Learning cycle: Bite-sized learning – it leaves very little time to think

Bite-sized learning, lunchtime sessions and 90-minute ‘workouts’ are all very well, but when do we have time to think?

Squeezing learning ‘tit bits’ into the only free moments in our already hectic day could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Certainly, it is more and more common to book hour-long office-based training sessions. And, trying to concentrate on a relevant and interesting topic while eating lunch may appear to be an effective use of time. But before you have had time to digest your food, and the material covered, you are off to your next meeting.

If we keep packing in activities, when are we going to have time to absorb new ideas?

Time for reflection is greatly under-rated during and after a learning intervention. We have all experienced a course crammed full of theories, tools and techniques and yet, when it’s over, we almost never open the course folder again, let alone apply it in the workplace.

Experiential learning specialist David Kolb has outlined a four-stage learning cycle and demonstrated that learning is facilitated by completing this cycle.

He recommends that after action, review and reflection are necessary before individuals can draw conclusions and apply new learning. I believe that all these steps are of equal importance to ensure real learning.

We often feel reluctant or even guilty for wanting to spend time on personal development, but what’s so bad about taking a few days out of the office? Not only will participants have time to review new insights gained, but current practices can be assessed objectively. Often these programmes are located in a rural training venue, and it will be on a walk round the grounds, or during an early morning swim that something will click into place or an idea will germinate.

I met a senior manager recently who had been so taken by the benefits of this solo time that he had planned walks into his working day – albeit in the streets around his office. He claimed this was the only space he had to consider personal commitments he had made on a recent workshop and for more strategic thinking.

Although I have made a strong argument for residential workshops, I believe it is most beneficial to implement a blended learning intervention, comprising a range of learning techniques over a period of time, both in and out of the workplace. A combined approach will enable the best transfer of learning, so long as space to think is part of this.

The approach may include work-based training sessions, coaching and self-managed learning – all of which are valid techniques. But please don’t try to squeeze ‘finance for non-financial managers’ in between the Monday morning meeting and interviewing a new recruit – you are asking for brain ache.

Jo Hennessy is director of open programmes at Roffey Park

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