I’ve been thinking around the ways to use social learning to augment formal learning, and it’s bringing interesting things together. The point is that there are things that make formal learning work better, and we want to draw upon them in smart ways.
We have, as I pointed out in the Broken ID series, elements we know lead to better learning: better retention over time, and better transfer to all appropriate situations (and no inappropriate). These things include activating emotional and cognitive relevance, presenting the associated concepts, showing examples that link concept to context, having learners apply concept to context, and wrapping up the experience. Several things, however, facilitate the depth and persistence of the learning: intensive processing, and extensive processing.
By extensive processing, I mean extending the learning experience. I’ve previously talked about how Q2learning has a model where they can wrap a variety of activities together to describe a full competency preparation, including different forms of content, events, feedback, etc. The point is that a single event has a low likelihood of achieving meaningful outcomes. We need reactivation, as massed practice isn’t as effective as spaced practice.
There’s nothing wrong with a F2F session, if you can justify the opportunity & logistical costs, but it’s typically not enough by itself. You’re better off making sure everyone’s on the same page at the start, reactivating later, doing individual assessment and looking for ways to help the individual afterward as well. However, we want to extend the time spent in processing the concept and skills, not necessarily in quantity, but qualitatively from one big mass to many smaller activations. Will Thalheimer does a good job of helping us recognize that breaking up learning works better, but we need to take more concrete advantage of the potential of technology to support this.
The other area is increasing the depth of the processing. There are activities that can be done individually, and some that are facilitated by social as well.
I’ve previously talked about how we can use social tools to facilitate formal learning, but I want to go a little bit deeper. I suggested three forms of processing: personalization, elaboration, and application. For personalization, I have used in the past that learners keep a journal where they have to regularly reflect on how the learning is relevant to them (and a blog is a great tool for this). It occurs to me that there are three good ways to have them do this. I suggest a recommendation of 3 reflections per week for traditional learning, and for learners who need a guide, 3 different types of processing including how what they’ve learned explains something in their past, how it suggests what they’ll do differently going further, and/or how it connects to something else in their life.
That latter is a personal version of the more general task of having learners elaborate the content. Thiagi has game frameworks that extend processing, pretty much content independently, and these are good, but there are more content-specific tasks as well. You can design questions that require learners to reprocess the information specifically in relation to how it’s applied. This can be to take a position on a controversial issue, or have them connect it to another concept (really helpful for setting up a subsequent concept), or explore a facet or nuance. Discussion forums can be good here, ideally having learners posting their own response before going in and seeing others (and having them comment constructively on one or several other posts).
Obviously, practice applying the concept to problems is the most important form of processing. While the best practice is mentored real practice, the problems with that (cost of mistakes, scalability of individual mentoring) mean games (or, to be PC™, immersive learning simulations) are another great practice. However, don’t forget the reflection! Reflection is an important form of processing after action, and one of the technology-mediated benefits is being able to capture individual performance and debrief it.
Another meaningful form of practice, particularly for knowledge work, is having a group work together to resolve a problem. Providing a challenge that mimics one in the real world (e.g. responding to an RFP) that has enough deliberate ambiguity to generate productive discussion is great. The discussion where learners are forced to come to a shared understanding that’s reflected in their response is highly likely to be fruitful, particularly if you’re careful in the design of the activity. I recall an academic colleague who responded to my query about not using games by relating how expensive digital production was, but how inexpensive group activity was. Again, a social augment to facilitate deep processing.
With a focus on creating meaningful processing, we can ensure that when we need to design real skill shifts (another story is ensuring that’s this is such a situation), we will think about ways to intensify, and extend, the processing to truly achieve the outcomes we need. Ok, have you processed that?