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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It's Not Gibberish, It's Learning as a Process

Too often learning and development professionals (and practically everyone else) treats learning as an event. The assumption is that a person attends one class or takes one online course and SHAZAM, they instantly know everything they need to know about a topic, software application, new corporate policy or product.

This is a lie.

But we all buy-in.

For example, you might ask "How do I fill out my expense report again?" and someone will respond, "You should know that. You just went to the training." Even though it was a one time, 2 hour event, you are expected to know everything there is to know about completing expense reports and when you ask questions you are accosted.

Other than highly emotional or dangerous events like touching a hot item, we humans need repetition to learn. In fact, sometimes even after a traumatic event we still burn our hand by touching something we "know" is hot. We need several instances to understand, we shouldn't touch hot things.

If we want to change behavior...I mean really change behavior in an organization let's say ethics or compliance or diversity acceptance or selling style or machine operation. Or if we want to create a person who is a "Master" at their craft (sales, negotiation, leadership). Then we need to design a learning process and not a learning event.

A great example of a learning process is how a child learns to master language. They might one day speak their first word and a few months later suddenly speak their first sentence and all of the sudden, they won't stop talking. These language events don't just happen...even if it seems that way. In fact, children are learning all the prerequisite skills to "instantly" say their first word or sentence all the time.

Let's break down the process of learning to speak.

Less than 1 month. Babies listen to the rhythm and melodies of speech. Usually can pick out their mother's voice.

1-4 months. A baby gurgles, babbles and makes noises in a speech-like way, including sound like “p,” “b” and “m”. He or she also vocalizes excitement and displeasure and observes the reactions by the parents. Baby begins to learn that making certain noises leads to predictable responses from parents. At about 3 months, make cooing sounds back to someone who is talking to them.

5-6 months. Baby makes sounds like "goo" and blow bubbles at the same time. At about 6 months, start to babble, repeat sounds, such as "ma-ma-ma" or "bah-bah-bah" to get attention or express feeling.

7-12 months. Baby's babbling now includes both long and short groups of consonant and vowel sounds, such as “tata upup bibibibi.” Baby can now use speech or sounds other than crying to get and hold your attention. Baby imitates different speech sounds and incorporates them into the baby's babbling. Says first words such as “mama,” “night-night” and “bye-bye.” Mimic the rhythm of the way others talk to them. They "pretend" to be caring on a conversation with someone by babbling the correct cadence and pausing with of a conversation.

1-2 years. Baby can follows one- to two-step commands, such as “Bring your book” or “Come here and sit.” 25 percent of the baby's speech is intelligible. Asks two-word questions, such as “What that?” or “Where’s dog?” Combines two words to make simple sentences, such as “Daddy go” or “More push.”

2- 3 1/2 years. Has a word for almost everything, and vocabulary increases from a few dozen words to 300 – 1,000. Utterances are usually one to three words long. Baby asks for something by name or draws attention to it by naming it (“book”) or one of its attributes (“big”) or by commenting (“wow!”).Speech is understood by familiar listeners most of the time. Follows two-step commands, such as “get your pail and put it next to the door.”

3 1/2 - 4 years. Baby makes sentences up to four or more words long. Speech is usually fluent and clear to non-family members. Talks about activities at friends’ houses or preschool. Begins to ask questions using pronouns and plurals. Baby usually talks easily without repeating syllables or words. Approximately 75 percent of speech is intelligible.

4 -5 years. The child's speech is clear and fluent. He or she can constructs long and detailed sentences. Child can tells a long and involved story and sticks to the topic, using “adult-like” grammar. Still, may have trouble pronouncing l, s, r, v, z, j, ch, sh and th sounds. May tell imaginative “tall” stories.

5 - 7 years. Child rhymes words. Shows pre-reading skills, such as identifying words that all start with the same sound (ball, bat, bacon). Recognizes that words can be broken into parts or syllables. Can manipulate words, such as “p at = pat,” “m at = mat.”

7-12 years. Children master the nuances of the language but still keep learning new words and vocabulary.

Yet, we learning and development professionals continue to treat learning as a one time event, we continue to perpetuate the myth that one well designed class or e-learning module will magically elicit a desired behavior that a person hasn't exhibited in years but will now suddenly, because of our learning event, exhibit flawlessly.

