Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Making Learning Stick

Image: (cc) John Lord

What wakes me up in the morning? Strong coffee and a love for learning design.

As I run my visual facilitation business and work with clients on workshop design - I see the messy and beautiful processes of ideation, insight generation, clarity and action. Or at least, an intention to act.

One of the big questions I’m always working to solve is: What creates lasting behavior change? How can I bottle these moments of inspiration and insight and give them back to people – to keep alive every single day. 

Consider the spectrum of learning: Objective Setting - Design and Delivery - Follow Up.
There is some great research out there on making learning stick during the design and delivery phase. Our focus today is on the follow up. Once a learning event is over, what makes it stick? 

Here are five ideas for you to consider, as a facilitator and a learner.

1. Design for Behavior Change

Create (visual) learning goals: While you’re still at the learning event, create very specific learning goals. Write them down – or better still – draw your goal. I love Patti Dobrowolski’s visual goal setting tool – the Big Picture Template. Listen to her TEDx talk to learn how to use it.

Focus on Tiny Habits:   Here’s a big secret – for change to stick, it needs to be easy! For the past few years, I’d try to re-design my habits with resolutions: “From tomorrow, I’ll wake up at 5 am, run 6 miles, eat a bowl of chia seed oatmeal and then read the Wall Street Journal”. Guess what – I woke up at 8 am and did nothing! Start with baby steps – or as one of my favorite researchers on behavior change BJ Fogg calls it, Tiny Habits. Tiny Habit = wake up 5 minutes earlier. Or read one new
article every day. Or….well… tell me J

Schedule learning around triggers: One of the biggest reasons people don’t follow through on learning is that they simply forget. One of the most effective ways to automate a habit is designing action around a trigger. A trigger can be external (a reminder on your calendar that pops up every morning and reminds you that 7 to 7:30 am is time for mindful reading) -  or - a trigger can be an existing habit (I brew my coffee every morning, and I’ll use the time it takes to drink a whole cup, to read)

2. Create Learning Artifacts

Visual posters: Pictures are effective low-tech tools to keep learning alive. As a graphic recorder, I work with groups to capture their conversations and insights visually in real time. After the event, my clients use the visuals to create books and posters – all designed to help participates remember the big ideas and commitments.

Get creative: When I walked into the office of consulting firm On Your Feet a few years ago, they had a life-size cutout of Mr Spock at the door. This was to remind their creative team to wear their left-brain analytical hats when needed! The OYF team works with Fortune 500 companies all over the world and I've seen them experiment with a number of creative artifacts or  pieces of “mental velcro”. Chocolate bars with learning challenges, journals, tee-shirts and these fabulous robots created by Gary Hirsch.

3. Enlist the Social Network

Find yourself an accountability buddy: Pair up with a colleague, mentor or friend and help each other stay on track. Get a latte (at the local coffee shop or virtually) once month. Share your progress, make notes, and challenge one another. If you can – hire a coach.

Leverage social media platforms: Facebook groups, LinkedIn networks, Yammer platforms – they work. As a solopreneur, I heavily rely on my professional learning networks – to learn from, ask questions – and most importantly, to feel like I’m part of a community.

4. Track the Journey

Download that App: Check out these apps for your smartphone to track progress towards your goals. Here’s my favorite.

Bring out that paper and sharpie: Again, low-teach is super effective. Slap on a piece of paper on the wall, and start tracking your daily progress. As per research, it’s most effective to use simple, vivid, visual trackers. It works for Jerry Seinfeld!

5. Celebrate Progress

Measure progress towards your milestones and celebrate hitting them. With a nice lunch. A new book. A morning of hiking through the forest trails. A glass of wine. Whatever makes your heart sing.

So how do you keep learning alive? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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