Learning takes time to happen. Information can be instantly accessed. Collaboration can happen with the click of an instant message box. Books can arrive overnight. But let’s not assume that learning happens in a flash.
This might seem strange coming from an advocate for e-learning, rapid learning development and mobile learning. We have to dramatically accelerate the creation and delivery of learning resources. However, actual learning will happen in the learner’s time frame and context, rather than the organization’s. So let’s give our workers and customers the most immediate access to knowledge, information, teaching, coaching, assessment and collaboration. Let’s acknowledge that learning takes time.
Think of how you actually learned to do your job. It wasn’t during the time it took to complete a class. It wasn’t at the end of reading a memo or taking an e-learning module. It was over time. You watched. You talked. You listened. You experimented. You reflected. You got feedback. You copied. You took risks. You failed. You succeeded. You evolved. All of this takes time.
As learning executives, what can we do to support the fact that learning takes time?
- Measure over time: When someone participates in a class or other learning experience, we should use digital networks to shift the assessment moment to a later time. I have stopped using end-of-class evaluations and now reach out to learners several times over two years with feedback and assessment requests. Some of my best learners are those who had the most confusion in class.
- Questions take time: One of the most dysfunctional trainer behaviors is the “wait” time they use between asking for questions and continuing their teaching. Most trainers say, “Do you have any questions?” and then only wait about five seconds. It takes much longer to process new information to the point where you have a question, and probably longer to feel comfortable asking it in a group.
- Slow drip, as well as fast: There are dozens of courses that I would love to take, but I don’t want to take them quickly. I would love to get another degree—an MBA or an advanced degree in urban planning—yet I have no need or interest in doing it quickly. Could I ever take a 15-year MBA program? Seriously, there are times when we don’t want learning all at once, but more like a slow intravenous or coffee drip.
- Cycles of learning: Sometimes it takes several cycles through the same content to get it right. Airplane pilot training acknowledges this and provides for lifelong access to simulations and flight checks. We need to build ongoing cycles of learning into all of our fields.
- Don’t prematurely certify: While evaluation and assessment are critical, let’s not be too quick to give certification. Why can’t we extend certification to require time lapse, practice and field experience? Just because someone passes the test on Microsoft’s servers doesn’t mean they are ready to care for my servers. I wish we had a stronger model for letting them be “apprentices” with their new knowledge and gain certification over time.
- Trust takes time: One dimension of learning is all about trust. We have to trust the expert who is giving us (or writing about) the new information. We have to trust the peers who are collaborating with us in a learning experience. And ultimately, we have to trust our own mastery of the new information. Trust takes time, and we should acknowledge that fact in our rhetoric and actions. As a trainer, I have to be patient and design for the time to build these levels of trust.
We do need to figure out how to learn in a rapid world and a fast-paced business environment, but learning still takes time. Let’s remove the hurdles to allow people to get at information as quickly as possible. And let’s recognize that true skills, knowledge and instinct are the results of learning over time.
Elliott Masie is the director of the Learning Consortium and the host of Learning 2005. He can be reached email@example.com.