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The Best Learning You Ever did was Driving!

Darren A. Smith - Sticky Learning

I was 17. Standing in the lounge looking out of the bay window. A moment ago Mum had instructed me, ‘Look out of the window. Happy Birthday, son’. I had no idea what I was looking for. Maybe I wasn’t a very bright kid! Then he arrived. The guy in a red Vauxhall Nova ready to take me on my first driving lesson. Panic and excitement set-in. What I didn’t know then, but I do now after 18 years in L&D, is that this was to be the most effective learning I would ever do.

Are You Exaggerating?!

I don’t believe so. There seem to be an awful lot of drivers on the road, and the M25 is not known as the ‘free parking zone’ for nothing. Most people have learnt to drive. When we turn 17 we want to drive. We want the independence. The freedom. To be free. So why are so many people successful? I believe there are 3 reasons…

1. We Want To

There is a need. We want the freedom. So the reason to do almost whatever it takes, happens. In L&D circles we would call this an ‘Individual Learning Objective’ or ILO.

Flipping this into less business language, we would ask the Learner, ‘What do you want to get out of the time you are going to spend learning?’. This reason for learning can overcome almost any barrier put in our way. And without this motivation, nearly every barrier seems like a mountain.

We’ve all seen it. An employee is ‘sent’ on a time management training course. The first part was where it went wrong. It’s almost seen as a punishment. ‘Smith, your crap at time management – go on this course next Friday’. The want to be better/improve/learn has to come from the person learning. After all, they’re the ones that are going to be investing all the time and energy into it. Better to ask, ‘What do you need to help you to be the best version of you?’.

2. Spaced Repetition

A very long time ago. Well, 175 years to be precise. A bright spark called ‘Herman Ebbinghaus’ invented the Forgetting Curve. He was a German psychologist. He did some experiments to understand how much of what we have learnt, we forget. Now, I am the first to accept the opinion of the naysayers that yes, this was a long time ago, no, it wasn’t an experiment by today’s standards, and yes, there are some flaws in what he did.

But, I have to put that aside because I didn’t need Herman to tell me that when I went on any 1-day training course as a Buyer at Sainsbury’s, I came back and did nowt with it. Yes, the day was good, but in terms of changing any of my behaviours – Not on your nelly!

Ebbinghaus said two things that are still principally correct today; A. We forget 80% of what we have learnt within 30 days and B. That unless we put into practice what we have learnt, the learning will definitely disappear.

Driving lessons are successful because we do a driving lesson, wait about a week, and then do another. And According to the Driving Standards Agency (DSA), we need around 44 hours of professional lessons to pass our driving test.

3. Our Behaviour is Tested

You’ll remember your history exam at school. And the kids that aced the exam because they had a great memory. Rubbish in class. Great in exams. Unfair.

There are 4 types of testing what you have learnt. Stage 2 is ‘Knowledge Testing’. School exams. The driving test is stage 4 – ‘Behavioural Testing’. Actually knowing whether we can ‘do the do’. Imagine if we behaviourally tested each employee when they come back from a 1-day training course…

‘What did you learn?’, says the HRD. ‘To improve my time management’, says the employee. ‘Great, show me what you can now do that you couldn’t yesterday’.

– Tumbleweed –

Driving lessons work because they change our behaviour. We learn to drive. And then some authority type bod tests whether we can actually reverse around a corner without knocking anyone down, and most people are able to. It took practise, practice, and more of the same.

Joining the Corporate Clan

At around 18, or maybe after University most of us then join a company. We’re green, sparkling and new, without a care in the world, eager to please, and eager to learn.

School taught us that we should remember stuff. Uni taught us to remember stuff. Because we learnt from the pain of failing our school exams, that revision is actually quite important. Then we get the best learning experience ever – Driving. Then we get sent on corporate  1-day training courses and the rulebook is re-written once again.

Apparently, because we now earn the big money, and our company is very successful, we can learn complex soft skills, like time management, and alike, in just a single 9 am to 5 pm day. Why the hell did we need to do all those driving lessons when one day would have cracked it, and our freedom would have been gained in 5% of the time?

The answer…

Because we don’t change any behaviours in a day. And everyone knows it. Yet, we have accepted that £1 bn is spent across the world every day on training, and most of it is a complete waste of time and money.

So, What’s the Answer?

Replicate the best learning experience as best we can. I accept that it might not be 44 hours, but it could be. What’s the size of the prize? I ask. If every employee is super effective at time management because they do they can apply the 4D tool to their inbox, write a prioritised daily to-do list each day, maintain a project list, and know why the heck KRA’s (Key Result Areas’) are so dam important. What would be the bottom-line impact of that training?

Charles Jennings, the Founder of the 70:20:10 Learning Institute, had the answer. He first discussed the idea in a CPD podcast in 2007. He was then the Head of Global Learning and Development at Reuters, the news agency. In essence, he said that learning was achieved in 3 ways; 70% – Learning through doing, 20% – Learning through others, and 10% – Learning through courses. Since then some people have tried to be too analytical with exacting their 70:20:10 across a business. It’s the principle that is important, which is why ‘Blended Learning’ is a better way forward and a better mindset to adopt.

7 Ways to Achieve Blended Learning

  1. Learners to write a SMART Individual Learning Objective.
  2. Have a short Learning to Learn training course to teach Learners how to learn, e.g. mind mapping.
  3. Have a short Learning To Learn training course for Line Managers so they know how to support their Learners.
  4. Space 3 x 1-day training courses, one per month.
  5. Create 20-minute exercises for the Learner to do in the workplace between the 1-day training courses. We call these ‘Sticky Pieces’. This will embed the learning.
  6. Create 45-minute team exercises for teams to do to embed the learning. We call these ‘Skill Pills’.
  7. Test the Learners’ behaviours at the end of the learning journey.

The Most Effective Learning I would ever Do

In conclusion, we’ve forgotten how we learn best. Though we know it – Driving. Let’s use that experience to build better learner journeys, or accept that what we currently do with training is a complete waste of time, and spend the money instead on pay rises!

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