Do you recall learning to ride a bike? At first, you wobbled and fell and wanted to quit. Most likely, someone taught you how to ride – your dad or mom, older sibling, cousin, or neighbor, perhaps. I first learned to ride with training wheels attached to the rear wheel, and as my confidence and competence grew, the wheels came off.
Fortunately, my dad believed in me, practiced with me, and gave me feedback and support. Bike riding changed from awkward to effortless as my skill and experience increased. This is the essence of deliberate practice. When we practice something consciously, repetitively, and receive feedback, we learn; we grow.
Workplace learning is no different. Learners must press past their comfort and into the growth zone, where they acquire new, formerly unknown skills and expertise. As a trainer, you’re tasked with guiding learners to turn unfamiliar knowledge and skills into second nature. Your ability to facilitate a deliberate practice environment is a direct link to learner success. E-learning is to skill development like training wheels are to the new bike rider.
E-learning is a critical tool in the process of deliberate practice; a process that follows three essential steps:
The first step is to design a specific plan. Let’s say you want to increase your reps’ selling skills. One design element of their improvement is relationship building. A learning plan for improving relationships includes asking open-ended questions, uncovering motivation, and understanding personality styles.
Next, you’d provide specific practices that cause them to acquire the desired traits. In order to become experts at inquiry, for example, they will have to learn questioning, observing, classifying, inferring, predicting, and paraphrasing. Specific e-learning modules can be introduced and repeated as they expand their comfort zone.
Finally, and critically important, your learners have to receive specific feedback from a trainer, coach, or SME. Specific and timely feedback shapes productive learning and eliminates bad habits.
E-learning supplements in-person, experiential learning. It provides the repetition and feedback that most trainers don’t have the time to provide individually.
How E-learning supports deliberate practice.
There are many advantages to e-learning, and even the potential disadvantages (i.e. mundane text-based programs, technophobia, and isolation) can be alleviated with a properly designed course.
E-learning is a way to augment learning and promote deliberate practice.
It’s self-selecting – research shows e-learning study progress up to 50 percent faster than traditional courses; learners focus only on new material rather than repeat what they already know.
It’s self-paced – e-learning programs can be accessed as needed. Trainees can break learning into chunks of experience that can be studied and applied quickly and situationally.
It’s cost effective – an asynchronous training program is virtually cost free once you reach the break-even point. It doesn’t have the hard costs associated with repetitive ILT programs.
It’s sticky – e-learning combines learning modalities – video, audio, quizzes, interaction, etc. Combined with an ability to replay and rehearse, it offers a better chance of retention.
It’s location agnostic – travel, field time, and productivity often get in the way of deliberate practice. E-learners can practice and learn anywhere and anytime, making scheduling flexible and customized.
The power of deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice has been described in New York Times articles as the most accurate determinant of mastery in any given field. What these “masters” share is not high IQ, good genes, or an Ivy League education. What they have in common is simple, but requires more effort: they have rigorously practiced their craft for hours upon hours, never allowing their practice to become unconscious and automatic.
Practicing deliberately, remaining conscious of the learning process, and continuously checking-in, ensures accelerated growth. This is deliberate practice and this is supported by e-learning. It’s tempting to assume that successful people have special talents that set them apart from the pack, but this simply isn’t true.
In our fast-paced culture of instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that hard, conscious work – deliberate practice – produces fantastic results. In fact, it’s generally the greatest determining factor for achievement and success. The sheer need for customized training and individualized coaching cannot be fulfilled by trainers in organization. This is where well developed and well deployed e-learning provides immediate, meaningful, needs-specific repetitive practice with built in feedback.
The ultimate proof of learning is changed behavior. Deliberate practice is the path to learning, and e-learning offers a technology platform to accelerate and ensure learning.