Learning By Example

How many times have you heard people being encouraged to “lead by example” in order to improve performance?  From the captain of a sports team to the leader of a claims handling team, everyone has heard it before.  Now think about how many times you have heard people being encouraged to “learn by example”.  Probably not (as) many, which is strange when you consider that most people will learn best by seeing ideas being applied in real situations. 

For example, although we all know that barbecue is hot and don’t need to burn ourselves to remember it, being told to make sure that we put out the barbecue isn’t particularly effective.  Telling someone a story about how a barbecue that had been abandoned while still burning had set fire to an entire woodland is likely to be much more effective in getting someone to actually take notice and remember to take the precautions needed.

By focusing on the real consequences of the situation, and seeing the effects in practical terms, we are more likely to be motivated to take action and learn when compared to simply review a list of facts and figures.  Using examples in our training material can be a powerful tool in improving the effectiveness of it.

Some topics lend themselves particularly well to being delivered in the form of a story or scenario.  For example, topics around behaviour and attitudes in the workplace, or the consequences of underinsurance might be particularly suitable.  However, using examples to illustrate ideas and topics doesn’t have to be limited to just using stories.

Screenshots are a great tool for showing real examples of computer-based topics.  They also make your life much easier when preparing material, after all, why spend ages describing a situation when you can show your learners the screen or part of the screen that is most relevant and focus on the learning points.  Linking a series of screenshots together as an animation or as a sequence of slides can further enhance your training and allow learners to engage with it much more effectively than through large blocks of text.

Case Studies can be effective to illustrate specific learning points, especially when mixed in with other types of learning.  It’s best to keep them focused though and limit each case study to covering just a few points – this will avoid overloading learners with detail.  Case studies are also useful for showing best practice approaches to situations, and just the same as in real life, may not include all of the details that may be required to make decisions.  They can also be useful for exploring “what if” situations, examining the possible consequences of taking different approaches to a problem.

Depending on the resources available to you and your own skillset (and that of your training team), you could also choose to explore the use of video to illustrate your examples, or even develop visual metaphors to help make topics more accessible.

Sometimes the best way to consolidate learning is for learners to create an example for themselves to demonstrate what they’ve learned.  This might be an opportunity to explore the use of different assessment tools such as the Offline Task custom content type on the Development Zone to help assess their understanding and provide more personalised feedback.

Whichever approach you choose to take, never underestimate the need or power of providing an example.  If you are writing training material and can’t think of alternatives to long blocks of text, it may be time to consider presenting an example.  If you can’t think of an example, it’s worth considering how relevant the material is going to seem to your learners.  Examples will help both you and them to get more from your training.

For more information about some of the Development Zone tools mentioned in this article, we recommend you visit the DevZone Academy and explore some of the Advanced topics relating to the custom content features.

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