What we need to do is stop designing courses and modules and start designing LEARNING PROCESSES. Studies show that distributed learning is effective, personnel experience shows it is effective and observation shows it is effective. So, next time someone asks you to design a course or a module tell them, "no" its much more effective and will elicit far better results if you design a learning process. Distributed learning in different formats delivered to the learner over time.

It works for a complex, cognitive and physical task like learning to speak, it will work for complex compliance policies, sales techniques and any another topic you need to teach.

Baby Language Sources:
Major Developmental Milestones to Speech

Speech and language development, birth to 1 year of age

Catalog of Recommended Books, Games and Gadgets
Recommended Games and Gadgets
Recommended Books
Content Guide


The Dishing Duo said...

Thank you! This was a nice "rant" as you called it on Facebook. I like how you took it down to the basics to elaborate the significance of the process that we tend to not notice or ignore, etc. Hopefully the baby analogies are just that and not an idication that you have been communicating with those who have a language set of three letters and a tendency to drool! :)

Cammy Bean said...

My 4-month is in that gurgling bubbling stage and it is delightful.

So how about we put people's job performance on the baby language acquisition scale? Instead of getting a rating of 1-10 on your next performance review, your boss tells you that you're finally learning to rhyme.

As an instructional designer, I think I'm at the 1-2 year old stage, creating two word sentences...

Karl Kapp said...

Dishing---do I really have to answer that question?

Cammy--Every age of a child's development is so incredible, it is so neat to watch them grow up. What a great idea to have a "Job Growth" chart or something like that.:)

Bart said...

One issue I've found myself confronting came out of a Don Norman's "Design of Everyday Things". He argues that for learning, you design for two types of information:
- information that needs to be internalized 'inside the head'
- information that is in the world

In your example of filling out an expense form, that's knowledge I would consider 'in the world' so to speak. Why make ALL your employees go through a 1-2 hour training event when it's much easier to simply create a just-in-time reference for those that need this information ~5 times a year?

I've been thinking about this 'information in the world' concept, which seems similar to just-in-time learning, when the information is something the learner only needs for a brief amount of time.

Not everything needs to be internalized (nor can it :)

bschlenker said...

Great post, Karl! I'm right there with ya. I'm starting to think that having kids should be a pre-request for any graduate study in Instructional Design or EdTech or whatever. I know, totally unrealistic. But, I've learned more about Learning from my kids than from any professor I've ever had.
On a side note, the brain researchers are starting to put out some great data addressing exactly the issues you talk about. I would highly encourage everyone to read Dr. Medina's book, "Brain Rules"...Its Outstanding!!! I'm really looking forward to meeting him at DevLearn this year too.

Anonymous said...

I am a consultant in the training industry, and something my boss and I repeated tell clients is only about 10% of the learning occurs at the event. It's the coaching, support, and reinforcement on the job that brings it home.

So if learning is a process, shouldn't we use evaluation systems that measure the process instead of the event? Just a thought.

Karl Kapp said...

True didn't Albert Einstein once say that he never memorized anything he could look up. Expense report completion is something you can look up.

Brent, thanks, sounds like a great book, I have to check it out. I can't even get everyone to have a degree in the field let alone have kids...boy you set the bar hi:)

Sorry I'll mis DevLearn.

Karl Kapp said...

Marguerite--Yes we should. In fact we should use business measurements as evaluation of success. They tend to be a result of a process.

Designeronliner said...

I have to disagree..being a learning and performance training professional what else did you expect. All kidding aside. It is not the training professionals who believe our training "events" are the cure all but the leaders within our organization. They send their associates to training with the expectation that they will be able to perform right out of the shute and if that doesn't happen we are to blame for their deficiencies. When we suggest coaching, feedback, mentoring. You guessed it....back to training they come.

Karl Kapp said...

Ahh Designeronline,

Unfortunately, that is too true. Many designers do believe in "Learning as a Process" but few of us get to practice what we know because of many corporate limitations.

So, alas...I agree. Perhaps if we "spit up" on management more often about a one-and-done learning event it would help (Ok, is that carrying the baby analogy thing too far?)