The restless, new wandering mind of today’s learner thrives on the challenges of navigating a ship through a confusing sea of information to find answers.
The New Wandering Mind
By Winifrid V. Choy
A decade ago or so, many of us could not have foreseen the revolutionary change in how human beings choose to interact with the world around them. Most of us are now constantly tethered to an online life through internet-enabled mobile devices in a way that changes communicating with each other, acquiring information and, by consequence, learning new skills and knowledge. Today’s generation has brains that are “wired differently” as a result of the effects of repetitive conditioning through social media behavior and thus universally have what some might call, “a wandering mind” – with this, new learning preferences have evolved and replaced those that were the norm for previous generations. Old methods related to lectures and typical adult learning approaches have given way to refreshing new environments such as multi-tasking and group-think activities, driving everything today that is related to developing people.
When the world of what was then called “training” was a bright open field for me to explore, I was so new and inexperienced with the art of instruction. I say “art” because even if there are many sciences related to what many consider a wider scope under what is known today as “talent development,” the real effectiveness – “the game changer” – is in how a professional in this field would weave concepts, adapt, and select approaches relevant to the participants’ skill, personalities, and work background. When you would greet a class and meet them for the first time, you know absolutely nothing about them and their individual personalities are slowly revealed over the course of the session. This has always been a challenge that required great flexibility, expert maneuvering and nerves of steel. Over the years, I had been fortunate enough to have had many giving mentors to learn from and seen many great trainers in action. The buzz-words were “platform skills,” “adult learning theory,” “learner styles,” “show-tell-do,” “the sandwich” (the burger!) and even altering your training approach based on the many popular personality tests. This was fifteen years ago in 2002.
Some industry analysts say that in the past 20 years, they have never seen Corporate L&D go through so much stress. Employees today are highly distracted. Two-thirds of organizations have employees who say they feel “overwhelmed” and are spending an average of four to five hours with email (or messaging mobile applications) in an “always-on” environment. Work has become 24/7 and relentless, with the constant need to get updates on programs, processes and core skills to remain productive and grow. If you are not learning something new every few months, you would instantly feel left behind. The need to learn is greater than ever.
Explaining the “why” of something you are teaching is no longer sufficient. Ever wonder why today, despite completing a bunch of checklists in both your course design and your facilitation, participants still turn out to be distracted and not 100% engaged? As I mentioned, the times have changed. Some might react to this phenomenon as having “demanding participants” or simply be scratching one’s head clueless and wonder why what worked before no longer works now. Simply put, people just do not have the patience these days. The world of online videos, tweets and social media posts have shortened the average attention span to around three to five seconds! How are learning professionals going to compete with that?
The future of how people learn will likely be congruent to their natural environment. Mobile technology is ubiquitous today so the TeleDevelopment Learning & Development team has realized a shift toward delivering the existing libraries of training content in small, specific bursts over time or just when needed – through traditional classroom “pocket” sessions or via online E-Learning modules.
It was the great thinker, Leonardo Da Vinci who once said, “Real learning happens when people do stimulating things that don’t wear them out.” When we are having fun, time flies doesn’t it? Everyone appreciates a good challenge and it would definitely make things more interesting for today’s participants if there are fun challenges in your training program. Game elements in your training, with a strong sense of interaction, progress and goal accomplishment, are more relevant than ever today. Just think about the millions of games people download off Google Play and Apple Store. Makes sense, right? If you know the popular ones (ex. Angry Birds, Plants versus Zombies, Clash of Clans, Everwing), then you would know what motivates your crowd and what they would actually enjoy doing.
A year or two ago, I handed a training participant a course’s thick multi-page manual and in exchange, I got the strangest look – this same person later fired a relentless salvo of specific questions at me, “machine gun” style! Was he deliberately putting me on the spot? It was a good thing that I was indeed a subject-matter expert in that particular technical course and I was able to provide all the right answers and clarified any lingering unsatisfied thoughts. One will learn to appreciate this type of behavior if the context of the learner is understood. Imagine that there are people who are so used to what we call “informal education” – a world of Help Forums with immediate answers from moderators, short bursts of content, someone who posting steps for you to do, and yet another member posting a 5-minute explainer video or link to an E-Learning course – people call it many fancy names however most really just call it crowdsourcing, collaborative learning, or learning through social media technology.
I also see a trend toward learning that adapts and changes to the inputs of the learner. Going beyond the term “interactive,” this is training that can, for instance, adjust the vocabulary and difficulty based on the level of the learner. Training professionals have long been doing this in the analog classroom with the use of good old human judgement but what if this was done in the digital domain? Just how an army pilot would send a remote-controlled drone into an area of battle, I consider leveraging off current technology and utilizing online learning courses as my “drones” – representations of myself so I can multiply my productivity and availability as a training professional. We could all create courses that would be programmed to be “reactive!” As I lead the e-Learning team at TeleDevelopment, our wish for the future is to have that experience of immersion in our online courses – courses that would be programmed with some kind of artificial intelligence that adjusts to the learners’ difficulty level and preference.
Going back to my first point, there are those who feel anxious about what’s available today and on the other hand, there are others who embrace the changes caused by the emergence of enabling technologies. The restless, new wandering mind of today’s learner thrives on the challenges of metaphorically navigating a ship through a confusing sea sea of information to find answers – like how water easily flows through the rocky islets, narrow passages, waterfalls and cracks. The famous martial-arts legend and philosopher, Bruce Lee, once said about change and flexibility: “Be like water…If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”
References: axonify.com, td.org, deloitte.com