What You Need to Know About a Leprechaun, Your Brain, and Learning

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Engaging workplace learning experiences help reinforce the storage and retrieval of golden nuggets of information.

I once heard a funny story about a leprechaun. It was told by Sanjay Sarma, a professor of mechanical engineering and the Vice President for Open Learning at MIT, who was speaking to an audience of learning and development professionals about how our brains learn. Imagine you have a little leprechaun at the front of your brain, he said. To learn, we not only need to train the leprechaun in how to put away information (the “gold”) but also in how to retrieve the gold when we need it—the retrieving part is too often forgotten when we design learning. While the audience immediately grasped how to integrate information retrieval in a real-world learning setting, they struggled with how this could be done in online learning.

It got me thinking a lot and reading more (books like John Medina’s Brain Rules, and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman) about what we’ve learned about how our brains work and how we make decisions. I thought about the little leprechaun and how we can get it more invested in learning, and better trained in storage, stickiness, and retrieval, because, with the speed and pace of technology improvements impacting the workforce, there’s a lot that we working professionals need to learn. And, if the#FutureofWork discussions are any indication, we’re going to have to learn faster and more frequently than ever before, or else robotic leprechauns will end up doing our jobs for us.

Since online learning is my profession, I often think about how the tools that are now available in next-gen learning platforms— things like content creation and curation, video, and social learning strategies such as Social Assessment™—can help us do this more effectively. And, on Wednesday, September 13th at the CLO Insight Summit in New York City, I’ll be talking about how organizations can leverage next-gen learning platforms to create a scalable solution for delivering engaging learning opportunities to a broader audience. Here’s a sneak peek.

First, behavioral economics can be used to help determine how to get employees invested in learning. Prospect theory tells us people tend to like certainty over uncertain futures, and endowment theory shows us they put more stock in what they currently have just because they have it. Both of these make inertia in learning hard to overcome. If organizations can persuade employees to consider their growth as the thing they own rather than their current skill set, they can then move to embracing a growth mindset and investing their time in development. Or, using the leprechaun example, the leprechaun is interested and ready to store and retrieve.

Now, when the leprechaun is motivated, an engaging online learning experience is needed to encourage storage, stickiness, and retrieval. “Situated learning” can be used in learning design to give employees real life examples that they can use to build new information into their own mental models and then apply it in their work. Leveraging online discussions and learning partners can help employees engage with and learn from their peers. Retrieval can be encouraged by using automated features in learning platforms to send questions at the point of forgetting, a key method for making learning stick championed by Sanjay Sarma.

With easy access to online learning, organizations don’t need to fire hose employees with information. They can space learning out in small chunks over time. And by doing things like integrating formative assessment into games to create a safe learning space where failure is okay, organizations can empower employees to challenge themselves with difficult learning (making it hard but not too hard helps us learn). By designing with the leprechaun in mind, organizations can engage employees, scale learning to a bigger audience, and help more people to future proof their skills. They can be excited about the #FutureofWork and our growth, instead of shrinking from it.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse 

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