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Learning in Reverse

reverse-cardLet’s talk about flipping the standard process of
“tell, show, do”.

I have been known the spruik the benefits of clear modelling and demonstration to support learners in gaining new skills and processes. After some very enjoyable ‘Amen sister!” reading, courtesy of kindred spirit Cathy Moore (Let’s Save the World From Boring Training) I feel the need to also reaffirm my commitment to challenge based learning, scenario based learning and experiential learning.

These are my favourite types of learning design. You can still set a clear goal, but the way the learners get there is more about trial and error, thinking it through and problem solving in a real, rich and relevant environment.

While the demonstration method is great for task skills (short processes or longer ones taught in chunks) the scenario based method allows learners to also develop a range of task management, job role, environment and contingency skills that will be faced in the real world.

When it comes to creating this type of training however, there are still cost-benefit considerations. I sum up the key ones for me as follows:

Key considerations


What are the safety considerations of allowing untrained personnel to complete the tasks in this way?

How much extra time will it take for learners to gain the key concepts through these experiences, rather than just being told? Have I got that much time available? Is the time and resources cost viable?

How hard is it to simulate the type of scenario to give them the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge? What about the use of online simulated environments?

Key benefits

Real, rich and relevant
Giving learners to closest thing possible to real life experiences of the task – making the experience more challenging, memorable and potentially increasing the amount of learning gained from the training.

Higher thinking skills
Learning that requires thinking, planning, problem solving – often more benefical and useful in real life as learners are more flexible than those only reproducing shown process.

Increased retention
We remember more of what we do for ourselves than what we are told by others. Working out the answer and the process through scenarios should lead to better retention of knowledge and skills.


How do you make this work for you?

1. Begin with the end in mind – set the goal
As Stephen Covey famously says, “begin with the end in mind”. You need to have a clear picture of what a competent person looks like. What scenarios will the person have to face? What does a competent person do in these situations? How do they apply their knowledge? What do they pay attention to?

Once you have this worked out, you can then determine what scenario or challenge will give learners the opportunities to gain exposure, develop knowledge and gain skills.

Also think about where this approach can be used to best effect. It is often not practicable or affordable to cover all concepts in this manner. If you have to be selective, save this for where it will have the biggest impact on learner attitudes and behaviours.

2. Consider how you will support learners
Just because there is problem solving to be done, it doesn’t mean learners don’t need guidance and support. Learning should be challenging, not impossible.

What resources, job aids, cheat sheets, flowcharts etc do people use? This can be accessed by learners to scaffold their experience and help them be successful. Having a guide present in the form of an already competent person is also great – so long as they know the boundaries. Their role is not to be ‘sage on the stage’ but the ‘guide on the side’ to answer questions and monitor safety.

Note – jumping in too early stops learners from being able to see consequences of their decisions and limits their problem solving opportunities. Let them learn from these experiences now rather than in the field, if it can be safety done.

3. Don’t forget to debrief
The best learning comes from the meta-discussion after the experience where learners can process what they did, what they learned (from what worked well and what didn’t work too) and can plan for the future – what they will do (or not do) next time! This helps cement learning in the brain and will help ensure the highest level of retention.


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