Have you ever had an “a-ha” moment? Of course you have—we all have. From the mundane to the sublime, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t experience this most basic element of learning. But think back to when you had your last “a-ha” moment. Were you sitting in a class listening to an instructor? Yes, it’s possible…sometimes instructors say something profound that jolts your brain into a new level of understanding.
But more likely, that “a-ha” moment came when you were on your own, trying to solve a problem. Maybe you had failed a few times; maybe you had thought about the problem for so long and from so many different angles that you finally came upon the right answer; maybe you googled it and found someone else who had solved the problem; maybe it came to you after a great night’s sleep. Regardless of the exact path, you probably came to that new insight while you were DO-ing something—actively searching for an answer—not listening to someone else talk.
Now think back across all of what you’ve learned in your lifetime. How many of the things that are really important, or that you use every day, came from a lecture? And how many came from practice? From problem-solving? From learning through trial and error? Through failure?
Interesting, then, that we still live in a time when the predominant form of education is lecture. Why do we continue trying to explain the learning we’ve gained through our own experience to others—without giving them the opportunity to experience it themselves? Why do we keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result? (Thanks, Einstein!)
Maybe it’s because we haven’t learned our lesson yet. Maybe because we’re stuck in this cycle of failure, continuing to do what we know… it’s how we learned in school, right? It’s familiar. It’s easy. It’s how everyone does it. It’s comfortable. Well, for the expert/trainer, that is. And there lies the key—WE are not experiencing the pain and frustration that we are inflicting upon those we are “training.” WE are doing the same thing over and over because we have few incentives to change.
At some point, we as learning designers also must have our own “a-ha” moment—our own insight—that will help us escape this cycle of training failure. We need to do a better job of giving learners an opportunity to do things. To try things. To fail. We need to do a better job of helping learners understand that it’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from it—especially when failure happens in the context of a safe training space. Better to happen there than in the real world, isn’t it, where consequences have a much more profound impact?
Is what I’m suggesting difficult? Of course! Impossible? Absolutely not. Change is hard, but if we learning designers, who are supposed to be an integral part of shepherding any change through an organization, are incapable of learning from our mistakes, then we need to seriously reconsider how we ourselves handle change.