A safe space for failure: eLearning that changes behavior

Most learning professionals are familiar with the 70/20/10 model. The theory — offered in the 1980s by researchers Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger — suggests that 70 percent of the average person’s knowledge is learned and retained when doing something. Why, then, does our industry often reduce learners to passive observers?

We don’t know all the reasons for that unfortunate tendency. But, we do know how to avoid that scenario. It starts by scripting and conceptualizing a safe space for learners to fail and learn from their decisions, a space where learners can feel the impact of their choices while the real world remains insulated from it.

Here are some ways you can build such a space.

Give Learners Control

When we think about a safe place to fail, we imagine an environment that lets learners experiment. To make that a reality, we need to give learners some control. That means allowing learners to navigate a course freely. It also means limiting the amount of narration in a course. When learners are forced to listen to someone read to them, they are not only cast as passive observers, but also, they’re tasked with processing information at a pace that isn’t their own. By allowing learners to explore content when and how they want to, you increase their odds of learning.

Get Learners Active, Fast

Learners cannot learn by doing if they’re not asked to do anything. So, the sooner you can make learners active participants, the better. One way to do so is to keep learning objectives internal. We’ve all taken courses that begin with a bulleted list of learning objectives, but the truth is learners don’t need to see them. They only delay learners from the essential information. Cut to the chase and get learners thinking and doing right away.

Challenge Learners

And we mean right away. Many instructional designers decide to explain content to learners and then quiz them on it. Instead, we should challenge learners throughout the entire course, from start to finish. That doesn’t mean you should begin a course with rigid judgment, preventing learners from advancing unless they answer a question correctly. Nor should you try to deceive or trick your learners into wrong answers. Rather, you should ask questions and allow learners to be wrong.

Give them time to consider and reflect on their answers before submitting them (gasp! a practical use for “submit” buttons!) Let them find out what they know and don’t know. Use feedback to reinforce the correct answer and educate learners about incorrect ones. Put faith in your learners’ prior knowledge, as well as their critical thinking skills. And most of all, let them sit with the outcome of their choices — good and bad.

Read more about how Roundtable Learning infuses behavioral change into every aspect of eLearning Development.