The future of L&D in a digital age is about unleashing human potential rather than reinforcing quality, routine work. Rather than focusing on telling L&D “what” to create for a digital age, the philosophy behind the Learning Cluster Design model focuses on building capability around the thought process – the “how” and “why” – moving L&D beyond its traditional limitations and into a position to allow modern learners to choose how, when and where they want and need to learn.
This new way of thinking requires L&D professionals to focus first on learner needs. Our context as training designers and deliverers is no longer as important as the context of the learner. In order to seamlessly connect learners with the resources they need to change behavior on the job, we must reflect a deeper understanding of the learner first. Our new job, designing based on learner needs, requires us to not only identify performance gaps in our learners, but understand how learning “sticks” from a neuroscience perspective.
The AGES Model
The AGES theory helps showcase how the Learning Cluster Design model supports learning from a neuroscience lens. AGES stands for attention, generation, emotions, and spacing, and applies both the biological and psychological elements of how our brains work to enable learning. So how do we apply this model to develop learner centric assets?
Problem: Our attention is changing on a moment-by-moment basis. If our learners are not focused on what they are learning, they are never going to be able to remember it. Think back to the last webinar you were on while you were also checking your email, had your dog barking in the background and your phone lighting up with a notification. How much did you remember from that webinar? We’re guilty of this too, even as L&D professionals ourselves.
Learning takes place when we activate a brain region known as the hippocampus, and occurs when we focus on one topic, without distraction. When given one singular way to learn something, especially in a one-and-done setting, there is a high likelihood that multi-tasking and mind wandering will take over, which deactivates the hippocampus and reduces the amount of learning taking place.
LCD Solution: Rather than relying on a one-and-done learning asset, use multiple learning assets to create more opportunities for attention. Think back to that webinar you were multitasking on, how could it have been more “attention-friendly”? Rather than a one-hour live training session, it could have been a combination of:
- A series of chunked videos for access on your own time
- A podcast (if no visuals were required) to listen to while you took your morning walk
- A Slack channel where you read FAQs and could ask questions as they came up
- A drip email campaign with specific information each morning
Problem: Research shows we can’t just absorb information passively, we must take on an active tole in it. Going back to neuroscience, the hippocampus in the brain acts more like a web than a hard drive, and learners must create their own mental links, or webs, to the information as they learn. The thicker and denser the memories are, the stronger each memory becomes – hence longer-term retention. We see this fail when learners leave the “classroom” and are unable to apply what they learned, even though they appeared to be grasping the concept during the live session.
LCD Solution: Rather than just providing an opportunity to practice, create social, formal, and immediate learning assets that allow learners opportunities to generate their own meaning out of what’s been learned and reflect on their thought process surrounding a solution. For example, if you want your learners to walk away with how to handle a customer complaint, rather than just having them role play out a new model, encourage your learners to reflect with each other in Slack on their thought process surrounding coming up with a solution, and create a space for reflection and discussion. Encouraging crowdsourcing and learners’ contributions to their own learning will inevitably drive further generation.
Problem: When something triggers an emotion, we make additional connections in our brains that reinforce it. As learning professionals, if we want to capture people’s emotions, we need to recognize that people have a lot of specific emotions when they are learning. Look around any Zoom room. You’ll find that your learners run the gamut of emotions – some are curious while others are confused. Some are engaged while others are bored. Some are delighted while others are frustrated. When we default to one-and-done learning, it’s challenging to cater to the wide range of emotions your learners are experiencing.
LCD Solution: Develop learning assets with learner emotions in mind so you can create experiences as unique as their emotions. When we talk about designing learning when, where and how learners need and want it, we do that on the basis of knowing that each learner persona will have different attitudes and emotions towards learning a specific subject or task. One the short list of things to cover in your L&D learner analysis, finding out the typical response to training or learning will be helpful in determining which learning asset will provide the greatest emotional response. An example of what that could end up looking like is:
Knowing which type of learning assets elicit positive emotions from your learners will help you decide where to spend your design efforts.
Problem: Long-term retention is improved when we learn over spaced intervals vs. large information dumps. For humans to learn, neural connections have to change, and once some neural changes have occurred, we can go back and embed the learning by practicing the use of these new neural connections, which in turn strengthens their interconnectivity. This takes time, and scientifically, a good night’s sleep.
A challenge that many L&D professionals faced this past year was taking live, in-person training and converting it to a virtual format. While some took it as an opportunity to space out content, others took their same 4 – 8 hour training and just moved it into Zoom as is. Cramming as much content as you can in one session doesn’t allow for the new neural pathways to occur and ultimately leads to low retention of the material.
LCD Solution: Using multiple learning assets not only allows for spacing, but it allows for spacing on the learners terms. In the whitepaper The Neuroscience of Making Learning Stick, the authors provide this suggestion – “Plan to space out learning so that content is revisited in some engaging way, especially with some sleep in between sessions, and seek to have people return to the material once on the order of days, once on the order of weeks, and once on the order of months, if possible.”
When we look at this from an LCD lens, we can create a learning cluster that uses multiple assets to revisit the material topic in a way that is spaced out and leaves room for the development, and strengthening, of neural pathways.
The learning function within an organization is more important than ever, yet so many times our learners return to their job only to forget the information they have just learned. By applying the Learning Cluster Design model through the lens of the AGES theory, L&D professionals can effectively make learning stick.
Take some time to reflect on your learning initiatives through the lens of the AGES theory? How can you further apply attention, generation, emotion and spacing into your programming? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.