254 studies in cognitive and educational psychology which demonstrated that spacing out repeated encounters with material over time produces superior long-term learning, compared with repetitions that are massed together. Our team just says “Practice makes permanent!”
Leveraging the four Rs will help you maximize the results of your training program. Still, creating the right environment for learning is often the difference between a program that achieves a positive ROI, and one that disengages employees. The tricky part is that every work environment is different. If you’re providing learning content to your teams, make sure that your delivery system is flexible enough to meet the demands of the workforce. An easy way to do that is by utilizing technology to engage team members. Sending a safety lesson directly to an associates’ mobile device is minimally invasive to operations, and gives leaders a way to follow up and remind the associate to complete the training. We’ve seen this be particularly effective in widely distributed workforces, such as those in trucking, and logistics. Combine the 4 Rs with a tech-based delivery system and your organization will be on its way towards a strong safety culture.