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Learning Trends: Highlights from the Masie 2011 Conference – Pt. 1

Last week I attended Elliot Masie’s Learning 2011 Conference with two colleagues. There were over 2,000 training professionals gathered at the magical Disney resort in Orlando. The energy around us was palpable—it seemed like everybody was full of anticipation to learn and share.

We were all excited about the keynote speakers this year, including former President Bill Clinton. In his powerful speech, he described our current challenges and pointed toward a common future based on shared goals and values. He emphasized the need to work together to eliminate some of the stereotypes and show the world how motivated we as designers are to work together and empower the rest of the world to be leaders and educators.

The next night the award-winning actor John Lithgow gave an exceptional performance and keynote interview on the “Power of Storytelling.” Another remarkable guest was Dean Kamen, an inventor and physicist, who has dedicated his life to developing technologies that help people lead better lives.

Here are some of the learning trends and highlights from the conference:

Transactive and Navigational Memory
The rise of Internet search engines like Google has changed the way our brain remembers information, according to research by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow. Sparrow’s research reveals that we forget things we are confident we can find on the Internet. We are more likely to remember things we think are not available online. And we are better able to remember where to find something on the Internet than we are at remembering the information itself. Our memory becomes transactive and navigational. According to Sparrow, a greater understanding of how our memory works in a world with search engines has the potential to change teaching and learning in all fields.

How does this impact our design approach? We all want to avoid lengthy and boring content presentations. How many times have we heard the following statements?

“We don’t need practice or assessment in the course; we just want to create awareness about our new initiative.”

“For our compliance training we need to make sure that all of the content approved by our Legal Department appears in the course. And, since this training is mandatory, we need to force the learners to read every page before they can continue.”

Sound familiar? What are the learners supposed to do with that knowledge? Is “being aware” going to impact the way they do their work? How do we know that the learners became “aware” of the new process? Do they need to memorize the content that appears on every single page? The knowledge becomes relevant and necessary when learners need to use it in a real-life context to achieve results. Are learners going to memorize complex compliance policies or a long list of Dos and Don’ts after successfully completing a mandatory course? Most likely not. Instead, the knowledge should be organized using different resources—links, job aids, documents, forms, and tools. These should be available for learners both during training and on the job. A well-designed training course should create learning experiences for the audience to solve real-life problems and to know where to go for a reference and how to use resources. Learners may eventually memorize all or certain parts of the content when they apply those policies continuously.

To be continued…