As eLearning developers and Instructional Design (ID) professionals, we’re constantly looking for the most effective way to deliver our targeted learning objectives. Well, nothing beats the use of an evidence-supported approach to further deeper knowledge transference, and to assure the application of that learning in the workplace. In this post, we’ll talk about some of the strategies and tactics to promote deeper learning, through practice and feedback.
How Deep Learning Works
When employees undertake further learning, it is typically to build new skills or enhance proficiency in existing ones. So, how does learning happen? Well, it happens as a process:
- Employees undergo training
- They rehearse what they’ve learned during exercises, tests, and assessments
- They’re often not perfect! Trainers evaluate how they’ve performed, and instruct them on required actions or behavioral changes
- They incorporate those modifications when applying the newly-learned task/skill in the workplace
- Again, perfection doesn’t always follow! Managers, supervisors, mentors, and coaches offer further suggestions for performance improvement
Over time, this cycle of rehearsals and performance-improving inputs results in a deeper understanding of the new skill. Soon, thanks to that deeper learning, which stems from practice and feedback loops, employees flawlessly apply what they learned to real-life workplace situations. The cycle of learning and application is complete!
Practice and Feedback Make Perfect
The more we’re exposed to a new skill or talent, the better we’re equipped to apply those skills in the workplace. However, simply exposing learners to new knowledge or skills doesn’t automatically assure an intimate understanding of what’s taught. Deeper learning depends on two vital components:
- Practice: Where learners acquire new knowledge and attempt to perfect their skills by using that knowledge. Employees initially practice in safe-to-explore learning environments, and then continue that practice, for a limited period, in the workplace
Feedback: While discussing how the deep learning process works, we alluded to frequent learning interventions that instructors, mentors, and coaches undertake. These interventions occur both, in a training environment as well as in the workplace. This feedback is a vital component for deep learning to take root, so employees can effectively apply what they’ve learned.
Both these prerequisites, for ensuring deep learning, and its application thereafter, can’t happen in a vacuum. The most successful learning and application outcomes occur as a result of using evidence-based, and easy-to-apply best practices and tactics that promote those objectives.
Proven Tactics That Work
For deep learning and the subsequent application of that learning in real-world tasks, to occur, trainers (and, by extension, workplace mentors, and coaches) must focus on what learners will do with learning, and not primarily on what they must learn. Practice and feedback help frame learning in the context of the ultimate application, not just the goal of achieving thermotical excellence.
Practice is about repeating what a learner has learned, and applying it in a controlled or supervised environment. The objective is to demonstrate, to trainers/supervisors, that the learner has acquired a sufficiently deep understanding of learning, and can now apply newly learned skills to the “live” environment – in the workplace. The following 4 evidence-based practice tactics aim to accomplish those objectives.
- Include targeted practice sessions, whether it’s in training or the workplace. Make sure all practice drills have specific objectives
- Use practice as a building-block approach: Design your practice and assessment milestones to fit a learner’s prior experience/knowledge and current skill levels. This will deliver maximum value-from-practice, and better align practice to deliver enhanced application outcomes
- Don’t pile on too much practice. This can result in the cognitive overload that diminishes, instead of improving, deep learning
- Refrain from adding extraneous content/information during practice, which distracts learners from honing newly learned skills. Stick with the primary objective: Practice is to help learners perfect what they’ve learned – not to learn new and unrelated things!
Use these tactics when integrating practice elements into learning environments or constructing practice sessions for workplace internships/apprenticeship programs. Moving from novice learner to expert performer takes time – but it also requires the right type of practice. Evidence-backed research[i] also tells us that spacing of practice sessions, interleaving (merging/combining) related skills and information during practice, and building variable levels of complexity into practice are also critical.
Feedback is one of the most potent tools to effectively reduce the gap between current skill levels, and desired standards. Evidence[i] shows that feedback has a powerful influence on learning and application – both in negative and positive ways. Here are 4 research-supported best practices to consider when providing feedback:
- Whether it’s in a learning environment, or on the job, always be positive in delivering feedback. Evidence suggests that positively framed feedback results in better learner-teacher/trainer/mentor bonds, whereas negative feedback results in adversarial and conflict-riddled relationships. The former helps foster deeper learning and application in the workplace
- Build 2-way feedback loops. Highly effective feedback thrives through multi-directional communication loops. So, while trainers/mentors/coaches may provide feedback to learners/trainees/interns, they (trainers/mentors/coaches) must remain open to reciprocal feedback. Research supports conclusions that 2-way feedback aids learner metacognition, which facilitates deep learning and transfer/application of knowledge to the workplace
- Don’t shy away from “corrective” feedback. There is a difference between “negative” and “corrective” feedback. While feedback best practices encourage accentuating positive aspects of learner/employee performance, it’s vital that feedback targets also hear about aspects requiring further improvement
- Be constructive in all feedback. If at first, an employee is unable to apply their newly learned skills to a work task, the reasons might be a lack of direction, insufficient instructions, or misunderstood goals. Constructive feedback can help by understanding what went wrong – whether in learning or its application on the job – and re-emphasizing task goals and objectives
The objective of all learning must be the ultimate application of that learning to workplace situations. And for that to occur, learners must practice what they’ve learned, either in a safe learning environment or in supervised on-the-job settings. That practice facilitates a deeper understanding of new knowledge and will help perfect newly learned skills to align with real-world applications.
However, practice doesn’t automatically lead to application readiness. It takes targeted, constructive, and goal-focused feedback to ensure deep learning translates to the effective application of new skills in the workplace.
To learn more about evidence based tactics that promote learning and application, sign up for the Instructional Design for ELearning program!