I've been hearing a lot lately about "... learning from our mistakes". Natural disasters. Personal mishaps. Problems at work. Issues at home. I keep hearing "We learn from our mistakes." So I wondered if there is a new approach to learning we might call "Mistake-Based Learning".
Then I was looking at a new piece of software that all together avoids the need to learn anything at all and make any mistakes. It lets you know what you need to do, and when, and it's all a click away. This already has several names in the hat - the one I like the most is "Workflow Learning".
Sudden Idea: Only 2 Choices to Make
So suddenly I find myself simplifying the complex universe of learning into two groups:
- Mistake-Based Learning: Learning by making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, and
- Workflow Learning: Not learning at all, just finding what you need to do, or know, and doing it.
Choice 1: Mistake-Based Learning
Mistake-Based Learning is actually supported by the research into how we learn in the workplace. It's the 75/25 Rule where 75% of workplace learning is done while you work and only 25% (at best) is accomplished in a more formal setting. That 25% includes everything from classes to online programs to simulations. It's been broken down into
- 20% "I Know" and
- 5% "I Can Do".
Most training programs barely reach the "I Know" level. The best, using the latest interactive learning technology like simulations, hit the 25% "I Can Do" mark.
The remaining 80% is the "I Adopt & Adapt" level. It's a good definition of being ready to perform your job - the ability to adopt and adapt what you know and can do in response to an everchanging set of circumstances.
I consider this real learning.
Choice 2: Workflow Learning
In The Future of eLearning, Jay Cross does a wonderful job of defining and covering the ideas, concepts and case studies of workflow learning. He does a brilliant analysis of the value of having immediate access to knowledge - what you need to know or do - when and where you need it. In summary, it means you don't ever need to learn how to do something, nor really know what to do, you just click a (fill in the blank technology tool) and get the answer, follow the instructions and move on. Seems mistake proof unless you misread the instructions.
I consider this rote learning.
Why This Matters
1. In companies and corporations all over the world, the attempt to recreate the schoolplace in the workplace is most obvious where rote learning rules, and simply testing is okay. Performance is not relevant or really demonstrable, and just knowing the answer is everything. You do not have to really learn at all, just remember for awhile. The model is not fundamentally wrong, just completely misapplied. It does not go far enough to use the emerging technology that can replace the classroom, and it is never in the right place at the right time. Sort of an 'out-of-the-workplace' learning model. What is really needed is a true Workplace Learning program.
2. In the actual workplace, as opposed to the fictional schoolplace, where learning by doing is what it's really all about, and test scores (or LMS completion rates) are irrelevant, performance is key and know-how is everything. So we have learning by your mistakes or Mistake-Based Learning, a new kind of program, of which simulations are the tip of the iceberg, as you ascend up into the 80% level through "I Know" and "I Can Do" towards adopting and adapting.
That means that in any given situation in which I am asked to help people learn something, I can easily choose to create a Mistake-Based Learning program or a real Workflow Learning program. Both of these choices involve new directions for people in charge of the Corporate Brain. The majority of the thinking has been in the "Workflow Learning" category. Again I refer you to my friend Jay Cross if you want more details.
What remains to be worked on are the Mistake-Based Programs. If we truly and really learn by our mistakes, and experience is the best teacher, then what does Mistake-Based Learning look like? When is Mistake-Based Learning a better choice than Workflow Learning? Aside from simulations, are we creating these types of programs? Will companies even allow the idea of "training" when it is a Mistake-Based Learning program? Will they let us develop programs that set up employees to make mistakes-try again-succeed-and really learn? Or will the schoolplace model, an artifact of the Industrial Economy, continue to prevail? A model in which making a mistake means a lower grade, AND less capability to not make a real mistake when you're back at work? Where's the ROI in that?
Lots more questions. Tell me what you think ...