The Perfect Learning Journey
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Learning To Drive

It was my 17th birthday. I was standing in the living room. Dad to my left. Mum to my right. They had booked a birthday surprise for me. I had no idea what it was, but they told me to watch out of the lounge window. Then I saw it. A car with an "L" on the top. It was a driving lesson. I wasn't sure whether to dance or cry. I was scared, excited, and yet the thought of freedom took over. Independence could be mine! "Well, go on then," said Mum. I walked out to the car and was greeted by an old guy with a silver Vauxhall Nova. I was starting to learn how to drive, like many, many before me.

According to the Driving Standards Agency (DSA), we take around 44 hours of professional lessons to pass our driving test. Some of my lessons were 1 hour, some 1.5 hours, and some 2 hours, depending on what I could afford from my part-time job at a DIY store, whilst I was studying at college. Driving lessons work. Most people pass. It might cost a lot, but we all become drivers. So, why does it work?

Spaced Repetition

Herrmann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, discovered the "forgetting curve" and "spaced repetition." Now, this was back in the mid-1800s, but many people in the learning world still quote his research. Spaced repetition was about learning something, stopping, breaking, and then going back to learning to learn some more. The length of time for learning, the break, and the frequency weren't prescribed by him and were dependant upon the type of learning. The important point was that he discovered that to learn we do, break, do, break, do, and so on.

So, when we learned to drive we tended to take one lesson per week. Learn, break, learn, break. Herrmann would be proud. The problem is that we then leave college/university and join the corporate world, this is when we get invited to the 1-day training courses. We have gone from successfully learning by adopting spaced repetition to now, apparently, learning a new skill in one 9-5 day.

We all have experienced these training courses, and we have sadly accepted that when you walk out of that training course, nothing will change. At best, you'll remember something useful, but nothing like the significant change in behavior that you had hoped for. Your email was a problem before you took the training course. It still is. Changing behaviors takes repetition, and "spaced" at that.

Individual Learning Objective

The additional learning element that makes this learning journey so successful is that the learner wants the outcome. The freedom. The independence. This is inherent in the learner when they decide they want to drive. This is their motivation and it is very persuasive.

The very least we can do is to ask learners why they want to spend their time learning. At the start of any training course ask "What do you want to get out of the time you will spend learning?" And the answers should be encouraged to be less "business-like" and more "real," from "To do my job better" to more "I want to finish work at 5 pm every day."

Plus, the individual learning objective should be S.M.A.R.T. In my experience, everyone has heard of S.M.A.R.T., yet next to no one uses it. If we can encourage the learner to identify a S.M.A.R.T individual learning objective, then this will help them to make it real, from "to be a better time manager" to "know how to manage my inbox to zero every day."

The challenge is to help the learner to arrive at a reason that is as motivating as it was when learning how drive.

Finally, Can You Drive?

The final stage of all those driving lessons is the test: getting to the test center, letting an important stranger into the learner car, and showing them that you can drive. They are testing whether you can truly "do the do." Not whether you think you can do it. Talk is cheap. Show me that you can. Perfect. A test of your behavior. Have you really learned how to drive?

There are 4 stages of testing used to determine whether you have learned what you have been taught. They are:

  1. No testing
    Most 1-day training courses just ask you to rate the day.
  2. Knowledge testing
    Exams at school tested whether you could recall all of King Henry's wives.
  3. Learning testing
    If you've ever done first-aid training, they ask you to show them CPR on a dummy.
  4. Behavioral testing
    Did you pass your driving test? The driving test tests whether you can.

Driving Is The Perfect Learning Journey

At the end of the day, it works. It works because of the 3 elements of spaced repetition, motivation, and testing. We could all learn a lot from this perfect learning journey. It's time to banish the 1-day training course to where it belongs—in the past.

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