Decoding The Science Of Workplace Learning

Learning Through Information Retrieval In Workplace
Summary: Choosing a learning partner for an organization is not a task that can be taken lightly. This has to be a carefully thought out exercise.

Future-Proof Your Learners The Right Way

I am not sure who it was that said, “You should not let your schooling interfere with your education.” Whoever it was, definitely had a point to make. The world of work as we knew it has undergone a change because of the pandemic. This has caused the acceleration of digital transformation initiatives which in turn has brought the new-age technologies of AI, data analytics, cybersecurity IoT, etc., to the forefront.

Given that remote work will continue to be the norm for most knowledge workers, eLearning or learning on the web has become the go-to mode for almost all learning needs. While it is relatively simple for anyone to create content on the web, there are rules and principles that need to be adhered to in order to get the best out of learners. Therefore, it becomes more critical to choose the right learning partner when the decision is being made for the entire organization.

Some of the questions that need to be asked are:

  • Is there any scientific method that is being followed when the content is being built?
  • Is this in line with what research says about how content needs to be provided to adult learners?

Here is my attempt to answer some of these questions:

Enhance And Boost Learning With Retrieval Practice

Dr. Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist and author of the book Powerful Teaching: Unleashing the Science of Learning explains retrieval practice as a learning strategy by which we try and get information out of our heads instead of putting it into our heads. One of the ways of doing this is by quizzing learners periodically. To quote Pooja, "Through the act of retrieval or calling information to mind, our memory for that information is strengthened and forgetting is less likely to occur. This is a powerful tool to improve learning."

There are 3 reasons why this is good for learning: 

1. Use It Or Lose It Factor

When we retrieve what we know, the memory of that information stays relevant and we can recall it at our point of need.

2. Desirable Difficulty

According to Robert Bjork, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, when we are quizzed on our previous learning, we experience a slight struggle as we think and recall the learning. This struggle is good and leads to improved long-term performance.

3. Metacognition

When learners attempt a quiz, they are presented with the reality of how much they know as against their perceived understanding of the topic. The quiz acts as a reality check on their supposed mastery of the topic. These low-stakes quizzes not only evaluate learning but also help with knowledge retention and performance enhancement.

It can be seen how having a test at the end of an eLearning course can help learners encode the information into their long-term memory. This information can now be recalled for later use when the need arises. Thus, it is just not enough for an organization to provide learners with concepts and principles of a topic. They would also need performance support to help them succeed at the workplace. This is where electronic performance support systems (EPSS), like job-aids, checklists, practice labs, etc., come into play.

Increase Difficulty With Each Level

In 1979, American Education Theorist Charles Reigeluth introduced the elaboration theory of instructional design, which says that learning content needs to be presented in increasing order of difficulty. So, if the training program tackled a complex area of technology or procedure, the lesson needs to begin by providing learners with a basic version of the subject. Then, move to the more difficult or complex subject areas. Throughout each lesson, learners need to summarize the previous one to have a complete grasp of the subject matter. All of this is done while keeping in mind that learners' cognitive load or their mental resources are not being overloaded. 

Curate Your Learning

When designing the learning material, subject matter expertise is an essential factor to be considered. Equally important is how the courses are designed. With dual coding theory, care is taken to ensure that the right combination of images, words, and animation is used to facilitate learning. As humans, we need both verbal associations as well as visual imagery to increase learning effectiveness. By combing verbal and visual information in eLearning courses, the data is coded twice in the long-term memory. This means that a properly designed eLearning course can help learners by boosting the memory trace in the long-term memory. This also follows that a poorly designed course can impede the learning process as the increased cognitive load on learners renders the whole exercise ineffective.

Curated learning paths built keeping in mind these principles help learners move forward in their journey. They now have a clear step-by-step pathway that can be followed to achieve mastery. Having multiple modes of learning like courses, books as instructional material, and the ability to practice the skills in a lab will help in short-term knowledge acquisition and long-term performance support. This provides a psychologically safe place for them to practice their newly acquired skills without fear of damaging expensive equipment. This way they can maximize their learning in an environment that is free of distraction. Learning thus becomes an engaging and relaxed experience resulting in more confident and focused employees.

In the unprecedented times that we find ourselves in, future-proofing the workforce by providing them with adequate upskilling and reskilling opportunities is not optional anymore. This means that organizations need to engage with learning partners who have an adequately stocked content library. It is also imperative that the content available is built on the principles and theories mentioned earlier.